George Ford kicked England to a remarkable 27-10 World Cup victory over Argentina on Saturday in a performance full of intensity that was all the more astonishing as they played with 14 men from the third minute.
Flyhalf Ford, starting in the place of the suspended Owen Farrell, scored all the points, including a record-equalling three drop goals in a 10-minute first-half blitz that seemed to sap Argentina’s spirit.
England were unrecognisable from the team who had lost six of their nine games under coach Steve Borthwick, finally showing pace in attack, fierce determination in defence and great discipline in stark contrast to their ragged rivals.
“The drop-goals are always planned, it is a great weapon for us,” Ford said. “The boys up front were incredible to get us into that field position.
“We have had a bit of a rocky build-up to this World Cup but I think in the last 10 days there has been a different feeling to the place.”
The Pool D match had been billed as a massive challenge for England against a Pumas side who beat them at Twickenham last November. It looked an even bigger ask when Curry, playing his first game of rugby since May, was shown a yellow card for a head on head collision with Cruz Mallia, which was upgraded to red via the bunker TMO review system.
It was the fourth time in the last six games that England had had a man sent off.
Four years ago in the corresponding fixture in Japan it was Argentina’s Tomas Lavanni who was sent off early, helping England to a comfortable victory, but this time the depleted team dealt with the issue much better.
Ford showed famed generalship as he regularly steered his team into position and landed three drop goals to match Jonny Wilkinson’s England record from the 2003 semi-final victory over France, to give them a 12-3 halftime lead.
England’s defence was unrecognisable from the Fiji defeat last time out as a series of dominant collisions kept earning Ford penalty opportunities that he kept taking to stretch the lead.
The England fans could barely contain themselves as the scoreboard kept ticking over in their favour and so many players delivered the top-drawer performances Borthwick had kept promising.
“There was a sense I had from the players they had been written off a bit too early,” said Borthwick.
“What I see is a great group of players who have a lot of experience and some real exciting young players and I thought the blend was just about right today.”
“We will enjoy this tonight and the fans will enjoy it but our focus will switch to Japan very quickly for our next game.”
Argentina, who came into the game above England in the world rankings and hoping for a first World Cup win against the 2003 champions after three previous pool defeats, barely mounted an attack until the final minute when Rodrigo Bruni bundled over for the only try of the match.
They have almost two weeks off before facing Samoa in St Etienne and will have soul-searching to do.
“England had the strategy and we didn’t,” said their captain Julian Montoya. “Today we were not good enough, we did not do many things we should have done. Credit to England, but there are many things that by our standards we have to improve.”
Coach Michael Cheika said: “I think we let the play get too stop and start. England played the circumstances very well and full credit to them.
“But the world is not over. We have many World Cup first-timers and they will take a lesson of how we need to be ready when the whistle blows.”