Argentina v Scotland: Winning start would be the morale-booster Scottish rugby needs right now

If ever Scottish rugby needed a morale-boosting result it is now.

Argentine and Scottish players at the end of the 2018 Test match at the Centenario Stadium, Resistencia. Scotland won 44-15 (Photo by Pablo Gasparini / AFP via Getty Images)
Argentine and Scottish players at the end of the 2018 Test match at the Centenario Stadium, Resistencia. Scotland won 44-15 (Photo by Pablo Gasparini / AFP via Getty Images)

Gregor Townsend’s side return to Test action for the first time since a Six Nations campaign which began promisingly but ended amid defeat and acrimony in Dublin and a sense that progress has been stunted. More worryingly, the under-20s, the national team’s wellspring, have just lost their 12th game in a row.

Against this backdrop Townsend takes his squad to Jujuy to play Argentina in the first match of a three-Test series. It is a tough schedule, played out in remote venues in the north-west of the country where the tourists can expect a hot reception.

Both Townsend and his boss, Mark Dodson, have spoken about this being the start of preparations for next year’s Rugby World Cup but Scotland find themselves in a strange situation. They travelled to Argentina without Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell, the two players who have done more than any others to revitalise the national side over the last decade.

The thought of playing a Test match without either is an alien one but Townsend must also look to the future.

Hogg turned 30 the other week and Russell will reach that milestone in September but neither looks ready to be pensioned off quite yet. Both still play at the pinnacle of the club game and, all being well, you would expect them to be mainstays of the national side in France next autumn.

With Chris Harris also rested for this tour and Hamish Watson out of the first Test with injury, Scotland are taking on Argentina without four of their Test Lions.

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Scotland have won their last five Test matches in Argentina, including in Resistencia in 2018. (Photo by Pablo Gasparini/ AFP via Getty Images)

In their place comes a mix of youth, experimentation and comeback kids.

Rory Hutchinson’s fine form for Northampton is rewarded with a recall after two and a half years but not in his club position of centre. Hutchinson will deputise for Hogg at full-back where he has been charged with playing the second receiver role the Hawick man performs so well.

Blair Kinghorn continues at stand-off, another positional switch project which bore fruit for Edinburgh but remains a work in progress at Test level.

Harris’ absence is covered by the return of the rejuvenated Mark Bennett at outside centre who is making his first start in six years. He should add greater attacking intent.

Luke Crosbie deputises for Watson, reward for his performance in the A international against Chile. Expect also to see Rory Darge enter the fray in the second half, the natural long-term successor to Watson.

Jujuy is a new venue for Scotland but it is hardly a familiar setting for the hosts either - the Pumas have played there just once before. Argentina is a country in which Scotland have fared well in recent years, regardless of the city.

Since 2008 they have won five Tests in a row, in Buenos Aires, Tucuman, Mar del Plata, Cordoba and Resistencia.

To continue that run Scotland are likely to have to weather an early storm as Argentina play in front of their own supporters for the first time in three years. Much will depend on Kinghorn’s ability to control the game and his place-kicking accuracy. He has made great strides in the former with Edinburgh this season but the conditions will be a lot more challenging in Jujuy.

Scotland v Argentina: Estadio 23 de Agosto, Jujuy, Saturday, 8.10pm BST. TV: live on Sky Sports Main Event

Argentina: 15. Juan Cruz Mallia; 14. Santiago Cordero, 13. Matías Orlando, 12. Jerómino de la Fuente, 11. Emiliano Boffelli; 10. Nicholas Sanchez, 9. Tomas Cubelli; 1. Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2. Julian Montoya (c), 3. Francisco Gomez Kodela, 4. Guido Petti, 5. Matías Alemanno, 6. Juan Martin Gonzalez, 7 Marcos Kremer, 8. Pablo Matera.

Replacements: 16. Agustín Creevy, 17. Mayco Vivas, 18. Joel Sclavi, 19. Lucas Paulos, 20. Facundo Isa, 21. Gonzalo Bertranou, 22. Santiago Carreras, 23. Matías Moroni.

Scotland: 15. Rory Hutchinson; 14. Darcy Graham, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. Sam Johnson, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Blair Kinghorn, 9. Ali Price; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. George Turner, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Grant Gilchrist (c), 5. Jonny Gray, 6. Magnus Bradbury, 7. Luke Crosbie, 8. Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: 16. Ewan Ashman, 17. Rory Sutherland, 18. Javan Sebastian, 19. Sam Skinner, 20. Rory Darge, 21. Ben White, 22. Ross Thompson, 23. Sione Tuipulotu.

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