LONDON — England spluttered to a fourth rugby victory over Argentina in the past 12 months, winning 21-8 at Twickenham in a rusty display that coach Eddie Jones labeled a “grindathon” on Saturday.
Without the rested Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell, England produced one of the sloppiest displays of the Jones era and he showed his frustration by slamming down his notebook at one point in the second half.
Still, the English scored tries through No. 8 Nathan Hughes and replacement winger Semesa Rokoduguni and ultimately won comfortably against a Pumas side that has lost nine of its 10 test matches in 2017.
“I don’t see there’s any reason why I shouldn’t be frustrated,” Jones said. “We want to play well. We want to play good rugby.
“It was a grindathon. They played well. We were off the pace a little bit.”
Hughes took a brilliant miss-pass from flyhalf George Ford to barge over in the 23rd minute, helping England create a 14-3 halftime lead, and Rokoduguni — an early replacement for fullback Mike Brown — also crossed down the right wing in the 67th.
Ford kicked the rest of the points through three penalties and a conversion, showing the accuracy the Argentines lacked from the tee.
They threw away 14 points by making just one of six kicks, one of the misses coming in the last minute after replacement flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez finally pierced England’s defense for a close-range try after 30 phases.
Argentina was beaten by a 14-man England this time last year, and lost two tests in June at home against the same opponent that was lacking many of its key players on British and Irish Lions duty.
This was a first match for England’s full-strength side since losing to Ireland in March to miss out on the Six Nations Grand Slam.
“Plenty to work on,” said England captain Dylan Hartley, who has led the team to 21 wins in 22 games since the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Australia and Samoa visit Twickenham over the next two Saturdays.
“Our fluency and our understanding wasn’t there, which is understandable,” said Jones, whose team will take on the country of his birth next weekend. “We’re hoping Australia bring their absolute best game. And see where we’re at.”
This month’s games mark the beginning of the second phase of England’s building to the 2019 Rugby World Cup under Jones, and it was an underwhelming start.
Argentina was coming off six straight losses, all of them in the Rugby Championship, and was determined to make life difficult for England on what turned into an attritional afternoon under gray skies in southwest London.
“There were very few opportunities for both sides,” Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade said. “England took advantage when they had opportunities and we were not able to.”
Ford booted two early penalties either side of one from Emiliano Boffelli before a turning point came with a yellow card for Argentina fullback Joaquin Tuculet. Tuculet competed with counterpart Brown for a high ball but ended up bringing the England player down face-first into the turf.
Brown received a lengthy period of treatment and didn’t continue, with Rokoduguni coming on. While Tuculet was off the field, England dominated territory and scored a try when Ford took out two defenders with a long pass to Hughes on the right wing to score.
Argentina won a penalty at the scrum, was perfect at the lineout and forced mistakes from England. Hernandez couldn’t capitalize before halftime, missing two simple penalties after taking over kicking duties from Boffelli.
There were groans from restless home fans at Twickenham early in the second half as England’s handling errors piled up, with the absence of Farrell keenly felt in the back division.
One of the few moments of excitement came through replacement center Alex Lozowski, who broke through in a 40-meter run. Some phases later, Henry Slade lofted a pass for Rokoduguni to cruise over for his third international try.
Sanchez grabbed a consolation for the Argentines, but they have lost 12 of their last 13 tests ahead of games against Italy and Ireland this month.