In contrast to last Saturday’s lacklustre defeat in Jujuy this was a performance suffused with far more energy. There were plenty of mistakes too but the key stat was that Gregor Townsend’s side outscored the hosts by four tries to nil.
The first half was messy but Scotland nicked a try just before the break through man of the match Hamish Watson. They looked a different team in the second period and scores from Mark Bennett, Matt Fagerson and Sam Johnson put them out of sight.
Watson, winning his 50th Scotland cap, and Rory Darge were both outstanding and the defence was solid in the face of some severe pressure.
Grant Gilchrist, the tour captain, was delighted with the way Scotland responded after Jujuy but he urged his team to go and finish the job next Saturday in the third and final Test in Santiago del Estero.
“I’m really proud of the boys and the way they bounced back after last week,” said Gilchrist. “We came here to win a series so we won’t get ahead of ourselves but that was a lot more like it.
“There’s loads more growth in this team and we’ll need it next week.”
The win completed a clean sweep for the home nations against the southern hemisphere after Ireland, England and Wales had beaten New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, a reversal of all last week's first Test results.
Scotland was so poor in Jujuy that they failed to breach Argentina’s 22 once in the entire first half but in Salta it took them only two minutes.
Darge, Duhan van der Merwe and Johnson all got on the ball early as Townsend’s side upped the energy levels, as the coach requested. Scotland won an early scrum penalty and when no advantage was forthcoming Blair Kinghorn kicked the points.
The lead lasted precisely two minutes. Gilchrist was penalised for a high tackle on Juan Martin Gonzalez and Emiliano Boffelli kicked Argentina level.
Kinghorn’s restart put the pressure right back on the hosts who were forced to defend on their own line. They managed to clear but the visitors were in a good position from the lineout only for Dave Cherry to throw in squint. It was the story of the half in microcosm for Scotland; promising positions spoiled by unforced errors.
Loose passing and a lack of accuracy were stymying the Scots and Argentina were coming more and more into the game, their stand-off Santiago Carreras pulling the strings.
Scotland needed a spark and Darcy Graham tried to provide one. The winger collected a high ball brilliantly ahead of Juan Imhoff and danced around three or four defenders before the ball was shipped out to van der Merwe but the Worcester wing was forced into touch as he tried to find the corner.
Kinghorn and Rory Hutchinson were trying to spark the Scots but nothing would stick.
Argentina were feeling their way back into the game and took the lead for the first time through a Boffelli penalty after a high tackle by Ben White on Rodrigo Bruni.
It didn’t last long. Scotland showed some boldness and were rewarded with the game’s first try. Having won a penalty in front of the posts Kinghorn opted to kick to the corner rather than take the points. The lineout was cleanly won by Sam Skinner, setting up the driving maul which was initially held up. The Scots tried again and Watson burrowed over for a try on his landmark appearance. The conversion looked simple but Kinghorn nudged it wide. Nevertheless, Scotland ended an error-strewn first half 8-6 ahead and it took them only two minutes of the second period to increase their lead.
Bennett, a try-scorer last week, did it again, rushing on to White’s pass to go in under the posts after three or four good phases by the Scots. Kinghorn made no mistake with the conversion this time.
The Pumas came back impressively and thought they had scored a try of their own through Guido Petti but it was chalked off for a forward pass by Imhoff earlier in the move.
By this point Kyle Rowe had replaced the injured Rory Hutchinson at full-back but the London Irish man’s international debut lasted a mere 10 minutes after he appeared to land badly on his ankle. He was carried off on a stretcher and replaced by Ross Thompson, necessitating a reshuffle which saw Kinghorn move back to 15 and Thompson slot in at stand-off.
The momentum was with Scotland, despite the upheaval, and when Boffelli was yellow-carded after 51 minutes they quickly took advantage. White was involved again, scurrying for the line after a five-metre scrum. He was stopped short but Matt Fagerson picked up the pieces and forced his way over for his first Scotland try. Thompson took over kicking duties and slotted the conversion.
Argentina continued to threaten but Scotland were defending solidly, none more so than Darge who denied Carreras what would have been a superb try. Zander Fagerson then relieved the pressure by winning a timely scrum penalty and Scotland went up the other end and stretched their lead with a fourth try.
It was very similar to the second one but with different personnel. Ali Price had replaced White by this stage and the scrum-half played in Johnson who ran a great line. Thompson converted.
Scorers: Argentina: Pens: Boffelli 2.
Scotland: Tries: Watson, Bennett, M Fagerson, Johnson. Cons: Kinghorn, Thompson 2. Pen: Kinghorn.
Argentina: E Boffelli; S Cordero, M Orlando, J de la Fuente, J Imhoff (D Miotti 75); S Carreras, G Bertranou (F Ezcurra 72); N T Chaparro (M Vivas 50), J Montoya (A Creevy 55), F G Kodela (J Sclavi 55), G Petti, M Alemanno, J M Gonzalez, M Kremer, R Bruni (F Isa 45).
Scotland: R Hutchinson (K Rowe 38; R Thompson 48); D Graham, M Bennett, S Johnson, D Van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, B White (A Price 55); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 68), D Cherry (G Turner 55), Z Fagerson (J Sebastian 68), S Skinner, G Gilchrist (S Cummings 68), R Darge, H Watson (A Christie 69), M Fagerson.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).