The Scottish performance in the first half was poor, reminiscent of the Six Nations game against Wales in Cardiff. Admittedly Argentina played with zest, imagination and skill. They moved the ball well. Their passing and running lines were good, and they continued to look good even when their playmaster Nicholas Sanchez went off injured. In contrast we looked sluggish, and though there was some good defensive work, we were never really in the game throughout the first 40 minutes.
All the same Argentina weren’t out of sight. We started the second half well, scored two well-conceived tries, finished by Mark Bennett and Rory Hutchinson, and at 18-all not only had a chance of winning but looked quite likely to do so. But then mistakes were made, first by failing to secure the restart after the second try, and all the fire seemed to die away.
Of course Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris had been given the summer off, after as members of last summer’s Lions tour having played without a significant beak for a year. Perhaps Ali Price, who looked tired, might also have been given a break. Then we have missed Jamie Ritchie ever since he was injured in the Calcutta Cup. He has played a big part in every big win we have had in the last two or three years.
There were of course too many mistakes, too many handling errors, and too few opportunities for the backs in attack. Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe, both proven try-scorers against good opposition, were scarcely ever brought in to the game. We all, I think, recognize that Blair Kinghorn is still a work in progress as a fly-half, and indeed he made notable contributions to both Scottish tries, his pass to Hutchinson for the second one being brilliant. But his kicking from hand was poor, as indeed was Ali Price’s. All international teams kick a lot in attack now, but ill-directed kicking that asks no difficult questions is merely an invitation to the opposition to take charge of the next phases of a match.
However, what we conspicuously lacked last week – and indeed for most of the Six Nations – were hard-running powerful forwards who impose themselves on the opposition. Jonny Gray and Grant Gilchrist are intelligent and industrious players, but neither, at the top level, is the kind of lock who drives through defences. Magnus Bradbury has shown for Edinburgh this season that he can do this even against good opposition, but last week he seemed to be scarcely ever in the game. Matt Fagerson and Luke Crosbie had their moments, but neither is the sort of power-house who alarms good defences. Twelve months ago it seemed that Scott Cummings was on the way to be the hard-driving lock we need; injuries cost him most of last season and evidently he hasn’t yet returned to his best form. The result is that there is no one in the Scottish pack except, occasionally, Pierre Schoeman, who makes the kind of bruising run that disrupts defences. Hamish Watson is fit again to start this week, but while he almost always makes ground with ball in hand, and is devilishly hard to put down, he rarely breaks through into open space. The return of Rory Darge brings more speed into the back-row, but not raw power.
Still, the ascendancy achieved in the third quarter of last week’s match gives some hope for today. Play like that for more of the game and there is a good chance of winning. Play as we did in the lacklustre first 40 minutes and we are in for another depressing defeat. We should acknowledge that it is difficult to win in Argentina and that this year’s Argentinian side is a good one. Nevertheless, there is enough talent in this Scotland back division to score tries even against well-organized defences if the forwards can at least hold their own and offer a solid platform, producing quick, clear front-foot ball.