Fierce Pumas pack will keep it tight in Dunedin
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GIVEN that England are likely to need to win Pool B to avoid a clash with hosts New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-finals, the Red Rose cannot afford to start as slowly as they did in 2007. In their first two matches four years ago, England stumbled to an 18 point victory over the lowly USA and failed to score a single point in reply to South Africa’s 36.
Argentina finished third overall in France four years ago, but they were aided then by the fact that many of their players were based in the country. The 2011 side is a significantly weaker setup with only ten players from the 2007 squad remaining. Perhaps the key absence is that of mercurial fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez, aka ‘el Mago’, who has struggled with injury for the best part of two years.
England are given a 13 point handicap for their opening fixture in Dunedin but Martin Johnson will be wary of underestimating the Pumas. Their game is centred around a fierce pack, which features the likes of the experienced Mario Ledesma and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, and Johnson knows that his side will be in for a highly physical battle, hence the selection of his best scrummagers, Dan Cole, Steve Thompson and Andrew Sheridan in the front row.
This is a game which will be won and lost in the pack and where chances for the backs will be few and far between. For that reason England will struggle to overcome a handicap equivalent to at least two converted tries or five penalties, so I advise siding with Argentina (+13) at evens with Ladbrokes. Sporting Index offer 40-43 for total match points and a sell is recommended seeing as the ball is likely to be concealed under a mound of bulky forwards for extended periods.
Not for the first time in a World Cup in the Southern Hemisphere, the metronomic left leg of Jonny Wilkinson could prove to be crucial. At the age of 32 he remains one of the most reliable kickers in world rugby, making Ladbrokes’ 13/8 for the first scoring play to be an England penalty worth a punt.
Argentina with 13pt start at EVS with Ladbrokes
Sell total points at 40 with Sporting Index
England penalty first scoring play at 13/8 with Ladbrokes