After a week of wondering what might have been, Scotland’s Autumn Nations Series came to an end with the visit of Argentina. Having faced each other in a 3-Test series just months earlier, there was plenty of familiarity between the teams, while Scotland would have been hoping that home advantage and the return of a few stars rested in the summer would make the distance.
But the home side were immediately under pressure, giving away a penalty off the kick-off, which Emiliano Boffelli duly dispatched. As the players settled into the game, it was Scotland who were making the early attacks, and when Finn Russell’s offload put Sione Tuipulotu through a gap, he had the strength to fight his was over for the opening try. Argentina started keeping the ball in hand more, and a clever grubber to the corner from Pablo Matera forced Duan van der Merwe to take the ball over his own line under pressure from Boffelli, and after the initial planned move off the resulting scrum failed, Argentina won the ball back and immediately struck by putting the ball through the hands to put Jeronimo de la Fuente over in the corner. As the game enterest the second quarter, an illegal clean-out from Marcos Kremer on Jamie Ritchie saw the flanker sent off, and the hosts immediately took advantage of the loss of one of the Pumas’ top tacklers to score, with Duhan van der Merwe just managing to juggle Finn Russell’s offload and gain control of the ball to ground it over the line. And with the half hour approaching, another strong carry from van der Merwe and break from Finn Russell put the Scots on the front foot and resulted in Darcy Graham fighting his way over on the far side for the hosts’ 3ʳᵈ try. However, the Pimas grew back into the game and managed to cut the deficit with a try for Matías Alemanno, which left Scotland with a 19-15 lead at the break.
It didn’t take long for Finn Russell to find his way through a gap after the game restarted, and a clever offload to Stuart Hogg kept the ball alive for Graham to score in the corner. And things soon got worse for the Pumas as Alemanno was given a yellow card on 48 minutes for an illegal cleano-out, while his fellow lock Tomás Lavanini followed just moments later as the resulting maul from a 5m lineout was dragged to ground illegally. Scotland’s haste to immediately take advantage of having 3 extra men on the pitch resulted in a handling error, and when the next attack ended in similar fashion, Matías Orlando was the first onto the loose ball, and he released Boffelli for the unlikeliest of coast-to-coast tries. Scotland were soon back on the attack, and after a legitimate jackal was completely ignored by referee Karl Dickson—who was unwilling to reward the Pumas’ jackalling all game—Tuipulotu was eventually sent over in the corner. As the game reached the hour mark and tempers began to fray, Argentina welcomed back their locks from the bin and replaced Santiago Carreras with the more experienced Nicolás Sánchez, while Chris Harris was also replaced by Cameron Redpath. But after Darcy Graham was tackled into touch to spark a 2nd brawl in 3 minutes, Thomas Gallo and Jamie Ritchie were sent to the bin for their role in the fracas. And when the rugby restarted with a Scottish scrum beneath the posts, Argentina successfully held Redpath and then Zander Fagerson a few minutes later. However a missed touch from Sanchez soon put the visitors back under pressure, and after a knock-on on the floor from Tuipulotu was ignored by the officials, Russell calmly slotted a grubber behind the defence, which Redpath dotted down for hs first Test try. And then when Jamie Ritchie was allowed back on with a Scottish lineout 5m from the visitors’ line but Gallo forced to continue watching from the sideline, the Scots drew in the defence with the maul, before spreading to send Stuart Hogg over beneath the posts. And with the game over as a competition, Darcy Graham finished his hattrick in the corner with just 3 minutes left. As the Pumas looked to finish with a consolation try, Sione Tuipulotu was sent to the bin for a tip tackle, and with the final minutes played 14v14, replacement hooker Ignacio Ruiz managed to burrow over for a try, with Sanchez’s conversion making it a final score of 52-29
If you ever thought there should be a competition for the starting fly half spot just now, the last couple of weeks have made it very clear that Finn Russell is head and shoulders above the other options.
Not even in the squad at the start of the month, the mercurial stand-off was called up following Adam Hastings’ injury against Fiji, and immediately leapfrogged Blair Kinghorn and Ross Thompson to take the 10 shirt against the All Blacks, almost leading the team to an historic victory.
And against Argentina, he was at his best. his eye for a gap consistently found the hole to exploit in the Pumas’ defence, and he then had the speed to hit the gap and the physicality to get his arms through the tackle and offload to the supporting player, which directly led to 3 tries in the match, with Russell’s offload being the assist on 2 of the occasions. But beyond that, his speed and variation of passing kept the defence guessing, his kicking out of hand was brilliant, going long when he needed to slow things down and play a territorial game, but also with a range of chips and grubbers to tear the defence apart. Oh and even his goal-kicking was nearly faultless.
A fully deserved Man of the Match award was his reward for the performance and you must think that if there are issues between him and Gregor Townsend, it is the coach’s job that is more at risk right now.
I can’t help but feel sorry for the Pumas. Karl Dickson’s inability to referee the breakdown made it a free-for-all all game, and while that is no excuse for Kremer or Alemanno’s offences, it is just inviting offences like that to happen. Regardless, the offences happened, and then more offences as they tried to cope led to them losing even more players to the bin, while the officials also weren’t looking to treat the teams evenly, giving the hosts even more of an advantage.
And yet despite everything that was going against them, the Pumas kept on fighting right to the end. Granted Scotland rushed things by trying to score too quickly after Argentina went 3 men down, but the defence from Argentina could have easily let the numerical disadvantage be an excuse, and instead put in a monster rearguard effort that not only successfully defended the line multiple times at that point, but then also turned the ball over and scored against the run of play. And then you also just have to look at the effort to hold up Scotland over the line twice more a little later in the game, and their efforts to finish on the high of scoring the final try.
While discipline has to be much better, this is a team that will fight and claw tooth and nail for every point. And it is that passion and determination that will make them a threat against anyone on their day.
This year, I’m doing Movember a little different with my Movember Marathon.
You can find all the details on my announcement.
Visit my JustGiving page for updates or if you would like to donate.
Help me to change the face of men’s health!