Ackford felled as England trounce Pumas
November 3, 1990
Paul Ackford was on the wrong end of Federico Mendez's fist during the match
© PA Photos
England trounced Argentina in a clinical and disciplined exhibition of the progress they had made in two years under Will Carling and manager Geoff Cooke. The might of the pack and the finishing of Jeremy Guscott and Rory Underwood are all but forgotten; the match in 1990 is best remembered for Paul Ackford being knocked out by a thunderous right hook from Argentine schoolboy Federico Mendez.
A callow England squad lacking several senior players had toured Argentina in the summer, losing four of the seven matches and drawing the Test series 1-1. Now they were at full strength with a team that would go on to win the Grand Slam and reach the World Cup final in 1991.
This time it was Argentina who were fresh-faced with five forwards and two backs making their international debuts on this tour. They were led by veteran fly-half Hugo Porta, brought out retirement for the tour of Ireland, England and Scotland, aged 39. Porta had been playing international rugby since before Mendez was born.
Argentina had come close to causing an upset in Dublin the previous week, Ireland scraping home 20-18, so Carling and his men were wary of a team who never lacked the basic strengths of good scrummaging and tackling. Tight head prop Diego Cash found himself opposite the young Jason Leonard, while loose head Mendez faced the stiff challenge of England's notoriously awkward Jeff Probyn.
54,000 turned up for what The Times described as, "one of the most disciplined displays England have achieved during their resurgence over the past three years" and went on to say that the match, "should be remembered for that, not the dismissal of Mendez with 10 minutes of the match to go". Some hope.
John Hall, Bath stalwart and occasional England flanker, was recalled after a three year break and played the game of his career, topped off with a second half try.
Richard Hill, Hall's club scrum-half, scored the first try, Underwood the second as England went 15-0 up in as many minutes. Argentina had no possession early on and Porta later conceded of England, "No mistakes, really top rugby."
Ackford and Wade Dooley were creditably matched in the lineout by German Llanes and Pedro Sporleder, both novices who went on to long and distinguished international careers. But England's play purred as Hill was given an armchair ride with time and space to release his backs. They scored from long range and short, while restricting the visitors to two missed penalties and a fluffed Porta drop-goal.
Underwood's hat-trick came a year after his five tries against Fiji. He was making up for the four years and 22 matches he played before scoring a try for England at Twickenham.
While the points piled up, Probyn was quietly grinding down, and winding up, his young opposite number. The flashpoint came when a messy scrum wheeled left in front of the East Stand. Mendez was squeezed out and onto the floor. Probyn, still bound to his hooker swung back over Mendez, seemingly taking care not to step on him with his right boot.
Video shows that Mendez either punched or grabbed Probyn's most delicate male assets twice from below, prompting Probyn to an ugly stamp on Mendez' head with his left boot.
Simultaneously, Leonard was involved in a minor scuffle with Sporleder as the scrum broke up, and this attracted the attention of referee Colin Hawke as several players, including Ackford, looked on.
A furious Mendez got up and immediately took an almighty swing at 6'6" Ackford, though he later claimed it was mistaken identity and that he was after 5'10" Probyn "because he stamped on my goolies". Ackford didn't see the haymaker coming and fell like a lighthouse off a cliff edge.
After briefly receiving retaliatory attention from Dean Richards, Peter Winterbottom and Hall, Mendez was ordered off by Hawke on the recommendation of his touch judge. Ackford required medical attention and considerable help to leave the field on jelly-like legs.
The game ended with England posting a half century of points, all seven tries being converted by Simon Hodgkinson. Together with three penalties, Hodgkinson's 23 points eclipsed Dan Lambert's individual match points record for England of 22, which had stood since 1911.
Mendez was banned for four weeks but re-emerged to resume a career spanning 14 years and 73 caps. Ackford, despite inevitable mickey-taking from team mates, enjoyed another year at the top of the game before retiring to the press box.
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