Action from the autumn internationals
Townsend’s determined men grind out a victory as Murrayfield’s gripped by turgid war of attrition
RUGBY SCOTLAND 14 ARGENTINA 9 BY STEWART FISHER IT turns out that Lionel Messi isn’t the only Argentinian who struggles to convert penalties. The little magician might lack his usual efficiency from the spot but how the Pumas could still have done with the best footballer on the planet in t heir r anks at Murrayfield yesterday.
They ultimately paid the penalty on a day when their own No 10, Nicolas Sanchez, missed the target with three entirely makeable shots at goal and full-back Emiliano Bofelli squandering a further attempt from distance.
In what was a strangely flat conclusion to this autumn international series, it took a combination of Argentina’s penalty-goal profligacy, the typical, contrasting efficiency of Greig Laidlaw on Scotland goalkicking duties and the only try of the day, cleverly worked down the blindside by Stuart Hogg for a gleeful Sean Maitland, to allow Gregor Townsend to sign off on this preWorld Cup year with a hard-earned victory.
Scotland’s No 9 slotted three of his four penalties, a stat line that was rather unkind considering the one he missed dropped inches short from the best part of 50 yards, while his conversion from Maitland’s try kissed the centre of the cross bar from as wide an angle as possible.
While Argentina coach Mario Ledesma felt his side had handed the game to Scotland on a plate, Townsend’s men deserve credit for grinding their way to a win that could have gone either way. Their determination is all the more worthy of praise after criticism of their failure to do so against both South Africa and Wales in the past month.
While there will be much for the Murrayfield coaching staff to rake over in the video analysis in the coming weeks and months, not least the contact area, where they found themselves frequently penalised, there was sense of payback here.
Townsend’s line-up was a riot of attacking intent so it seemed unfair in the extreme that they should immediately have to temper those instincts on the kind of wet, cold and windy day where percentage rugby seems like a far better option.
Making eight personnel changes and two positional switches in all, he had opted for his fourth different starting midfield of the autumn, or his seventh different pairing in the 11 Tests his team had played in 2018.
A dash of radical experimentation saw Finn Russell rolling back the years at inside centre, with his former Glasgow Warriors team-mate Adam Hastings inside him at flyhalf. A unit glimpsed in the closing stages against both Fiji and South Africa, there were echoes here of Townsend’s own playing days. He regularly found himself shunted from fly-half to the centre, albeit more commonly No 13.
Hopes of a free-flowing encounter had been swollen by the fact the Scots had run in six tries in a 44-15 win against these opponents in Resistencia, but the Pumas had racked up wins against South Africa and Australia since then.
The conditions saw the Scots employ a simple game plan, relying on a generally strong defensive display – at least until a few Argentine line-breaks in the closing stages – and tactical kicking.
While one of the scorers that day, Blair Kinghorn, cut an early dash off the left on his first home start, the visitors exerted a worrying amount of dominance for much of that opening half-hour, enough to give them a lead were it not for the flaws in their goal-kicking game.
While Greig Laidlaw got the scoreboard moving for the Scots within minutes, both Sanchez and Boffeli found their radar was slightly off.
Argentina were dominating chunks of possession and territory in this low-key nervy affair but it was Laidlaw who was next to pot a penalty after a rare Hastings break.
The action up front was as combative as you might expect, Fraser Brown getting the benefit of the doubt when a reckless tackle caught Ramiro Moyano around the jaw area.
The no-frills rugby continued into the second period. When Sanchez kicked a penalty we had parity at 6-6 just after the re-start. When he missed for a second time Scotland had been let off the hook again.
When Argentine hooker Agustin Creevy hauled Huw Jones back by the neck, Laidlaw effortlessly restored Scotland’s advantage 9-6.
With replacements arriving from the bench, and Russell back on home terrain at No 10, the home side discovered some momentum and Scotland’s try was a thing of beauty and economy.
Hogg noticed the space down Scotland’s right and forced Laidlaw to abandon his plans for a passing move down the left.
The sudden movement gave the full-back a two-on-one, and the timing of his pass allowed Maitland to gleefully slide in for his seventh try in his last 11 Tests.
Now needing two scores to salvage the match, Sanchez finally rediscovered his kicking boots and it took some last-ditch scramble defence to force a knock-on from the marauding Bofelli after a searing line-break from Jeronimo de la Fuente. Substitute Byron McGuigan claimed a Russell kick to help ease the pressure, though, and Argentina were hemmed in on their own try line when their time finally ran out.
The Pumas could have done with the best footballer on the planet
Adam Hastings fends off the advance of Argentina’s Matias Moroni
Sean Maitland celebrates touching down Scotland’s only try of the game