STUART BATHGATE @ Murrayfield
THIS was a reminder of the old Scotland – and not in a nostalgic way. Perhaps we have been spoiled by the exuberant running rugby the team has produced over the past couple of seasons, but even so, this has to go down as a disappointing display – albeit one which ended in a victory.
Sean Maitland got the only try of the game late on, and Greig Laidlaw added nine points from three penalties in a dogged win which makes it two wins from four games in the Autumn Internationals. That could easily have just been one win from four, however, but for a poor place-kicking display from Nicolas Sanchez. Although he kicked all of his team’s points, the Argentina stand-off, was wide with three other attempts on goal, while full-back Emiliano Boffelli also missed with one.
Laidlaw opened the scoring with a fourth-minute penalty after the Pumas had strayed offside, but Sanchez was off target with a similarly simple chance after 10. The wet conditions militated against running rugby, leading both teams to kick away far more possession than normal. Argentina did put together a couple of decent ball-in-hand attacks towards the end of the first quarter only to fumble away possession, and Boffelli missed a long-range chance to draw them level when his penalty fell short.
Scotland had started brightly only to grow increasingly uncertain, and they were fortunate not to concede a try after Finn Russell lost possession straight from a short 22 drop-out. When the ball spread wide then was kicked towards the left corner flag Ramiro Moyano looked sure to win the chase to touch down, but Huw Jones got across to deny him.
Argentina eventually levelled through a Sanchez penalty just before the half-hour, and that spurred Scotland into producing their most positive play since the opening minutes, with an Adam Hastings break eventually leading to another successful penalty from Laidlaw. The home team took that narrow lead into half-time but surrendered it within a few minutes of the restart when the Pumas stand-off was on target with a penalty awarded against his opposite number for sealing off in the tackle.
Off colour Sanchez saves blushes
Sanchez missed with another penalty as Argentina retained the upper hand, but it was clear by that point that Scotland would fall behind sooner rather than later if they failed to shake themselves out of their lethargy. Willem Nel and Ryan Wilson came on for Simon Berghan and Josh Strauss in a bid by the home team to get more bite up front, and the double substitution helped inject some energy into the attack. When one promising run ended with a dangerous tackle on Huw Jones, Laidlaw again made no mistake with the penalty.
Going into the final quarter, Stuart McInally replaced Fraser Brown at hooker and Alex Dunbar came on for Hastings. The arrival of the centre saw Russell revert to his usual position of fly-half. The experiment of playing the Racing 92 back at 12 with Hastings at 10 had not been a conspicuous success, but the selection had been made at least in part with next year’s World Cup in mind. At this point, you could only say there was insufficient evidence to allow a definitive verdict on the strategy to be reached.
Even when they are playing below their best, Scotland can be relied upon to be fit enough to compete until the end, and they demonstrated that again with an impressive last 15 minutes. A simple switch from left to right stranded a tiring Argentine defence on the wrong side of the field, allowing Stuart Hogg to put Sean Maitland in for the first try of the match. Laidlaw’s conversion came back off the posts, but Sanchez again failed a couple of minutes later when given a chance to put his team back to within a full score, and Jeronimo de la Fuente was then similarly profligate when knocking on deep in the Scotland 22.
Scotland conceded a penalty at the resultant scrum, however, and from in front of the posts Sanchez made it 14-9 with five minutes to play. Laidlaw was short with a last-minute penalty as Scotland finished on top.
Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland, H Jones, F Russell, B Kinghorn (B McGuigan, 66); A Hastings (A Dunbar, 61), G Laidlaw (captain); A Dell (A Allan, 66), F Brown (S McInally, 61), S Berghan (WP Nel, 49), G Gilchrist, J Gray (S Skinner, 66), J Ritchie, H Watson, J Strauss (R Wilson, 49).
Argentina: E Boffelli; B Delguy (S Cancelliere, 72), M Moroni (M Orlando, 40), J De la Fuente (M Orlando, 23-24), R Moyano; N Sanchez, G Bertranou (M Landajo, 49); S Garcia Botta (J Puablo Zeiss, 66), A Creevy (J Montoya, 60), S Medrano (L Sordoni, 66), G Petti, T Lavanini (M Alemanno, 62), P Matera (captain), R Bruni, J Ortagio Desio (T Lezana, 50).
Scorers: Scotland: Try: Maitland. Pens: Laidlaw 3.
Argentina: Tries: Cons: Pens: Sanchez 3.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 3-0, 3-3, 6-3 half-time, 6-6, 9-6, 14-6, 14-9.
Referee: P Williams (New Zealand).