England are 14 point favourites to beat Argentina at Twickenham on Saturday and based on recent collateral form and history of internationals against the Pumas this is a handicap that the home side can cover. Before winning the World Cup in 2003 England were unbeaten at home for four yeas and this is the type of dominance that they are trying to replicate in the current era.
The number of internationals on the schedule has increased significantly in the last 26 years. The first rugby union World Cup was staged in 1987, the Five Nations expanded to Six when Italy first entered the competition in 2000 and autumn internationals are now a regular feature of the schedules. The quality of domestic rugby during international breaks may have suffered but full stadiums indicate there is a demand from the public for more international rugby.
England squad players are now on a central contract which means the clubs agree to them being on international duty for a set number of weeks in the regular season. However, the calendar is devised so that there is not a clash between Heineken Cup matches and internationals. The amount of high intensity rugby also increased with the introduction of this competition in 1995.
The Champions League of rugby union brings together the best sides from Britain, France, Italy and Ireland. By definition the leading club sides will have the better players in their squads, more likely to be selected to play for their country. The increased fixture list now puts more physical pressure on the modern player but with the extra commitment comes improved financial rewards from professionalism in the sport.
England have played Argentina 18 times and won 13 of those matches. There has been one draw and Argentina have won 4 of these fixtures. The most wins in a row for England over Argentina is 4. The largest winning margin for England and most points scored is 51. In internationals between the sides England have scored 451 points and conceded 260. The average points’ difference per game between England and Argentina is 10.61.
England have won the last three matches between the sides by a total of 61 points to 25, meaning the average winning margin over this spell is 12 points. However, they beat their opponents on Saturday by just 7 points in the last fixture at Twickenham in 2009. England beat Australia 20-13 at Twickenham last weekend while the Aussies beat the Pumas 54-17 away from home last month.
This recent form means on balance England should be about 20 favourites against Argentina on Saturday. Bookmakers may have written forecast weather conditions into the handicap line as wet and windy weather tends to reduce the amount of expansive rugby and hence the number of tries. However, England will want to build on the positives from the win over Australia and will look to run in some tries and put a significant amount of points on the board.
In team news England will be missing a key player against Argentina as prop Mako Vuniola cannot play due to a knee injury. This withdrawal is offset by the return of Alex Corbisiero after a knee injury. Lock Geoff Parling suffered mild concussion against Australia but is expected to play. There are definite rules about players who suffer head injuries in rugby union, something that do not appear to be in place for Premier League soccer.
Parling has to pass the doctor and will not be allowed to play if the medics believe there are still some ongoing effects from an injury to the head. This approach compares favourably with the regulations in English soccer, which allowed the Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to return to the pitch against Everton apparently after briefly losing consciousness. Rugby is more physical game but coaches have to accept the rules regarding injuries to the head.
Dave Attwood was sent back to his club on Tuesday night and hooker Rob Webber is on standby for the match against Argentina as Tom Youngs’ wife is about to give birth. An extended squad has been announced to compensate for absentees through injury and other matters but England should still be good enough to beat Argentina by more than 14 points.