England kicked off their Rugby World Cup campaign with a battling 13-9 victory over Argentina at the Otago Stadium in Dunedin.
A second half try from replacement scrum-half Ben Youngs proved the crucial score in a bruising contest with the Pumas left to rue an incredible six missed penalties and a wayward drop goal. England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson also suffered a rare off-day with the boot - missing five penalties - but was crucially on target with two and a conversion to steer his side to a priceless victory.
A dominant Pumas pack had dictated the terms of the contest in the opening period but a penalty apiece for fly-half Felipe Contepomi and fullback Martin Rodriguez were their only reward with the latter adding just one more after the break as England muscled their way back into the game.
Errors blighted England's early efforts and allowed the Pumas to claim a valuable foothold in their rivals' 22. A rock steady lineout and a succession of pick and drives took them to within inches where Contepomi was held up but their endeavour did bring a penalty that the fly-half slotted from straight in front to give his side the lead.
Argentina were soon on the front foot again with pressure on half way drawing an offside penalty against England but this time the distance was too much for Rodriguez. Instead it was England who stopped the rot with Wilkinson nailing a penalty from out wide shortly after a warning to his skipper Mike Tindall from referee Bryce Lawrence about his own side's indiscipline.
Wilkinson's boot continued to relieve the pressure generated by a fired-up Pumas side but England could not escape the wrath of Lawrence's whistle. A penalty against flanker James Haskell for not rolling away handed Argentina another opportunity to turn the screw but again the kick proved to be out of his range. They did not have to wait long for another chance with winger Delon Armitage penalised for not releasing but Contepomi pushed his kick wide of the posts in another let-off for England.
The penalty count against England continued on its seemingly rocket-propelled ascent with loose-head prop Andrew Sheridan the latest to infringe and following what must have been a final warning from Lawrence, Rodriguez edged the Pumas ahead once more.
England re-grouped to launch a rare raid downfield only for Argentina to snuff out the danger with comparative ease before clearing their lines. There was little let up in the pace of the game with a superb linebreak from England fullback Ben Foden cutting through the Pumas' defence. His pass to Armitage failed to go to hand and that momentum-sapping error allowed Argentina to scramble back although they did so illegally.
England kicked the penalty to the corner for the lineout before tempers flared when Thompson planted a kiss on opposite number Mario Ledesma. England channelled that energy to win a penalty at the next scrum but Wilkinson dragged the simple kick wide of the posts.
Another chance came and went with Ashton poised to exploit an opening on the Pumas' 22 before Lawrence's patience finally ran out with tight-head Dan Cole sent to the sin-bin. Rodriguez' latest miss, with an injured Contepomi by now on the sidelines after being hammered by Haskell, was compounded by another injury blow - this time to inside centre Gonzalo Tiesi - the victim of a big tackle from England lock Courtney Lawes.
Argentina powered into England's 22 as the half drew to a close with a crunching tackle on Ledesma denying the veteran a try in the corner and it was no surprise to see a drop goal effort from Rodriquez fall some way short in the last telling act of the opening period.
The England defence parted early in the second half to allow Rodriguez to coast through but he could not find another gear and was eventually penalised for not releasing. Replacement Marcelo Bosch was the next to charge deep into England territory and while Argentina could not find the precision to exploit the opportunity, their rivals drifted offside to allow Rodriguez to land his second penalty. Handed an almost immediate chance to register a reply, Wilkinson failed to find the target again but Rodriquez failed to compound England's woes with his latest long-range blank.
Youngs looked to inject some urgency in England's attack and while it brought the latest penalty, Wilkinson could only push it wide of the posts as his bad day with the boot continued.
England's problems soon spread to the scrum but even when safely within range there was no end to Rodriguez's kicking woes. But he was not alone with Wilkinson hooking his next attempt after a rare moment of indiscipline from an industrious Pumas pack. You sensed one of them would have to find some form sooner or later but England opted to kick the next penalty to the corner for a 5m lineout.
England's forwards rose to the challenge and pummelled the Pumas' line before the Youngs darted over for a try that brought his side back to within a point. Wilkinson finally rediscovered some form with the conversion - although it could not have been easier - and England had a slender lead with a little over ten minutes remaining.
The score appeared to deflate the Pumas but Wilkinson could not add to their burden with a long range penalty attempt a couple of minutes later. An attacking scrum on Argentina's 22 allowed England to wind the clock down and eventually it produced a penalty that Wilkinson landed to give his side a little more breathing room as the game entered the last five minutes.
Forced to chase the game the Pumas made significant gains only to cough up possession. A cross kick from Youngs then found Ashton who was quickly engulfed but at the cost of another penalty. Wilkinson sent the ball into the corner and his forwards retained the ball before it was worked wide to Armitage who was squeezed out as he stretched to score.
Desperate times called for desperate measures and the Pumas' gave the ball plenty of air in the hope of finding a miracle score and cried foul when replacement Juan Jose Imhoff was caught as he attempted to chase a kick ahead but their pleas were waved away and their final chance had gone.