Scotland’s tour of South America continues on Saturday when they take on Argentina at Estadio 23 de Agosto in the first of three Test matches.
On the back of a solid victory against Chile last weekend, Gregor Townsend’s team know tougher tests await against a Pumas side now under new tutelage.
That new head coach is former Australia boss Michael Cheika, who will be looking for a series win to help in the warming process with their passionate fans, supporters who have been starved of wins in the Rugby Championship and are desperate to once again enjoy those heady days of Rugby World Cup 2015.
It is a series delicately balanced in terms of playing personnel on paper but with Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg rested before Adam Hastings was ruled out injured, Scotland are slight underdogs in our eyes against an Argentina squad that as always must keep its discipline in order to maximise their sparkling stars.
Scotland hold something of a hoodoo over the Pumas over the past decade, losing just once in 11 years in the five meetings that took place in that spell. However, just two of the teams’ previous 18 battles have been settled by more than 12 points on the day, which gives an indication of how close the series could be.
Last time they met
Scotland’s final end-of-year international in 2018 saw them play host to Argentina at Murrayfield, a game they managed to win 14-9 in a low-scoring clash.
Argentina’s ill-discipline was once again a key factor in the fixture as Greig Laidlaw kicked the Scots into a 6-3 lead at the interval in slippery conditions. Nicolas Sanchez did bring Argentina back level early in the second half before Scotland, who were experimenting with Russell at inside centre, went 9-6 up.
Then came a key moment in the game as Hogg spotted space on the blindside before sending over Sean Maitland for the try that proved the match winner.
What they said
Scotland head coach Townsend expects nothing less than a testing opponent when they tackle the Pumas, with some of those players having ties to home.
“We believe Argentina are one of the strongest teams out there, the equivalent of playing a Six Nations team. You’re playing away from home against some of the best individuals in club rugby in Europe,” he said ahead of this weekend’s opening contest.
“There are some quality players playing at Edinburgh every couple of weeks, winning championships for Leicester or winning Super Rugby titles for the Crusaders. Argentina have always had some brilliant players and they seem to have a great crop just now.”
Players to watch
It’s been quite the year for Pablo Matera as his sojourn to New Zealand proved to be hugely successful, both personally and on the team front. His Crusaders side were crowned inaugural Super Rugby Pacific winners and Matera was a vital cog in their title-winning machine, impressing the local spectators.
His return to international duty will now be closely monitored as Cheika will hope that winning mentality rubs off on the rest of the group. Likewise, Matias Moroni and Julian Montoya arrive in similar spirits following their Premiership success at Leicester Tigers, with all three key to the Pumas’ series hopes.
For Scotland there’s going to be added pressure on Blair Kinghorn as the leading number 10 on tour, but in that same breath it might also be lifted somewhat as he does not have Russell and Hastings waiting on the bench ready to be called. Kinghorn’s form for Edinburgh has been impressive and a solid series in Argentina could well see him shoot up the pecking order before the World Cup, with Townsend seemingly still longing for consistency from his starting fly-half.
It’s David v Goliath in the battle on the wing between Santiago Cordero and Duhan van der Merwe and it promises to be a fascinating watch on Saturday. Cordero is known for his fleet of foot and ability to slip through defensive lines while Van der Merwe will no doubt take the more direct approach, but he’s not lacking in pace either. On the other wing the contest between Edinburgh’s Emiliano Boffelli and Darcy Graham will also provide exciting moments.
Elsewhere, the scrum-half duel between the wily Tomas Cubelli and Scotland vice-captain Ali Price could well have a significant bearing on the result in Jujuy. Both number nines like to play the game at pace, which bodes well for a decent spectacle, with the pair set to be the heartbeat of their sides’ games.
It’s hard to see anything but another close-fought encounter between these two but with a handful of crucial players out, including Hamish Watson, Scotland might come up short against a Pumas side that will be desperate to kick off the Cheika era with a positive result on home soil. Argentina to win by three.
2018: Scotland won 14-9 in Edinburgh
2018: Scotland won 44-15 in Resistencia
2016: Scotland won 19-16 in Edinburgh
2014: Scotland won 41-31 in Edinburgh
2014: Scotland won 21-19 in Cordoba
2011: Argentina won 13-12 in Wellington
2010: Scotland won 13-9 in Mar del Plata
2010: Scotland won 24-16 in Tucuman
Argentina: 15 Juan Cruz Mallia, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Martín González, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Francisco Gómez Kodela, 2 Julián Montoya (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Lucas Paulos, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Santiago Carreras, 23 Matias Moroni
Scotland: 15 Rory Hutchinson, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist (c), 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Rory Darge, 21 Ben White, 22 Ross Thompson, 23 Sione Tuipulotu
Date: Saturday, July 2
Venue: Estadio 23 de Agosto, Jujuy
Kick-off: 16:10 local (20:10 BST, 19:10 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (FFR), Pierre Brousset (FFR)
TMO: Marius Jonker (SARU)