Ac­tion from the au­tumn in­ter­na­tion­als

Townsend’s de­ter­mined men grind out a vic­tory as Mur­ray­field’s gripped by turgid war of at­tri­tion

The Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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