It’s a match no team wants to play, no matter what the players or coaches say in public.
Yet the Rugby World Cup third-place game between England and Argentina on Friday might feel even more insignificant for the English, given an uncomfortable build-up centred almost entirely on Tom Curry and his allegation of racial abuse by an opponent that has been dismissed by the sport’s governing body.
World Rugby said on Thursday it found no evidence that South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonambi directed discriminatory remarks at Curry in the teams’ semi-final on Saturday.
England’s Rugby Football Union reacted with fury at the decision, expressing its deep dismay that World Rugby decided against putting the evidence before an independent disciplinary panel.
England’s players have rallied around Curry all week, especially with the flanker and his family having received a deluge of abuse on social media.
Curry has been picked in England’s starting lineup for the game but his 50th cap for his country is in danger of being completely overshadowed.
“Tom’s been tremendous – he’s been incredibly courageous to do what he’s done, in the manner he’s done it,” England lock Maro Itoje said.
“To make a statement like that isn’t easy, to call out stuff like that isn’t easy and as he has seen this week, when you do something courageous like that you put yourself out there.”
Argentina, which was demolished 44-6 by New Zealand in the semi-finals, is playing in the bronze medal match for the third time in the past five editions of the World Cup. The first was in 2007, also in Paris, when the Pumas beat France 34-10 at the Parc des Princes on the back of a wonderful performance from fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez.
England is appearing in the tournament’s most unwanted game for a second time, after 1995 when it lost to France 19-9 at Loftus Versfeld.
Argentina vs. England
(England leads 20-5-1 overall; 4-0 in RWC)
The teams met on the second day of the World Cup – England won 27-10 despite playing from the third minute with 14 men after Curry’s red card – and now go head-to-head again on the second-to-last day of the tournament. England scrumhalf Ben Youngs will appear in his record 127th and last test. Courtney Lawes is also retiring from international rugby but has already played his final test because he won’t be involved. A back three of Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward and Henry Arundell should provide some excitement while flanker Sam Underhill plays for the first time in this World Cup. Lock Pedro Rubiolo, scrum-half Tomas Cubelli and centre Jeronimo de la Fuente come in as the three Argentina changes from the loss to New Zealand.