England v Argentina preview: Why are the Pumas slight favourites in World Cup opener?

Juan Martin Gonzalez
Juan Martin Gonzalez is one of our key players to watch as Argentina take on England in Marseille

Rugby World Cup: Pool D - England v Argentina

Venue: Stade de Marseille Date: Saturday, 9 September Kick-off: 20:00 BST

Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds and online; follow text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Argentina will be in uncharted territory when they begin their World Cup campaign in Marseille on Saturday.

The Pumas are ranked two places higher than England in the world standings and are slight favourites for the first time in a meeting between the two nations.

Michael Cheika's side are sixth in the world, having claimed a famous first away win in New Zealand last year before also beating England and Australia on the road and finishing third in the recent Rugby Championship.

Eighth-placed England, in contrast, had a disappointing Six Nations and lost three of their four summer warm-up matches, including a first defeat by Fiji.

BBC Sport profiles the Pumas before Saturday's heavyweight Pool D opener against Steve Borthwick's side.

Flying the flag for South America

Chile and Uruguay will play their part, but Argentina are South America's only realistic hope of reaching the knockout stages in France.

The Pumas finished third in 2007 before reaching the semi-finals for a second time in 2015, when their game was built on physicality and set-piece dominance, and feared props Marcos Ayerza and Ramiro Herrera were dominating in the scrum.

Their game has now moved to a slightly more dynamic approach but England prop Dan Cole says they remain "formidable" up front.

"It's a force," said Cole. "You look at their team in the Rugby Championship, they're dangerous. If you have one scrummage where you are not fully focused they will do you damage and get stuck into you."

Argentina's pack have retained much of that potency but the class of 2023 has more strengths to their bow.

Pack power

Julian Montoya in attacking mode for Argentina
Julian Montoya has scored 11 tries in 89 Tests for Argentina, including six in World Cup matches

Cole's Leicester team-mate Julian Montoya will captain the side from hooker with great endeavour and intensity with ball in hand.

The 29-year-old made his Test debut in 2014 and will set an example to the rest of the Pumas pack with his tireless running and powerful lines in open play.

At number six, youngster and new Saracens signing Juan Martin Gonzalez will look to impose himself at the breakdown and challenge England's defence in the loose.

The 22-year-old has scored seven tries in his 24 appearances for Argentina, including a powerful burst in the August 2022 win over the All Blacks.

Attacking flair

Emiliano Boffelli of Argentina celebrates scoring his side's first try against England in November
Argentina stunned England with a 30-29 victory at Twickenham in November

Behind the scrum, the Pumas have devastating pace at their disposal.

Newcastle wing Mateo Carreras is a real livewire in attack and was second in the Premiership's list of top try-scorers with 13 last season, winning the try of the season award with a stunning length-of-the-field score against Northampton.

England conceded 12 tries in four warm-up matches and the 23-year-old will not need a second invitation to exploit any shortfalls.

Meanwhile, Saracens fans will get a glimpse of their new arrival from London Irish, Lucio Cinti, who starts at outside centre on Saturday but has the speed to play on the wing, while Gloucester's Santiago Carreras pulls the strings from fly-half.

And in Emiliano Boffelli, who plays his club rugby for Edinburgh, Argentina have the perfect goal-kicker to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The versatile back scored 25 of Argentina's 30 points against England last November, with one try, one conversion and six penalties.

The brains behind the brawn

Michael Cheika congratulates Julian Montoya after Argentina beat England in November
Michael Cheika masterminded Argentina's win over England at Twickenham

Head coach Cheika, 56, is a seasoned operator at Test level.

After lifting the 2009 Champions Cup as Leinster coach, the Australian led the Wallabies to the World Cup final in 2015.

In that same year, he was named World Rugby's Coach of the Year before leaving his post after Australia's 2019 World Cup ended in defeat by England in the quarter-finals.

That victory secured the bragging rights for Eddie Jones over his friend and old adversary, but Cheika would have the last laugh.

Having initially joined the Pumas set-up in an advisory role in 2020, he was appointed as head coach in 2022.

That impressive victory over the All Blacks in Christchurch during the Rugby Championship quickly followed, before Argentina claimed only a second win over England at Twickenham in November.

Three games later, Jones was relieved of his duties as England head coach.

Cheika could be in line to renew his rivalry with Jones, who now coaches Australia, in the quarter-finals and victory over England will hand his side pole position to reach the last eight from Pool D.

Argentina's team to face England

Mallia; Boffelli, Cinti, Chocobares, M Carreras; S Carreras, Bertranou; Gallo, Montoya (capt), Gomez Kodela, Lavanini, Alemanno, Martin Gonzalez, Kremer, Matera.

Replacements: Creevy, Sclavi, Bello, Petti Pagadizabal, Rubiolo, Bruni, Bazan Velez, Moroni.