England and Argentina will get their Rugby World Cup campaigns underway at the Stade Velodrome on Saturday, as both teams look to steal an early march in the race to finish top of Pool D.
It has been a difficult 2023 to date for England, with head coach Steve Borthwick having won just three of his eight matches since taking charge, a run that includes last month’s shock 30-22 reverse to Fiji in their final World Cup warm-up match.
Argentina’s form is somewhat better, with victory over Australia at the recent Rugby Championship still fresh in the mind, while the Pumas also claimed the spoils the last time they faced England – a 30-29 success at Twickenham last November.
This promises to be a closely-fought contest between two teams aiming to lay down an early marker in the pool, as well as the tournament as a whole.
Borthwick has caused something of a surprise with his team selection by including scrum-half Alex Mitchell and wing Jonny May in his starting XV, despite both players initially missing out on a place in his 33-man squad.
The duo replaced the injured Jack van Poortvliet and Anthony Watson in the squad and will now start in Marseille, as will George Ford, who takes suspended captain Owen Farrell’s place at fly-half.
Billy Vunipola is also suspended for the opening fixture and his place at number eight goes to his Saracens team-mate Ben Earl.
Argentina head coach Michael Cheika has opted for an experienced line-up, with nine of his XV boasting previous World Cup pedigree, including captain Julian Montoya, who will be a familiar face to many in the England team as he plays his club rugby for Leicester Tigers.
Hooker Agustin Creevy has been named amongst the replacements, with the 38-year-old set to feature at his fourth World Cup.
England to win by 1-12 points @ 2/1
Argentina may have won the most recent meeting between these two teams, but it is England who have tended to dominate this fixture, triumphing in the 10 clashes prior to last autumn’s narrow loss at Twickenham.
That run includes a victory for the Red Rose during the pool stages of the 2019 World Cup and England have won all three previous meetings with Argentina at the tournament.
However, England are not in form, losing three of their four World Cup warm-up matches, and they may need to grind out this victory. It is certainly hard to see them winning by more than a 12-point margin.
Jonny May Anytime Try Scorer @ 13/8
It has been something of a quick turnaround for England wing May, who in the space of a few weeks has gone from being out of the squad all together to starting the team’s first match of the tournament, but his experience could prove key.
This will be May’s third World Cup and he scored tries at the tournaments in both 2015 and 2019 – grabbing a brace in England’s quarter-final victory over Australia at the latter.
In total May has crossed well over 30 times during his England career – only Rory Underwood has more – and if anyone is to break Argentina’s resistance on Saturday then it could well be the 33-year-old.