Scotland are in for their stiffest June examination to date this Friday, and at a time when Vern Cotter's squad is threadbare.
Scotland are in for their stiffest June examination to date this Friday, and at a time when Vern Cotter's squad has been left threadbare by injury.
It was a wholly unconvincing Scotland that limped past Canada in Toronto last week with significant help from the contentious sending-off of Jebb Sinclair.
Bereft of cohesion, penetration and tactical nous, Cotter's men were only able to breach the gain-line with regularity when the rumbling power of the back-row and Sean Lamont were brought into play.
When the ball was spread wide, things invariably went awry as the maddening imprecision that has blighted Scottish back play for a decade reared its head once more. This was in stark contrast to the slick handling and sharp attack borne of a sevens ethos displayed by the hosts.
Sinclair's red bears little significance to this Friday's clash, but it is fair to assume there will be more than a few Scots feeling a tad bashful having won the match under such circumstances. You can probably count Jim Telfer – who coached the exact action used by the flanker to repel Ruaridh Jackson – among them, for one.
What is important, however, is the drastic player turnover as the tour reaches its halfway point. “Limped” is a good choice of word. In a time where player welfare, bulk, physicality and the sheer volume of rugby at the top are under intense scrutiny, this gruelling end-of-season excursion was always likely to take its toll.
That is partly why Cotter split his touring party in half, with the bulk of those who featured against Canada and the USA now flying home, while a select few fly south to join the next batch of arrivals in Buenos Aires.
Cotter is low on options, and with a chunk of his squad having departed, has made 11 changes to the XV that took to the field six days ago – only Grant Gilchrist, who captains the side, Peter Horne, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg survive.
Nick De Luca was drafted in at short notice, and has, in a bizarre twist of fate, been handed an opportunity to resurrect his Test career and impress the new boss. Tommy Seymour, in scintillating form for Glasgow Warriors, starts on the wing, and Duncan Weir partners Grayson Hart in the half-backs.
Jonny Gray is another enjoying a purple patch – it is, in a way, surprising Gilchrist and not he was entrusted with the captaincy – while a new-look back-row sees London Irish colleagues Kieran Low and Blair Cowan team up alongside Rob Harley.
Argentina, even minus a large chunk of their top names, will present an altogether different and more imposing challenge to the tourists than either North American outfit. Play in Cordoba as they did in Toronto, and the outcome will be sobering.
A ferocious pack, characterised by the infamous “bajada” scrummaging technique, has long been the foundation upon which great Argentine teams are built.
But in the last decade, the flamboyance of Juan Martin Hernandez, Ignacio Corletto, Felipe Contepomi and Agustin Pichot has eaten away at the traditional Argie image, the face of Los Pumas, that of Rodrigo Roncero, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, and Mario Ledesma.
Indeed, Daniel Hourcade has at his disposal a fine array of young talent out wide, as was evident in the past fortnight's Tests against Ireland, both of which were lost narrowly, and did the Argentine stock no harm. Manuel Montero is a hulking, dynamic wing with a nose for the line, while JoaquÃn Tuculet is a full-back with real swagger.
The half-backs, MartÃn Landajo and NicolÃ¡s SÃ¡nchez tend to benefit from the dominance of their pack, but both are extremely shrewd operators well capable of picking holes in what was, last week, decidedly shaky Scottish defence.
Indeed, the most painful reminder of Scotland's gut-wrenching 2011 World Cup exit comes not in the form of Chris Ashton's decisive try at Eden Park, but of Lucas GonzÃ¡lez Amorosino waltzing up the touchline in Wellington, brushing aside would-be tacklers, and splashing over the line.
Ones to watch:
For Argentina: MartÃn Landajo is a brilliant scrum-half and a real livewire around the fringes. Scotland struggled to contain Phil Mack when he sniped last week, and with all due respect to the Canadian, Landajo is less prone to flakiness and will gleefully exploit chinks in the visiting armour.
For Scotland: Jonny Gray is one of Glasgow's biggest ball-carriers, and he must get the Scots over the gain-line against a pack that is light on eminence, but heavy everywhere else.
Prediction: The June Tests get harder for Scotland with each passing week. Many believe they will not slip up until next week's visit to South Africa. That will only happen if significant improvements are made very quickly, with the turnaround times short and the travel schedule demanding. For me, it's Argentina by 3.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Kieran Low, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Grant Gilchrist (c), 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Al Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Dougie Fife.
Date: Friday 20th June
Kick-off: 1610 local, 2010 BST
Referee: John Lacey (Ire)
Assistant referees: Pascal GauzÃ¨re (Fra), Lourens van der Merwe (SA)
TMO: Deon van Blommenstein (SA)