If the series is lost it will be of little comfort that a few fringe players have gained experience on the international stage. Townsend has been around long enough to realise that such a scenario provides no insulation against criticism.
He has changed more than half his team for Saturday’s third Test decider in Santiago del Estero and there will be debut outings for full-back Ollie Smith and lock Glen Young, the latter from the bench. There is also a first start for Ewan Ashman, the hooker, and a likely first Test sighting on this tour of scrum-half George Horne, who is among the substitutes.
If Young and Horne play it will mean that 33 of the 34-strong squad will have featured in a Test. The odd man out is Murphy Walker but, at 21, the Glasgow Warriors prop has time on his side.
Making as many as eight changes could be construed as risky but Argentina have gone further, retaining only four of the side that went down 29-6 in Salta. Michael Cheika hasn’t so much swung the axe as scythed down the forest.
Edinburgh’s Emiliano Boffelli is among the quartet to keep his place but shifts from full-back to left wing. The others are second-row Guido Petti, stand-off Santiago Carreras and centre Matias Orlando. Cheika is giving a debut to scrum-half Lautaro Bazán Vélez, part of Argentina’s Olympic bronze medal-winning sevens squad in Tokyo last summer.
Scotland were caught cold in the first Test defeat in Jujuy, barely laying a glove on their opponents in the first half. The second match was a role reversal, with the Pumas strangely lethargic against tourists who scored four tries without scaling the heights.
Pierre Schoeman, the prop, labelled it a “six out of ten” performance and Townsend believes Scotland are capable of far more. In truth, the tourists will probably need to be close to their best to win the third Test and clinch the series.
Argentina have been stung by that defeat in Salta and need a morale-boosting performance ahead of the Rugby Championship which begins on the first weekend of August, with Cheika’s side hosting Australia in Mendoza.
The third Test against Scotland is taking place at the impressively modern Estadio Único Madre de Ciudades, the ‘Mother of Cities Stadium’, so called because Santiago del Estero is Argentina’s oldest. Built in 2021, the 30,000-capacity bowl is likely to provide a noisier backdrop than the roofless stadiums in Jujuy and Salta.
Townsend believes Blair Kinghorn is improving as an international stand-off as he takes the reins for the fourth match in a row. This is the biggest test yet of his ability to lead the attack as the tourists look to emulate the Scotland side of 2010 by winning a series in Argentina.
While defeat wouldn’t be cataclysmic, it would lead to questions over the direction this team is heading under Townsend with the World Cup less than 14 months away. But there is enough quality in the Scotland 23 to suggest they can get the job done, even if the result is closer than the second Test.