England get their first taste of Argentina
May 30, 1981
A fresh-faced Clive Woodward bagged two tries against the Pumas
© PA Photos
Argentina and England drew their first full cap international in Buenos Aires. Clive Woodward's second try, four minutes from time, saved England from defeat at the hands of a powerful Puma team who were regularly commanding respect in international rugby, though it took another 30 years for them to be admitted to a major annual international championship.
The teams had also drawn at their only previous meeting, 13-13 at Twickenham in 1978, when Argentina had awarded caps but England had not. Nine Pumas survived from that match, but only four Englishmen, captain Bill Beaumont, back row forwards Mike Rafter and John Scott, and centre Paul Dodge.
England's touring party was below strength due to the unavailability of several senior players, but they did not under estimate the challenge posed by a beefy Argentine pack and experienced backs led by fly-half Hugo Porta. During a 19 year international career, Porta raised Argentinian rugby from minnow status to a level where even the best teams didn't take them lightly. It was unfortunate for him and the rugby world at large that the fallout from the Falklands War stopped rugby between Argentina and all four home nations from 1981 to 1990.
England won all four warm up matches comfortably enough, though injuries prevented five of the team from training in the build-up to the international. Woodward, Steve Smith and props Colin Smart and Gary Pearce all had knocks but by the Friday night Smart described himself as "gambolling about like a spring lamb". Most doubtful was Scott who had an ear infection and an ankle injury, so lack of training was compounded by lack of sleep. By the morning of the match he was fit to play.
Nevertheless, Argentina were favourites to win. England's pack had struggled in the 1981 Five Nations, when Peter Wheeler, Phil Blakeway and the giant Maurice Colclough were playing. All three missed the tour, giving way to understudies. Beaumont observed that the set piece would determine the result. In The Times, Peter West proclaimed: "The omens do not look propitious. I fear that Argentina may win by a conclusive amount."
In the event, Beaumont's rookie forwards did him proud, faring better than expected in the set piece and expending huge energy in the loose. Though they tired towards the end on a warm afternoon, they matched Argentina in the lineout where Scott, Beaumont and John Fidler provided good ball for Smith and Cambridge student Huw Davies to use.
Smith showed strength and nous at close quarters and Davies' kicking from hand withstood Argentine pressure. In defence, Nick Jeavons and Rafter made it their business to close Porta down and, largely, they succeeded.
England's Dusty Hare goes for the posts © PA Photos
It was lineout ball from Scott that led to the opening try, scored by Davies but not converted by Dusty Hare. By half-time, Porta had responded with a drop-goal and wing Marcelo Campo scored a try in the right-hand corner following up a kick from teenage full-back Daniel Baetti.
Porta added a penalty shortly after half-time to stretch Argentina's lead to 10-4. Prior to the match it was felt that Hare's ability under the high ball would be examined by Porta, so it was ironic that Woodward's first try came from following up a hoisted kick from Davies that was spilled by Baetti in front of the posts.
At 10-10 after an hour, John Carleton was constantly threatening, Hare was secure at the back and Woodward, though prone to make errors, had the taste of try scoring. Then a pass from Carleton to Dodge was intercepted by Campo, who raced 65 metres to the try line, with Davies and Swift unable to catch him. Porta added the conversion.
Hare kept England within a score with a penalty from near halfway, then a drop-goal by scrum-half Tomas Landajo took the lead back to six points, 19-13.
Woodward's second try came from Scott winning an Argentina lineout. Dodge scissored with Davies, opening up the midfield defence for Woodward to charge through to the posts, leaving a simple conversion to Hare to level the scores.
England would have been more pleased with the draw than their hosts, the forwards having exceeded expectations and the backs having done just enough. Hare's two early misses at goal made a difference but West, in the Times, described it as "a just and honourable result."
Both teams were unchanged when they met again the following week, Hare's two penalties being the difference in a 12-6 win for England.
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