England Finishes Third at Rugby World Cup after Holding Out Hard-Charging Pumas

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
England’s Theo Dan, left, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try during the Rugby World Cup third place match between England and Argentina at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023.

PARIS (AP) — England finished third at the Rugby World Cup for the first time by stopping waves of late Argentina attacks and prevailing 26-23 in their tense playoff on Friday.

The Pumas brought the game alive by rallying from 13-0 down to lead by one point straight after halftime. England hit straight back and just stayed in front enough thanks to the boot of captain Owen Farrell, who was mercilessly booed all night.

In the last five minutes, the Pumas missed a penalty to tie the score and England replacement George Ford pulled off a try-saving tackle on wing Mateo Carreras.

We started the game really well, got on the front foot, were really physical and made some inroads, but it didn’t end up being a game like that, Farrell said. “Argentina were always going to play a big part in that and it was pretty scrappy thereafter. We did what we needed to do to grind out a win.”

Third place gives England comfort after it was written off before the tournament. England and Argentina combined for only three wins in nine matches in the Six Nations and Rugby Championship but scratched their way out of the same pool to reach the semifinals from the easiest half of the World Cup draw.

Seven weeks after their drab pool game in which 14-man England beat Argentina on goalkicks, the same teams were disciplined and wholehearted and showed they dearly wanted the bronze medal.

It is hard to accept losing this game, Argentina coach Michael Cheika said. “It is hard to draw any positives but I believe that the trajectory over this World Cup will make Argentines proud. What is missing from us is excellence. We need it, but we have the capacity to overcome obstacles.”

Playing Sam Underhill and Tom Curry together in a World Cup game for the first time since the 2019 final paid dividends for England in an attritional first half. They were England’s top two tacklers and got the only two turnovers in a half that was fairly even except on the scoreboard.

Curry was superb in a week when he and his family were abused online for complaining he was the subject of a racial slur from South Africa during the semifinals last weekend. Underhill, an emergency replacement playing his first test in more than a year, finished with a game-best 24 tackles. “Surreal,” was how he summed up his last three weeks.

Marcus Smith sent No. 8 Ben Earl through a gap and soft defense for the opening try. Farrell’s conversion and two penalties sent England ahead 13-0.

Argentina thought it was playing a Barbarians game and gave up two kickable penalties to try a lineout and scrum, both of which were wasted. The next penalty, though, was kicked over by Emiliano Boffelli, which pleased a crowd of 77,647 giving the Pumas partisan support.

Farrell kicked England 16-3 ahead, and just when the game was plodding along, it was given a welcome lift by the Pumas after scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli dived through English legs to score.

The game really came alive straight after halftime when, out of nothing, Pumas flyhalf Santiago Carreras slipped front-rowers Theo Dan and Ellis Genge and glided around Smith to score between the posts.

But Carreras immediately undid his brilliant work when he was charged down by Dan, who regathered and scored.

Such a rush, scoring for your country, Dan said. “My missed tackle led to a try and it could have cost the team dearly, so to be able to repay them with that, I was really happy.”

Farrell and Boffelli had the posts zeroed in all night, combining for a perfect 10 out of 10 goalkicks. Their penalties plus a penalty by replacement Sanchez pushed the score to 26-23 with 12 minutes to go.

The minutes were dominated by Argentina but Sanchez pulled his second chance from wide out, and Ford smothered Carreras when he was tearing for the line.

It finished the best third-place game since 2007, when Argentina beat host France, and gave England a full set of World Cup medals after gold in 2003 and silvers in 1991, 2007 and 2019.

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
England players pose after winning the Rugby World Cup third place match between England and Argentina at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023.