Scotland’s South American adventure continued this week with a trip to Salta to face Argentina in the second Test of the tour. Scotland had a chance to make it a clean sweep on the day for the Home Nations if they could get the win here, but after Blair Kinghorn and Emiliano Boffelli traded early penalties, it was the Pumas who had the first chance of note as fly half Santiago Carreras accelerated through a gap, but as the Pumas looked to continue the break, Jerónimo de la Fuente was not quite able to ship the ball off first time to Santiago Cordero, who would have had an easy run into the corner. Scotland were having the greater share of possession and territory with little to show for it, until Darcy Graham managed to win a high ball from Ben White and spark an attack, which ended in several tacklers just bundling Duhan van der Merwe over the touchline 5 metres from the line. As the game reached the half hour mark, a spell of concerted pressure from Argentina allowed Boffelli to put them ahead with another penalty, but the Scots were straight back on the attack and after kicking a penalty to the corner, Hamish Watson managed to go over for the opening try of the match on the occasion of his 50ᵗʰ cap, and though Kinghorn missed the conversion, they found themselves going in at the break with a 6-8 lead.
The third quarter proved crucial for Scotland’s most successful spell of the game last week and it started in similar fashion this week, with the forwards putting in some great carries that allowed Mark Bennett to hit a gap from depth at pace to scythe over for try number 2 just minutes after the restart. The Pumas were soon on the attack themselves through, and when Juan Imhoff broke down the left wing, the ball was then spread out to the right for lock Guido Petti to score, though it was ruled out after a TMO review found that there had been a forward pass to help set up the break. With 30 minutes remaining, ROss Thompson was brought on for the injured Kyle Row (taking over at 10, with Kinghorn moving to 15), and the Scots were immediately pressuring the Pumas’ try line, resulting in Emiliano Boffelli being sent to the bin as the defenders gave away too many penalties, and Scotland quickly took advantage of the extra man to crash Matt Fagerson over for the try, Thompson taking over the kicking duties and nailing the simple conversion. Argentina thought that they had a much-needed try just before the hour as Carreras squeezed through a number of defenders, but Rory Darge just managed to force the ball loose as he crossed the line, though the Pumas could be rightfully unhappy with the pathetically short penalty advantage given in the opposition 22 by Mathieu Raynal. The Scots were able to clear their line, and a couple of penalties saw them move down the field to the Argentina line, where Sam Johnson crashed over to all-but guarantee the win with 15 minutes remaining. The Pumas looked to hit back immediately, but the sniping Gonzalo Bertranou was held up over the line. With the victory beyond them, Boffelli went over with 5 minutes remaining, but saw the ball stripped away by Mark Bennett as he went to ground, and Matías Orlando knocked on as he tried to react at the last moment, and the Scots saw out the final moments to secure a 6-29 victory.
Heart, now head
Michael Cheika has the Pumas playing with heart again, which in itself is a huge improvement from the malaise at the end of Ledesma’s reign. Now he desperately needs to bring some accuracy to their play.
In attack, they have such quality out wide, but rarely manage to get the ball to them in any space, but the real worry is in defence, where they are just giving away far too many penalties. Marcos Kremer appears to have cut out the stupid hits, but the team as a whole is still gifting their opposition with too much simple possession and territory by not staying onside and by not being accurate enough at the breakdown.
The Pumas are in an interesting position. They have a team with plenty of quality and potential, and it doesn’t feel like they are far off unlocking that, which will see them start to score more. But o win, they also need to keep the opposition score down, and to do so they need to be more accurate and perhaps even a little more conservative, taking a extra half a step back to ensure they don’t jump offside. If they continue like this, it will be a long Rugby Championship campaign but a few small but crucial improvements could see them being really competitive.
This was a much better attacking performance from Scotland. They varied the attack by playing both through the forwards, with width and also with van der Merwe coming inside. The forwards carried with conviction and both centres made certain that they were not being stopped by defenders by picking their lines from depth and hitting the ball at pace. After the disappointment of last week, this was a sorely needed performance that needs to become the base level expected.
There will still be questions though. Is Blair Kinghorn the answer at 10? I haven’t seen enough from him to suggest so, and would suggest that Ross Thompson be given the starting spot next week. Will this be enough to push for the RWC2023 semifinals? I don’t think that even the return of their missing stars will be enough for that.
With the World Cup just over a year away, it feels like the only step forward the Scots have taken over the last 2 games is the form of Mark Bennett. As great as that is, this is nowhere near enough.