Get set for some serious scrummage as Pool C leaders England continue their Rugby World Cup campaign with a crucial match against fierce rivals Argentina in Tokyo.
Following two bonus-point wins over Tonga and USA, England know a win will put them into the last eight, with either Australia or Wales the likely opponents. Defeat for Argentina would leave their tournament hopes hinging on Tonga causing an upset against France.
In the so-called ‘group of death’ it is now ‘do-or-die’ time.
England coach Eddie Jones was in reflective mood this week following the news of the death of Jeff Sayle, the coach at Randwick in Sydney who first picked him as a youngster.
Jones was also insistent that his team is “flying” ahead of their toughest match of the tournament so far.
“When you play against Argentina, they base their game on the scrum so it’s a test of manlihood,” he said.
“To beat Argentina you have to take them on up front – scrum, maul, ruck attack, ruck defence. That’s where it will be won.
Eddie Jones, head coach of England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
“We know that Argentina play with a lot of pride, a lot of passion and this will be multiplied by the fact that they’re in a game that is very important for them.”
Los Pumas have made the knockout stages in each of the last three World Cups, including a run to the semi-finals four years ago.
But after their narrow loss to France on the opening weekend, defeat against England would effectively end their stay in Japan.
Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy has stoked the flames under this historic sporting rivalry by claiming that the English rely on a “boring” style of rugby.
“They are really structured,” Creevy told reporters. “They always play the same way in history. I think sometimes it’s boring but it’s good for England, and it works.
“Saturday is going to be like a war, it’s like a final for us.”
34-year-old Creevy remains a talismanic figure in the Argentina set-up, despite losing the captaincy when Mario Ledesma was brought in to stop their post-2015 World Cup slide under previous coach Daniel Hourcade.
It is clear that Argentina will bring emotion and intensity to the fore in this match so cool heads and defensive organisation could prove to be a deciding factor in a close contest.
England coach Eddie Jones has made nine changes from the team that defeated the USA in Kobe and opted for the same one that opened the tournament against Tonga, apart from the inclusion of lock George Kruis in place of Courtney Lawes.
Back come the midfield trio of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi.
England’s Manu Tuilagi. (Photo by David Rogers – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)
Joe Marler starts with Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler in the front-row with Elliot Daly, Jonny May and Anthony Watson all selected in the back three.
The inclusion of youthful fetchers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry will compliment the dangerous Ford-Farrell axis.
In a match that looks sure to be a war of attrition, Jones has picked battering-ram-prop Mako Vunipola and wing Jack Nowell in the matchday 23, having both recovered from long-term injuries.
Under Ledesma’s watch Argentina’s performances have been a mixed-bag and the former Wallabies forwards coach has made the interesting decision to leave Creevy among the replacements against England. Julian Montoya retains the No 2 shirt following his quick-fire hat-trick in their 28-12 win over Tonga last week.
Ledesma has also made a surprise call to leave experienced fly-half Nicolas Sanchez out of the 23 entirely.
Benjamín Urdapilleta is set to feature instead with Lucas Mensa covering inside centre and fly-half. Tomas Lavanini avoided a citing for a controversial tackle against Tonga. The lock’s physicality will be vital in setting the tone for his side.
A feast of footy awaits with three crucial World Cup matches all in one day. Australia and hosts Japan bookend this compelling clash of combatants making it a super Saturday of sofa surfing.
Conditions may be wet in Tokyo with heavy rain predicted. The outcome of this match may well be miserable for Argentina who have only won five of their last 33 games and look ill-equipped to avoid a 1oth successive defeat at the hands of England.
The Pumas showed flashes against Tonga and France but this World Cup has arrived too early for Ledesma’s evolving squad.
After a hit-and-miss group stage for the Wallabies, and a momentum building prelude to the knockout stages for the English, it is do-or-die as the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals get underway with a bumper clash between two of the oldest enemies in global sport.
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