England face Argentina on Saturday in the second of their autumn internationals, but will need to gel quickly to stand a chance against their next opponents: New Zealand.
Still beset by injuries in key positions, England coach Stuart Lancaster has made four changes to the team that beat Australia 20-13 last week in unconvincing fashion.
England will approach the clash with confidence after two victorious tour matches over Argentina in the summer, when several players were on duty with the Lions, but the England coach is evidently taking their forward threat seriously.
Lancaster has publicly highlighted the scrum as a crucial battleground for the Pumas and has drafted in a heavier front row to handle it, with prop David Wilson edging out Dan Cole, while Dylan Hartley has been brought in from the cold after disciplinary problems to replace Tom Youngs at hooker. Prop Joe Marler swaps with the injured Mako Vunipola.
England will approach the clash with confidence after two victorious tour matches over Argentina in the summer.
The only other change comes on the wing, where Ben Foden – normally playing at full-back – steps in for Marland Yarde, the youngster who lit up last week’s game. Lancaster was expected to name Yarde alongside another exciting newcomer on the wing, Christian Wade, but injury forced him to leave out both players.
Perhaps only two backs would stir confidence in English hearts after assured performances against the Wallabies: Owen Farrell at fly-half and Mike Brown at full-back. Injuries to Brad Barritt and Manu Tualagi mean that familiar concern lingers over England’s latest ad hoc centre pairing of Joel Tomkins and Billy Twelvetrees, who was bowled over as Australia scored their sole try.
Chris Ashton keeps his spot on the wing for the time being after a less than stellar showing against the Wallabies, while Lee Dickson is picked at scrum-half with Danny Care providing back-up from the bench. Youngs was originally named as stand-in scrum-half but picked up a hip injury in training and is expected to return for the All Blacks match.
England’s backs are certainly struggling to settle into a reliable rhythm ahead of the All Blacks clash next weekend, let alone the 2015 World Cup, but Argentina face an altogether different challenge as they try to escape the ranks of also-rans to match up with the world’s best.
Familiar concern lingers over England’s latest ad hoc centre pairing of Joel Tomkins and Billy Twelvetrees
Not an enviable task, but they stand a fighting chance after being been thrust into arguably the most intense rugby contest outside the World Cup.
The Pumas have just completed their second Rugby Championship, which pits them against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the successor to the Tri-Nations tournament. And while they ended up winless again, Argentina only lost by a single point away to Australia and by five points at home to South Africa.
The squad includes eight players from the English premiership and two uncapped contenders. Argentina’s new coach, Daniel Hourcade, who was appointed only last month, will be keen to push on the team’s development to prove his own point about World Cup prospects.
But much as both teams hunger for success, they will need to keep their thoughts on the game ahead of them and resist dreams of what may yet come.