Scotland’s South American tour came to an end with a deciding third Test between them and Argentina. With the series on the line, both coaches decided to make a number of changes, and it was Argentina who ha the first chance as they spread the ball off the first phase from a lineout, only for the crucial final pass to go through over Emiliano Boffelli’s head and through his hands and into touch. The Pumas wing soon opened the scoring though with a penalty from just inside his own half after Ali Price failed to get back onside at the breakdown. Both teams were looking to play attacking rugby early on, and when Blair Kinghorn got his arms through a tackle, he was able to release Duhan van der Merwe to burst trough the 22 for the opening try. The Pumas took the lead back as the quarter came to an end though, Bautista Delguy collecting a loose ball and making good ground, before Juan Cruz Mallia and Boffelli combined to release Santiago Carreras to run 40 metres untouched. Scotland’s next attack saw them earn a penalty which, they kicked to touch and mauled over, with hooker Ewan Ashman the man with ball in hand, with Kinghorn adding the touchline conversion to open up a 4-point lead. Another Boffelli penalty attempt from inside his own half lacked the accuracy of the first, but he made amends from closer range just a few minutes later but a failure to secure the restart put the Pumas back under immediate pressure, but a timely lineout steal from Guido Petti allowed the home team to clear their lines, and though there was just time for one more Scottish penalty, Blair Kinghorn’s effort from 46 metres came back off the crossbar and the teams went into the break with the Scots leading 13-14.
An error for the Pumas in their exit plan off the restart saw the Scots with immediate possession in the 22, and after going through a number of phases, Ashman found himself getting the ball out wide and slipped through a weak tackle from Delguy to cross in the corner, while van der Merwe crossed from close range just minutes later after a break from Mark Bennett. The Pumas were in need of a response and it came almost straight away as replacement prop Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro forced himself over from close range. As the game passed the our mark, Kinghorn added a penalty from close range, but the Pumas hit straight back with a try through replacement scrum half Gonzalo Bertranou, with Boffelli’s conversion narrowing the gap to 4 points. Not for the first time in the game, the home side failed to deal with the restart, and the Scots took advantage to win a penalty and kick to the corner, but the Scottish maul got its push on too early and they failed to get the ball to the back, resulting in Jonny Gray being held up over the line. As the game entered the final 5 minutes, the Pumas were pressuring the Scottish line and with the final play of the game, Carreras found Boffelli on the wing to go over for the game-winning—and series-winning—try, before kicking the conversion for a 34-31 victory.
Their own worst enemy
It’s amazing how often you see it in rugby: the team that has just scored either fail to secure te restart as it is kicked to them, or make some error/give away a dumb penalty in their attempt to implement their exit strategy.
This was the case for the Pumas today. In the first half, it was somewhat understandable. The Scots were repeatedly aiming their kickoffs to the one area of the pitch that was still bathed in sunlight, and with Blair Kinghorn able to get an incredible hangtime on his kicks, it allowed the Scots to get up and pressure the Pumas as they tried to catch the ball whilst also dealing with the sun blinding them—a recipe for disaster.
However even more worrying were 2 of the incidents in the first half. The first one being off the kickoff to the half, as the Pumas tried to carry a couple of times before clearing, only to find themselves held up in a maul and turned over—which gifted the Scots a try—and the second when Carreras took the restart and after a moment of hesitation tried to clear himself, only have the kick charged down by Pierre Schoeman.
To me, this came down to a lack of experience in the halves. Scrum half Lautaro Bazán Vélez was making his Test debut, and while Carreras may now have 20+ caps to his name, he is still getting used to playing at fly half and does not play the position at club level. As such, you’re asking a lot for the pair to control the game under pressure, and its notable that things improved with Bertranou coming on at 9. Maybe Carreras is the future for the Pumas at 10, but for me right now he is still at his best at 15, and Nicolás Sánchez should be wearing the 10 jersey in the big games next year in France.
Lucky at number 13
Mark Bennett has been one of the biggest bright sparks of this tour. The centre has always been a quality player and dangerous attacker, but injuries had severely hampered his international career, so much so that the first Test of this series was his first Test start in 6 years.
But he has certainly taken his chances, being consistently one of the brighter sparks for Scotland in attack, making a number of breaks and scoring a couple of tries as well. With performances like this, it would be very hard to drop him for the next Test.
And therein lies the issue, as the number 13 shirt has been well and truly secured in recent years by Chris Harris. A player who always feels like he has put in an 8/10 performance at worst, Harris is the lynchpin of the Scottish defence, one of the best 13s in the world and a leader in the team, while it’s also notable that he was one of the few backs getting regular minutes in the Six Nations who were not involved in that breach of protocol. And well defence may be his specialty, his attacking play has also improved during his years at Gloucester.
With Harris given the summer off, Gregor Townsend will have a big decision the next time he names a team. Does he stick with Mark Bennett, or return to Harris? Or is there some way that he can get both into the team without taking away from what they do best…?