Matt Banahan's third Test try earned England the victory they craved over Argentina, but they failed to impress en route to a 16-9 win.
England were being held at 9-9 by the Pumas before James Haskell sparked their one bright moment on a grim afternoon at Twickenham and Banahan finished off the try.
A tigerish performance from Lewis Moody apart, England were poor. Argentina had only been together for a week and the spirited Pumas undermined all England’s excuses about needing time to build a performance.
In the first half, Ugo Monye was exposed at full-back as Argentina peppered him with high balls and the crowd became so frustrated they began to jeer.
Jonny Wilkinson’s tactical kicking was disappointing but he stroked England into the lead with a drop-goal after setting up the chance with a huge tackle on Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
As the barrage of kicking continued, England earning their first real opening when Lobbe dropped a steepling kick under pressure from Moody and Mark Cueto breaking clear without out-pacing Argentina full-back Horacio Agulla.
Despite missing so many key creative players it was Argentina who showed the most inclination to attack. Martin Rodriguez shaved the post with a drop-goal attempt but drew Argentina level with a penalty after Tim Payne was penalised for not binding at the scrum.
Rodriguez drilled a second effort wide after Haskell was penalised for being offside but Wilkinson responded with a successful long-range strike to nudge England back into the lead.
When Monye’s third attempted catch went to ground, Haskell compounded the problem by diving on the ball and conceding another penalty, which Rodriguez accepted gratefully.
When England were again penalised at the scrum, Rodriguez edged Argentina ahead with a third penalty, but the Pumas conceded almost immediately.
Wilkinson drew the scores level at half-time, when England switched things around with Cueto moving to full-back, and he immediately looked much more at home in the position.
England received a let-off when Rodriguez missed from a similar range and Cueto took it on his shoulders to inject some pace into the game with a confident take and counter-attack.
Cueto’s angled kick forward was chased again by Moody and the pressure forced Argentina to gift England a lineout 10 metres from the line. But Cueto was chopped down by a ruthless tackle from winger Lucas Borges.
Finally, with 10 minutes remaining, England managed to create the kind of dynamic rugby they had promised from the outset.
Haskell sparked the move with a midfield break, Steve Borthwick off-loaded and the ball was spread wide via Cueto and Moody for Banahan to dart in at the corner and touch down under the posts. Wilkinson completed a simple conversion.
Argentina piled the pressure on at the death in search of the draw but England defended gallantly to hold on.