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England became the first team to reach the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals Saturday after a 39-10 bonus-point win over Argentina, who had a man sent off for a high tackle.
Jack Nowell celebrated his return from injury with a late try, one of six scores for Eddie Jones’s men, who can now look to a last-eight clash likely against either Wales or Australia.
“We’re exactly where we wanted to be – we’re 15 points after three games,” said England coach Eddie Jones, who had to tell his players to “simplify” at half-time, despite their man advantage.
“With them having one [player] off we were probably just trying to push the game a little bit too much and we were a bit rusty too after two easy games and a long break.”
In perfect rugby conditions at Tokyo Stadium, the Pumas started the brighter, a delightful cross-field kick finding Matias Moroni in space, who jabbed the ball forward but was just beaten to the line by a covering Jonny May.
The Pumas nearly went over after the resulting five-meter scrum but had to settle for three points in front of the posts, slotted by fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta to send their noisy supporters into raptures.
But Eddie Jones’s men hit back instantly, a catch-and-drive from a line-out creating space out wide for May to dot down on the left-wing.
Veteran Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy had described the match as “like a war” and passions boiled over in the 12th minute with an off-the-ball scrap sparked by a hit from Pablo Matera.
And shortly after came the key moment of the match, referee Nigel Owens showing lock Tomas Lavanini a red card for a high hit on center Owen Farrell, the tournament’s fourth.
The 14-man Pumas quickly found themselves stretched and fullback Elliot Daly exploited a huge gap on the left for a try that doubled England’s advantage.
And scrum-half Ben Youngs celebrated overtaking Johnny Wilkinson in terms of caps with a trademark sniping score deep into extra time, giving England a 15-3 lead at the break.
The only concern for Eddie Jones after 40 minutes would have been the form of Farrell, who appeared to have left his kicking boots at home – missing all four shots at goal.
The dismissal killed the match as a contest and George Ford sealed the four-try bonus point early in the second half, Farrell this time slotting the extras.
The second half was a disjointed affair and a packed Tokyo Stadium resorted to a Mexican wave for entertainment.
The Pumas had rarely threatened the England line but enjoyed some success with less than 10 minutes to go as winger Moroni finished off a slick move with a try under the posts.
But replacement Nowell bounced off two defenders for a sensational try in the corner before Cowan-Dickie sealed it with England’s sixth.
That score sparked more ugly scenes as the two teams pushed and shoved in Argentina’s in-goal area.
“Obviously after the red card it became a little bit hard,” said Argentina coach Mario Ledesma.
“The commitment of the boys was incredible and it lasted the whole game. It became too difficult but they never stopped fighting,” he added.
Early quarter-final qualification is redemption for England after the humiliation of four years ago when they were the first World Cup hosts to miss out on the knock-out stages.
Next for Jones is a potential winner-takes-all meeting with arch-rivals France in Yokohama on October 12 to top Pool C – this World Cup’s ‘group of death’.
Argentina’s hopes of qualifying hang by a thread. They must beat the United States on Wednesday and hope France lose their two remaining fixtures against Tonga and England.
Petaia try on debut
Meanwhile, teenage wing Jordan Petaia crashed over for a try on his debut as Australia rode out two yellow cards to rout Uruguay 45-10 and stay on course for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.
Petaia, Australia’s youngest ever World Cup player at 19, scored one try and made another, while Tevita Kuridrani and Dane Haylett-Petty bagged two each in the Wallabies’ total haul of seven.
The result produced a vital bonus point for the Wallabies to move ahead of Fiji after three games in Pool D, where Six Nations champions Wales remain unbeaten.
But continuing their theme of this World Cup, the Australians again suffered from disciplinary issues surrounding high tackles, and failed to find consistent rhythm in the first half.
“I thought we were just a little bit off the pace at the start and that’s three times now, three games a little bit off the pace at the start,” said Australia coach Michael Cheika.
“So I don’t know, I’ll have to get my pre-match speech a little bit better. We were reading the first half nicely but it looked like we were just a click away. And then we got the pace up in the second half.”
Before 34,000 mostly Australian supporters in Oita Stadium, Adam Coleman and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto both spent time in the sin-bin for dangerous tackles in the first period.
French referee Mathieu Raynal also acknowledged high shots by Michael Hooper and Kurtley Beale although they escaped with a penalty only.
It was while Coleman was off the field that Petaia scored his try.
After waiting 23 minutes for his first touch of the ball, he showed his class a minute later when he came off his wing to take an inside pass and with a turn and twist he slipped through the defense to touch down.
When Salakaia-Loto was sent to the sin-bin, and the Wallabies were again defending desperately, Petaia combined with Beale to brilliantly set Kuridrani away for their third try.
At half-time, Australia led 19-3, before producing a more controlled second spell to add 26 more points until they conceded a late try.
After their initial try to Dane Haylett-Petty in the opening few minutes, the Wallabies’ next two came from counter-attacks after being pinned inside their own half as Uruguay fought to stay in the tournament.
But the Tier Two side were unable to convert chances into points and despite lighting up the tournament by toppling Fiji in their first game, they now have no chance of making the play-offs.
The inclusion of Salakaia-Loto and Jack Dempsey to give Australia a bruising back-row presence had an immediate impact when they marched Uruguay back several meters in both a rolling maul from the first lineout and in the first scrum.
But the cohesion did not remain and the lighter Uruguayans managed to out-muscle the heavier Wallabies at times, and just on half-time Tomas Inciarte touched down from turnover ball – although the try was ruled out for an earlier offside.
Taniela Tupou, known as the ‘Tongan Thor’, was introduced to the front row for the second half and the Wallabies immediately showed more stability as they laid the platform for Kuridrani to score the bonus-point try six minutes after the break.
Will Genia scored two minutes after he took the field to replace Nic White at scrum-half before prop James Slipper barged over for his first try in 94 appearances.
Haylett-Petty scored his second with 12 minutes remaining before the Wallabies went off the boil again and Uruguay backrower Manuel Diana forced his way over just before full-time.
“I think in the first half we did a really good job. Second half, credit to Australia, they’re a big and fast side. We have to get better,” said Uruguay captain Andres Vilaseca.