Ahead of this match, head coach Vern Cotter asked his players to play with a smile on their collective face and the entire BT Murrayfield crowd was sporting one at the conclusion of the Kiwi coach’s home debut. His side saw off Argentina in a five-try romp and the manner in which they did so will create real belief in the Scotland camp and among their tartan-clad fans.
Scotland were cohesive, tough, inventive and played with pace throughout. The forwards produced quick ball and the Glasgow back line demonstrated that they could reproduce their club form at the next level. At times, the home side were inspirational. They rarely dropped below the efficient. All they lacked on occasion was the clinical finishing required or this match could have been over by half time.
Instead, it was six minutes into the second half before Scotland scored their fourth try, which finally killed off any hopes of an Argentine revival. The crowd was understandably wowed; what a pity the stadium wasn’t full.
The two Gray boys were a huge presence, grabbing a try each and, while it is insidious to separate them, Jonny was utterly outstanding, carrying the fight to the Pumas relentlessly and winning one important turnover. We all suspected that Adam Ashe was made of the real stuff and he proved it yesterday with a physical contribution to the heavy lifting required in Test rugby. And Alasdair Dickinson was a revelation, making huge inroads with the ball in hand. The prop’s only mistake was a forward pass to ruin a scoring opportunity in the first half that Joe Montana would have been proud to call his own.
In the backline, Greig Laidlaw was as masterful as ever, but he has added so much more with two clean line breaks leading to two tries, not to mention his usual contribution from the boot. Outside him, Finn Russell played with composure and kicked beautifully from hand, pinning the visitors back into their own 22 with little chips to the corner.
All the above looked less than likely after two minutes as the Argentines went 7-0 ahead when the giant Puma winger, Manuel Montero, caught Laidlaw squarely, but legally, in the back with a pile-driver and the ball spilled loose in the tackle.
Argentina flanker Rodrigo Baez scooped the ball up in one fluid movement and showed everyone else a clean pair of heels up the left-hand touchline to score with one and a half minutes of play on the stadium clock.
Nicolas Sanchez popped the conversion over and the crowd were stunned into silence, but not for long.
Scotland then proceeded to score three tries in the space of 20 minutes, which had the crowd roaring their approval, the second and third of them coming when Argentina’s winger Juan Imhoff was in the sin bin.
Richie Gray was first up when the big lock popped up on the blindside to score, and Jonny then followed his brother over the Argentine try line. Imhoff was sent to the naughty step for shouldering Tommy Seymour into touch and Scotland elected for the attacking lineout. A couple of plays later and Jonny Gray barged his way over.
Still Scotland were not finished. Argentina are not the most disciplined side in world rugby and they conceded a midfield penalty. The visitors may have expected Laidlaw to have a pop at the posts, instead the little scrum-half tapped and ran. He made a clean break through the retreating Argentina line and one pass to the unmarked Maitland on the right flank was enough to put the winger away. Laidlaw kicked three tricky conversions and added one penalty to give Scotland a 24-10 lead at the break.
The little man then broke again through the middle of the Pumas defence before feeding Stuart Hogg for the first score of the second half. Naturally enough, he made good the extras with a touchline conversion.
The remainder of this game was largely played out deep inside the Scotland half as Argentina went in search of some consolation. Rob Harley sat out ten minutes after getting under an Argentine jumper at a lineout, but the Scots withheld a long siege on their line until eventually the Puma set-scrum persuaded Wayne Barnes to award a penalty try with ten minutes left on the clock.
Seymour used ten seconds of those ten minutes to score an interception try and Jim Hamilton maintained his reputation as pantomime villain by earning a yellow card five minutes after entering the fray. There was still time for reserve scrum-half Tomas Cubelli to score two tries for Argentina, both from short range, which meant the final score flattered the visitors.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: R Gray, J Gray, Maitland, Hogg, Seymour. Cons: Laidlaw 4, Weir. Pens: Laidlaw 2. Team: Tries: Desio, penalty try, Cubelli 2. Cons: Sanchez, Hernandez 3. Pens: Sanchez.
Scotland: Hogg; Maitland, Bennett, Dunbar, Seymour; Laidlaw (Pyrgos 63; Laidlaw 78), Russell (Weir 64); Dickinson (Reid 68), Ford (Lawson 63), Murray (Cross 70), R Gray (Hamilton 68), J Gray, Harley, Cowan (Strokosch 60), Ashe.
Argentina: Tuculet; Imhoff, Bosch (Agulla 61), Hernandez, Montero; Sanchez (Iglesias 52), Landajo (Cubelli 57); Ayerza (Paz 61), Creevy, Herrera (Chaparro 45), Lavanini, Guillemain, Baez (Isa 16), Desiq, Senatore.
Referee: W Barnes (RFU).