The third place play-off in the 2023 Rugby World Cup has been decided, with England taking home the bronze medals from France. Steve Borthwick’s men head back home with some consolation after their semi-final heartbreak, with tries from Ben Earl and Theo Dan building to a narrow victory over Los Pumas.
England started off the match with a real fire, and were over to score through Ben Earl after just seven minutes. The sharpshooting of Owen Farrell established a comfortable points tally, but Los Pumas would not lie down, and battled back to narrow the deficit ahead of the break. A first half try from Tomas Cubelli came with the asterisk of a dubious forward pass, with Farrell left irate after the try was awarded.
Argentina ignited the second half, with Gloucester halfback Santiago Carreras breaking through the line. Ellis Genge and Theo Dan missed their tackle attempts, with the young Saracens hooker getting two hands on the elusive runner. Carreras skipped over the line for a 42nd minute try, yet Dan made his amends with an immediate response. The 22-year-old charged down a routine Carreras clearance kick, and grounded the ball over the Argentine try-line just one minute after the re-start.
The match then broke down into a place kicking contest, between Owen Farrell and Argentina’s veteran halfback Nicolas Sanchez. However, a key missed shot at the posts by Sanchez gifted England a lifeline, with the match narrowly avoiding extra-time, as England took home the bronze medals from Paris.
Here are five things we learned, from England’s 26-23 win over Argentina in the Rugby World Cup Third-Place Play-Off.
1. Ben Youngs’ International Farewell
12 Years after Ben Youngs began his Rugby World Cup career in an off-the-bench match-winning performance against Argentina, the scrum-half now hangs up his international boots. 127 test match caps saw Youngs end his career as England’s most capped men’s player, and the Leicester Tigers man had an impressive run-out against Argentina.
Youngs rolled back the years for his halfback partnership, as he made his first start alongside with Farrell since taking on Scotland in the 2021 Six Nations. Youngs took some time to get back to the speed of international rugby, having been watching on from the stands for most of the Rugby World Cup. Youngs was caught off-guard by Theo Dan’s rapid hook at the opening scrum, and sent the following distribution along the floor to Farrell. However, he soon found his feet, and utilised his tried and tested box kicks with great effect.
With Youngs retiring from the international circuit, and question marks surrounding the future of 36-year-old Danny Care’s time in an England jersey, we will likely enter a power struggle for the number nine shirt. Jack van Poortvliet was set to lead England at the competition, but an untimely injury side-lined the Leicester Tigers man from the tournament. Alex Mitchell stepped up in his absence, and will want to build on his extended run in Borthwick’s squad in the 2024 Six Nations and following Summer tour to New Zealand.
2. Theo Dan rides the World Cup rollercoaster
A spell of two minutes perfectly summed up Theo Dan’s 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign. The 22-year-old missed his tackle on Santiago Carreras, who skipped through the gain-line to score after half-time. However, Dan promptly turned this around, as following Owen Farrell’s re-start, Dan chased the kick and charged down Carreras’ clearing kick. Dan was fastest to react to the bouncing ball, and grounded to score over the Argentina try-line less than two minutes after conceding.
This short spell reflected Dan’s World Cup campaign. Understandably the understudy to Jamie George, Dan made brief cameo appearances in England’s opening two matches against Argentina and Japan. Each appearance was for less than 10 minutes, yet Dan made good on his chance when called to start against Chile. Dan scored twice in the one-sided win over Los Condores, yet did not see another minute of match action as an unused replacement for England’s matches against Samoa, Fiji and South Africa.
A rollercoaster few moments for an up-and-down tournament for Dan. However, the promising hooker has the clear advantage of youth on his side. He is in the best possible environment to progress, and can continue to learn from his mentor Jamie George back at Saracens. He will likely have to bide his time in the next Rugby World Cup cycle, and could well be starting for England in Australia in 2027.