George Ford kicked all the points, including three drop-goals, to help 14-man England cast off a dismal run of form to claim a comprehensive 27-10 victory over Argentina in the teams’ Pool D World Cup opener on Saturday.
After just four wins from their last 13 matches, an England side boasting 10 survivors from the 2019 final they lost to South Africa made it count when it mattered in Marseille.
When the two teams last met, in November, it was Los Pumas who laid down a marker with a 30-29 victory at Twickenham. But they have never won a consecutive Test in this fixture and were never in the running after Ford stepped up to take a scrappy game by the scruff of the neck.
Ford more than made up for the fact that it was England’s first World Cup match without Owen Farrell since his international debut: all 10 matches across the 2015 and 2019 tournament featured Farrell at either fly-half, inside centre or as a replacement off the bench.
Farrell is serving a ban that will see him miss the first two matches in this World Cup for a dangerous tackle, but on this showing he will have to fight tooth-and-nail to get the No 10 jersey back from his teammate.
Ford said drop-goals are "always part of our plan, especially when the ball is a bit greasy like tonight".
He added: "We went a man down early on so we had to take as many points as possible when we had field position, and we managed to do that.
"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. It is only game one and we will look to build next week," he told ITV.
In a dramatic opening 10 minutes at a packed Stade Velodrome, French referee Mathieu Raynal was forced to use the television match official to help rule on two dubious tackles.
He first handed Tom Curry a yellow card in just the third minute following a clumsy clash of heads with Argentine full-back Juan Cruz Mallia, but that was eventually upgraded to red.
The red card was England’s fourth since March and the openside became the first England player to be sent off at a World Cup.
Boffelli made no mistake with the resulting penalty from 50 metres, but went wide with a second effort from even further out just minutes later.
- Argentinian ill-discipline -
Raynal was again in action to send Santiago Carreras to the sin bin for taking out his fly-half rival Ford, who subsequently brought the scores level with a penalty of his own with both sides down to 14 men.
As rugby the game finally took centre stage, Pumas prop Thomas Gallo was held up over the line in a rare sortie into English territory before a Courtney Lawes-led pack pounced on a sliced clearance kick by Mateo Carreras.
The ball was thundered into midfield off the line-out by Manu Tuilagi and Ford, cool as a cucumber, hit a sweet drop-goal from 40 metres to hand England a 6-3 lead.
Elliot Daly fell short with a 55-metre penalty, but a good chase saw Argentina put under pressure and from the following set of rucks Ford fell back into the slot to hit a second drop-goal, this time from the halfway line.
After Pablo Matera took out Freddie Steward, England kicked to the corner and the playbook was back on the table: forwards driving in front of the posts, scrum-half Alex Mitchell finding Ford and the fly-half hitting his third drop-goal in 10 seismic minutes for Steve Borthwick’s team.
Guido Petti sloppily strayed offside to hand England the perfect start to the second period as Ford notched his second penalty.
Argentina looked toothless in attack, not helped by several ball-handling errors and the tenacity of Tuilagi in defence.
Ford kicked three more quick-fire penalties to take England out to 24-3 as Los Pumas paid for their ill-discipline.
Farrell was shown clapping from the stands as the England pack rallied to hold up Argentina once more over the line.
And when veteran replacement hooker Agustin Creevy flopped on a ruck, Ford booted his sixth penalty.
Rodrigo Bruni crossed for a late consolation try, converted by Boffelli, all too little, too late.