The years following England’s triumph in Sydney at the 2003 Rugby World Cup were lean ones. Sir Clive Woodward had resigned as coach after a disappointing southern hemisphere summer tour in 2004 and was succeeded by Andy Robinson, his assistant coach. Robinson inherited an experienced side which needed refreshing and this process had been ongoing for two years by the time the autumn internationals took place in 2006.
In the opening match, the All Blacks conclusively inflicted a sixth consecutive defeat on England by 41 points to 20. A week later on November 11th 2006, Argentina came to Twickenham. Argentina had never beaten England at Twickenham, but the Argentine side contained a blend of youth and significant experience and would be formidable opposition.
In their backline, the rugby intelligence of Felipe Contepomi and their captain Agustin Pichot at half back was augmented by the youthful genius of Juan Martin Hernandez at full back. Their forwards contained most of the players who were to drive them to third place in the Rugby World Cup in France a year later. Marcos Ayerza and Omar Hasan at prop alongside the great hooker Mario Ledesma; Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe and Patricio Albacete in the second row; and Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Gonzalo Longo and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe in the back row.
The England side by contrast was much less experienced. Jonny Wilkinson was out injured and there were only a few survivors from that heady evening in Sydney three years earlier – Ian Balshaw, Ben Cohen and substitute Josh Lewsey in the backs, and Ben Kay and Lewis Moody in the pack. Their captain, Leicester’s number 8 Martin Corry, was a British and Irish Lion as was prop Julian White, so England entered the match with a measure of confidence.
After fly half Charlie Hodgson had kicked a penalty and Contepomi had replied in similar kind, the most significant twist of the game occurred in the twenty third minute when the Argentine centre, Gonzalo Tiesi was injured and replaced by the fly half Federico Todeschini. Contepomi moved along to inside centre leaving Todeschini to orchestrate the Puma backline.
It was Todeschini’s first match against England, but he was winning his twelfth cap and had already amassed 165 points in his first eleven tests. He had an accomplished boot and had been on the losing side in only two of his test matches. After England right wing Paul Sackey had scored a magnificent weaving try in the thirty second minute, which Hodgson converted, Todeschini kicked three penalties, the third from the righthand touchline to give the Pumas a 12-10 lead three minutes into the second half.
The game remained even for ten minutes until disaster struck for England. A long pass ten metres inside the Argentine half from replacement fly half Toby Flood was intended for Anthony Allen but never reached him. Todeschini intercepted, scorched home from sixty metres and converted his own try to give Argentina a 19-10 lead.
With a seventh consecutive defeat in sight, England rallied and a penalty by Flood and a coruscating run for a try by full back Ian Balshaw from seventy metres out reduced the deficit to one point. Flood could not kick the conversion but England were back in the match with eighteen minutes remaining. Argentina were equal to the challenge in an increasingly frantic match and two late penalties from Todeschini in the final twelve minutes gave the Pumas their historic victory by 25 points to 18.
The Argentine hero, substitute Todeschini, had scored 22 of those points and their team was ecstatic at their first ever win at Twickenham.
About the Author – A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has had a life-long love of sport. He has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005.