Argentina v Scotland: Gregor Townsend likens second Test to a cup semi-final as coach looks for new leaders to step up
The Scots looked strangely inhibited in the first match and it would be hard to make a case for them deserving anything more than the defeat they suffered in Jujuy.
A repeat performance this weekend would see the Pumas clinch the three-Test series with a game to spare and leave Townsend with much to ponder as the countdown to next year’s Rugby World Cup begins in earnest.
The Scotland coach has made five changes to his starting XV and freshened up his bench in a bid to return to winning ways. Another defeat would mean three in a row on his watch for the first time since the 2019 Six Nations.
Asked about the state of his squad in the context of the World Cup, Townsend was reluctant to look too far ahead but he clearly expects more from this group of players.
“We were obviously not happy with the performance at the weekend, but we’ll look at the whole tour and what players have done throughout the tour and where we are in terms of the overall selection,” said the coach.
“This tour is about learning about the group, learning about who steps up as leaders, learning about individuals and how they manage and thrive when they’re together for four or five weeks - and also how they perform in games. There will be opportunities for players on Saturday and again next week to do that.”
An experienced core of players was left behind and Townsend is clearly challenging those in the touring party to make the most of their opportunities in the absence of Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Chris Harris, Jamie Ritchie, WP Nel, Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown, all bona fide leaders.
Not many did that in Jujuy and Townsend has shaken things up for Saturday while keeping faith with Blair Kinghorn at stand-off and Rory Hutchinson at full-back.
Ben White, the scrum-half who scored a stunning try after coming on against England in the Six Nations, is given his first international start in place of Ali Price who is among the replacements.
Dave Cherry gets the nod at hooker ahead of George Turner who joins Price on the bench, Jonny Gray drops out of the squad completely and is replaced by Sam Skinner at lock, with Scott Cumming providing substitute cover.
There are two changes in the back row as Hamish Watson - winning his 50th cap - and Rory Darge replace Luke Crosbie and Magnus Bradbury on the flanks. Like Gray, Crosbie and Bradbury are not involved, with Andy Christie named as replacement.
London Irish winger Kyle Rowe is in line for his Scotland debut after being named among the substitutes ahead of Sione Tuipulotu and he will be joined on the bench by Jamie Bhatti who takes over from Rory Sutherland as loosehead cover.
The return of Watson after a shoulder problem meant Townsend had a full squad to choose from and the coach expects a lot more this weekend.
“It’s a cup semi-final and we’ve got to make sure we put our game out there,” he said. “We didn’t do that last weekend; we were frustrated with our performance and the errors we made, and frustrated that the game became stop-start.
“That was the lowest ball in play time we’ve ever had as a team and if that happens at the weekend, we’ve got to make sure that, when the ball is in play for either team, we play much better.”
The other area of concern for Townsend is restarts and it was particularly frustrating for him to watch Argentina regain the lead in the first Test almost immediately after Scotland had restored parity with two good tries in the second half. Emiliano Boffelli’s aerial abilities helped the hosts score a quick try through scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou and Scotland never found a way back into the match.
“The area we’ve got to improve most is around our restarts,” said the coach. “That was a disappointing aspect of the game - a big turning point of the game was Boffelli winning that restart after we had brought it to 18-18. But also the pressure we can put on them with our restarts, either winning the ball or forcing poor kicks from them when they’re exiting from their 22.”
Boffelli has been moved from wing to full-back for the second Test and the Edinburgh player is likely to continue as frontline goalkicker for the Pumas as stand-off Nicholas Sanchez has not recovered from the injury he sustained in the first Test. Santiago Carreras, who replaced him in Jujuy and scored Argentina’s second try, starts at 10. The experienced Juan Imhoff comes into the starting XV on the wing and there is also a change at No 8, with Rodrigo Bruni replacing Pablo Matera.
Domingo Miotti, the Glasgow Warriors stand-off, is named among the replacements.
The selection of both Watson and Darge means Scotland will be playing with two natural opensides and a lighter pack than they put out in the first Test but Townsend denied this was a risk against opponents whose traditional strength is in their aggressive forward play.
“We had a big pack in terms of weight last week, but weights don’t really define how you play,” said Townsend. “We believe that there’s going to be a fiercely contested breakdown area this week. Mathieu Raynal is a brilliant referee and he views each breakdown on its own merits - and he will allow contests for the ball there, so having Hamish and Rory in the team gives us a real presence around the breakdown.”
Scotland (v Argentina, Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta, Saturday, 8.10pm BST)
15. Rory Hutchinson - Northampton Saints - 6 caps
14. Darcy Graham - Edinburgh - 28 caps
13. Mark Bennett - Edinburgh - 25 caps
12. Sam Johnson - Glasgow Warriors - 25 caps
11. Duhan van der Merwe - Worcester Warriors - 17 caps
10. Blair Kinghorn - Edinburgh - 32 caps
9. Ben White - London Irish - 5 caps
1. Pierre Schoeman - Edinburgh - 10 caps
2. Dave Cherry - Edinburgh - 5 caps
3. Zander Fagerson - Glasgow Warriors - 48 caps
4. Sam Skinner - Edinburgh - 21 caps
5. Grant Gilchrist - Edinburgh - (captain) - 54 caps
6. Rory Darge - Glasgow Warriors - 5 caps
7. Hamish Watson - Edinburgh (vice-captain) - 49 caps
8. Matt Fagerson - Glasgow Warriors - 22 caps
16. George Turner - Glasgow Warriors - 26 caps
17. Jamie Bhatti - Glasgow Warriors - 22 caps
18. Javan Sebastian - Scarlets - 2 caps
19. Scott Cummings - Glasgow Warriors - 21 caps
20. Andy Christie - Saracens - 1 cap
21. Ali Price - Glasgow Warriors - 52 caps
22. Ross Thompson - Glasgow Warriors - 1 cap
23. Kyle Rowe - London Irish - uncapped
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