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The 2003 World Champions were outmuscled and outfought for most of the match and trailed 9-3 before Youngs’ 67th minute intervention spared their blushes.
Fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, who uncharacteristically missed five kicks in an error-strewn performance, converted to put England in front for the first time.
Coach Martin Johnson said: “It’s not a fantastic performance by any means, but it’s a fantastic win in the circumstances.
“I probably aged about 20 years, but we said that before we came here that's what World Cups are about.
“You will be in a game that isn't going your way, you’ll probably get a few penalties against you and the bounce of the ball doesn’t seem to be favouring you and you have to find a way to win and we did,"
"There were opportunities for both sides and they missed them and we were left in the end with the win.
“When we went wide we got turned over a lot. I’d like to look at the tape and see what happened on some of them but we have to keep going and eventually with Ben we got a crucial try, and I felt if we kept on going we would tire them out and eventually we got there.”
The Pumas struck first through the boot of Felipe Contepomi – who would go of injured in the first-half – after a muscular start from the South Americans put England on the back foot.
Wilkinson then squared things after a high tackle on Ben Foden but more needless penalty concessions could have cost England dear.
Luckily for Johnson’s side, the Argentinian kickers were in equally wasteful mood, with Martin Rodriguez missing five penalties in although he did managed to put one through the posts to give his side a 6-3 lead at the interval.
A further Rodriguez three-pointer in the second half put England on the brink of a morale-crushing defeat, before Youngs’ late try turned the game on its head.
The Leicester Tigers scrum-half, who came on as a replacement for Richard Wigglesworth with 30 minutes remaining, darted over the line following a line-out five metres out.
England captain Mike Tindall said: “We are under no illusions about what Argentina can bring.
“You've got to give full credit to the Pumas, when they got the ball they controlled it.
“Youngsy came on and changed the tempo and we got a bit more control of the game. Luckily, their kickers couldn't kick today.”