‘The players deserved better’: Cheika’s fury returns as England hang on against Argentina to win RWC bronze medal


Almost 12 months after bidding farewell to Eddie Jones, England is bronze medallists.

Steve Borthwick’s side won an engrossing encounter against Michael Cheika’s Argentine Pumas 26-23 at the Stade de France.

Usually bronze medal matches are snooze fests with little meaning and even less atmosphere. Try telling Cheika’s Pumas.

Trailing 16-10 at half-time, Cheika laid down the law at half-time as he finally unleashed his inner passion after previously restraining himself in front of the passionate South Americans.

Ben Earl scored England’s first try after barging over out wide against Argentina during their bronze medal win at the Stade de France in Paris. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

His fiery half-time address, which brought back memories of his explosive talk to the Wallabies when they overturned a match that looked lost in Salta five years ago, looked like it had worked a treat as Santiago Carreras sliced through and scored in the opening minutes to give Los Pumas a 17-16 lead.

But less than two minutes later England hit back via a Theo Dan charge down and England never looked back.

Argentina had one late chance to steal the match, but instead of kicking for the five-metre line they turned to veteran playmaker Nicolas Sanchez to try and level up the match out wide. The move backfired, as Sanchez – Argentina’s highest point scorer – missed.

They didn’t get another chance, as England’s experience allowed them to run down the clock before booting the ball into touch.

“It was a very tight game, wasn’t it?” England’s first-year head coach Steve Borthwick said.

“It wasn’t a game of incredible high quality but it was a game of high tension and a game of fine margins; two teams that wanted to find a way to get the win.

“Immense credit to Argentina for the way they played tonight and the way they’ve gone through the tournament. Whilst tonight wasn’t a classic, it was a tight affair.”

Santiago Carreras celebrates with teammate Juan Cruz Mallia after scoring his team’s second try at Stade de France on October 27, 2023 in Paris. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The evening brought the curtain down on veteran halfback Ben Youngs’ career, while others like his former long-term halves partner Danny Care has likely played his last Test for England too. Ditto Dan Cole, the veteran tight-head prop, who made a return under Borthwick.

Whether it was Cheika’s last Test in charge of Los Pumas remains to be seen.

The off-contract Australian coach is likely to call time on his tenure with Argentina, having taking over from Mario Ledesma last year.

With Jones’ future with the Wallabies in serious doubt beyond this year, Cheika, the 2015 World Rugby coach of the year who led Australia to two World Cups, could yet rocket back into calculation.

While Argentina never threatened during their semi-final against the All Blacks, a narrow three-point loss in the bronze medal match is nothing to sneeze about.

A week after being left angered by Angus Gardner’s refereeing, Cheika was left furious by Nic Berry’s officiating as Argentina didn’t get the pay they thought they deserved at the scrum in the second half and at the breakdown.

“The players deserved better today,” he said.

“I’m certainly disappointed with the way the whole game was run, the way the game was refereed. The inconsistency in that.

“Our players are working for two years to try and get something – and I know we’re one of the lower nations right and we’re not England or New Zealand or South Africa or any of those guys, but at the end of the day it’s hard and I feel for the lads because they deserved more than they got out of it tonight.”

Michael Cheika was left furious by the officiating in France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Nor did Cheika reveal his next move.

“No idea,” he said. 

“I haven’t even thought about it. I go to Argentina later in the year and we’ll have a talk about how things went and what the future holds, but it’s not really what I’m thinking about.

“I’m totally disappointed for everyone – our crowd and the people. We deserved to win tonight and for one reason or another, we didn’t.”

Los Pumas captain Julian Montoya was giving nothing away about Cheika’s future either.

“We don’t know if it’s his last game, so I’m not going to talk about that. He never said that it was his last game, so there’s nothing I can say about that,” Montoya said.

Discipline hurt Los Pumas early, as Owen Farrell, who almost boot England to victory a week earlier against the Springboks, put the 2003 world champions on the scoreboard after three minutes.

Five minutes later and England extended their lead as Earl burst his way through on the fringes to open up a 10-0 lead.

It was 13-0 after as many minutes when Farrell banged over another penalty, before Argentina eventually got on the scoreboard via the boot of winger Emiliano Boffelli.

Cheika’s fury was on show at half-time and within two minutes of the second half Carreras had scored to help give the Pumas the lead. But it didn’t last long, as the promising Saracens hooker scored.

In an enthralling last quarter, Argentina threw plenty as England but the boot of Farrell proved the difference.

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