STUART BATHGATE @Estadio Municipal, Resistencia
ONE of the most exhilarating displays of recent years saw Scotland end their tour of the Americas on a real high with a six-try thrashing of Argentina. Five came in the first half, putting the issue well beyond doubt some time before the break, and if the second half was more even, it was none the less impressive as the tourists applied themselves scrupulously in defence.
The result will go down as a historic one-off – the biggest win by Scotland in Argentina, and close to the 1990 record for the fixture anywhere of 49-3 – but it also has an importance in the context of the whole tour. Following their previous win over Canada and loss to the USA, this resounding success made it a winning tour overall, and the positive impression is enhanced by the fact that the single-point loss in Houston might well have turned out differently.
For Stuart McInally, it was a magnificent first game as captain, all the more pleasing given he had been kept out of the first two matches with a thigh strain. “In the first half we did everything we had spoken about and a lot of our attack and our defence was a step up from where it was last week,” the hooker said. “We brought good line speed and got some good turnovers. That gave us good possession [which] we were really accurate off. Really, really pleasing.
“The whole week was about going back to basics and about what we know we do really well. That is being accurate, playing with tempo and being physical in defence. That is what we did and it got us a good score by half-time.
“Credit to the likes of Grant [Gilchrist], Peter Horne, Stuart Hogg, they have helped me a lot throughout the week – Fraser Brown as well – I have had so much leadership in the squad I did not have to worry about being a leader myself. They all spoke so well and I was just lucky enough to lead us out.”
Argentina, who had lost twice to Wales in the previous fortnight, were poor. They had a few moments of individual attacking brilliance, but as a team they looked demotivated. This was Daniel Hourcade’s final match as their head coach, and he could hardly have scripted a more miserable end to his reign.
The home side were incoherent in times, especially in defence, and Scotland punished that deficiency with clinical relish. What made such an unbalanced score all the more surprising was the difference in experience between the two sides – with 528 caps to 290, the home team’s starting line-up was vastly more seasoned at this level.
The disparity was especially evident at half-back, where George Horne and Adam Hastings’ cumulative total of five compared to their counterparts’ tally of 144. The Scots quickly made light of that statistic, however, combining to score in the opening minute.
After several phases had edged the attack forward, Hastings broke the first line of defence, then drew the full-back and put Horne in to score behind the posts. George’s brother Peter added the two points, and a crowd that had been noisily enthusiastic before kick-off was swiftly silenced.
Tim Swinson had be stretchered off after an awkward fall which saw him damage a knee, and he was replaced by Ben Toolis. But the change had no disruptive effect on the Scots, who went further ahead after 11 minutes when Nick Grigg slipped free of a poor first-up tackle and, with options outside to distract the defence, put Blair Kinghorn through on the inside for another touchdown between the posts which Pete Horne converted.
Argentina had had close to an equal amount of possession during that spell, but time after time failed to make much impact on a well-drilled defence. With three minutes still to go in the first quarter, Scotland gave further evidence of just how determined they were to end the tour on a high, with captain Stuart McInally bursting through from the back of a lineout to score from around the 10-metre line. Another successful conversion made it 21-0, but Argentina then opened their account with a scrum penalty, kicked over by Nicolas Sanchez.
A heavy downpour made handling far trickier, but it did nothing to stop the Scots onslaught, and the fourth try was not long in coming. This time it required more patient driving deep into the Pumas’ 22 rather than a sudden break, and after David Denton had come within less than a metre, Magnus Bradbury finished the move off, with Pete Horne making it another seven-pointer.
It nearly became five tries soon after that, but Simon Berghan’s hopeful pass out to the left wing was too high. A penalty for offside allowed Pete Horne to stretch Scotland’s lead, however, giving the tourists a tally of more than a point a minute in the first half-hour. Even allowing for the poor form the Pumas had displayed in their two defeats by Wales over the previous fortnight, it was an extraordinary period of play, evoking Scotland’s first-half blitz of the French in 1999 on their way to becoming the last Five Nations champions.
Finishing the first half in style
Shortly before the break came try No 5, produced from a driven lineout off a lengthy penalty to touch from Stuart Hogg. With penalty advantage being played after the drive was halted illegally, George Horne chipped into the end zone. Hastings tipped the ball back, and the scrum-half himself gathered to touch down in the right corner. His brother was off target this time, but the points tally was already more than Scotland had ever scored before in a cap international against Argentina.
Agenda 3 and The Ketih Russell Affair:
After such a captivating first 40, it was inevitable that the second half should be duller. Argentina got a fortuitous try after Toolis had disrupted a lineout only for the ball to bounce back off the legs of Kinghorn straight into the hands of Tomas Lezana, whose score was converted by Sanchez.
Any notion of a fightback was quickly nipped in the bid when Dougie Fife scored in the corner off a magnificent pass from Stuart Hogg, then an attacking scrum produced a try for Santiago Iglesias.
Pete Horne added a penalty with quarter of an hour left. Then the Scots gave proof of how well disciplined they were by denying Argentina even so much as a late consolation score.
After that dispiriting loss in Houston a week earlier, it was a win which owed as much to strength of character as it did to sporting ability. A foreign-language environment in a city where the effects of poverty are all too evident can often disturb players accustomed to their comforts and their routine, but this squad showed no such weaknesses.
Even allowing for how dismal the Pumas were for much of the game, some of the performances here, notably at half-back and in the back row, were enough to pose Gregor Townsend some interesting problems as he continues to ponder his squad for next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Argentina: E Boffelli; B Delguy, M Orlando, B Ezcurra, S Cancelliere; N Sanchez, M Landajo; J Diaz, A Creevy, N Chaparro, G Petti, M Alemanno, T Lezana, P Matera, L Senatore. Substitutes: J Montoya, S Garcia Botta, S Medrano, M Kramer, T Lavanini, G Bertranou, S Gonzalez Iglesias, J Mallia.
Scotland: S Hogg; D Fife, N Grigg, P Horne, B Kinghorn; A Hastings, G Horne; A Dell, S McInally, S Berghan, T Swinson, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, F Brown, D Denton. Substitutes: G Turner, J Bhatti, Z Fagerson, B Toolis, J Ritchie, S Hidalgo-Clyne, J Lang, C Harris.
Argentina: Tries: Lezana, Iglesias. Con: Sanchez. Pen: Sanchez.
Scotland: Tries: G Horne 2, Kinghorn, McInally, Bradbury, Fife. Cons: P Horne 4. Pens: Horne 2.
Scoring sequence (Argentina first): 0-5; 0-7,; 0-12; 0-14; 0-19; 0-21; 3-21; 3-26; 3-28; 3-31; 3-36 (h-t), 8-36; 10-36; 10-41; 15-41; 15-44.
Referee: M Raynal (France).