ARGENTINA has a long-standing and well-earned reputation as a nation which regards aggression and power as the ultimate rugby virtues. Scottish rugby players (and supporters) have learned this the hard way during the 45 years since the two sides first locked horns back in the summer of 1969.
That meeting set the tone, with the touring Scots losing 20-3 in Buenos Aires. Centre Ian Murchie was wiped out by a vicious straight arm tackle from opposite number Alessandro Travaglini, which both Jim Telfer and Ian McLauchlan still rate as the most violent they have ever seen. Murchie dislocated his shoulder and suffered joint damage. He never played for Scotland again.
The Scots registered a 6-3 win when the sides met again a fortnight later, thanks to a try by Sandy Carmichael, a Colin Blaikie penalty and some heroic resistance against a ferocious Argentine onslaught.
Argentina’s visit to Scotland four years later provided another not-for-the-faint-hearted clash. The Argentines showed flashes of brilliance in open play to outscore the Scots by two tries to none, but indiscipline proved their undoing and they ended up losing 12-11 thanks to three Dougie Morgan penalties and a late Colin Telfer drop-goal.
The game was marred by several violent incidents culminating in a brawl near the end which left home hooker Duncan Madsen with a badly cut head, followed by an assault from behind on Gordon Brown as the teams went down the tunnel.
These early meetings set the template for Argentina’s evolution into a genuine force in world rugby. Over the years they have added discipline to their game, without sacrificing their rugged bellicosity.
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The journey has not always been easy – they conceded nine tries in a 49-3 demolition when the two sides met, 17 years on at Murrayfield in 1990 – but an overall record of ten Argentine wins from 17 meetings shows how big a challenge Saturday’s game promises to be for Vern Cotter’s youthful team.
An added complication for the home squad as they try to put together a gameplan which will get their autumn campaign off to a winning start is the fact that the Pumas have taken their game to a whole new level in recent months by developing a more ambitious style of play to complement the traditional power of their pack.
In their final match in this year’s Rugby Championship, against Australia in Mendoza, they picked up their first-ever win in the tournament.
Classy centre Marcelo Bosch came off the bench during that 21-17 victory over the Wallabies but is expected to start against Scotland this weekend. He said: “The most important thing for us is that it’s a kind of relief because it’s our third season playing in the Four Nations, and we’ve been so close in other matches during the past two years – and even this year when we played South Africa at home we dominated them by 12 points but, in two minutes, they made a try after another one and we couldn’t win it.”
“This game gave us the experience to know that we can sometimes beat these teams – and if we continue to produce the style of rugby we have tried this last year, then this gives us hope.
“We have tried to keep more of the ball, to trust more in our system, to trust more in our players, and to take more risks. So that we can attack more and perhaps tackle less, and then, if it doesn’t work, we can kick tactically.
“This year we showed we can do that in some matches, and now we have to reach a level of maturity where we can play with the ball in the good times, but kick it if we have to as well.”
Bosch has 31 caps to his name but has only played Scotland once before, during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, when Argentina squeezed out a 13-12 victory.
Bosch was not available when Scotland beat Argentina in their own backyard during the summer because that game was played outside the international window and he had to report for training with his English club side Saracens.
“That day [in the World Cup] was a really nice memory for me because it gave us almost the opportunity to play in the quarter-finals. All we had to do after that was beat Georgia, which we did,” he recalled.
“It was one of those matches that could have gone either way. To be fair, Scotland played perhaps better in some key moments and, at the end, they were beating us by six points but, after their last penalty, we had a turnover and scored a try and conversion. At the end it was mad because we played four or five minutes of extra time, with them attacking, attacking, attacking – we just didn’t want to concede any penalties.”
That World Cup success is not the only reason Bosch harbours a soft spot for Scotland. He also has fond memories of visiting Edinburgh when he was involved in the Argentine Sevens set-up, with a day trip to St Andrews to play golf a high-point.
The team will not have time to hit the fairways during this trip, however. They have to remain focused in the task in hand, explains Bosch.
“Scotland are a really good side. They beat Argentina in June and they have a new coach who was at Clermont when they had some really good seasons so we have to concentrate on our game and try to continue to play as we did in some matches during the Four Nations,” he added.
“We see ourselves as really similar sides. It’s not that you should win it, but it is a good opportunity to win it. In the last few years we’ve played each other several times, and always the score was really tight.”
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