Good things come for those who wait and the end of this game finally put everyone out of their misery. This was purgatory to watch and can’t have been much to play in either. It was a horror show as Scotland, with the advantage of playing at home, struggled to beat a side ranked two places beneath them and who were without any number of first-class European-based players.
At least Scotland won the game, thanks to Laidlaw’s three penalties and the only try of the match, from Sean Maitland, 15 minutes from time, but Argentina will rue their missed opportunities, especially off the tee. The normally dependable Nico Sanchez kicked all of Argentina’s points with three penalties but the fly-half also missed three other simple looking attempts while full-back Emiliano Boffelli fluffed a long-range effort.
It proved crucial in a match measured in millimetres. In fairness Laidlaw was no better than three from five, a poor return by his lofty standards.
We have seen what Scotland can achieve, the performance they produce when things are going their way. What we had forgotten, or perhaps just failed to grasp, was how little was needed to put this Scotland side off their stride. A little light rain and 15 determined, if limited, opponents were all it took to derail the best laid plans of Gregor Townsend.
It started well, perhaps too well because after scoring the opening three points in as many minutes Scotland were then second best for long stretches of this contest.
There was an almost total lack of energy and urgency in the Scotland side from start to finish. For the second weekend in a row they came off second best at the breakdown where they conceded far too many penalties and the game saw an entire season’s worth of unforced errors, in which both teams were equally complicit. You can point to almost any section of play but four back-to-back knock-ons, between 35-38 minutes, one per minute, two to each side, was probably the low water mark in a match that had plenty to choose from.
The midfield combo of Adam Hastings and Finn Russell did not look like a Fred and Ginger partnership in the making, more’s the pity. Russell fumbled a 22-metre kick off to hand Argentina high field position and while Hastings did some good things – one break led directly to Laidlaw’s second penalty – he was unable to escape the torpor that affected the entire side. Scotland looked a little better when Hastings was replaced by Alex Dunbar’s more muscular presence around the hour mark.
Argentina were not much better. Scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou proved utterly unable to box kick with any accuracy. Fly-half Sanchez left all those points on the table when they were badly needed on the scoreboard. For much of the time the visitors seemed content to play two to three pass rugby which reaped some rewards given Scotland’s inability to defend the gain line. Either that or Sanchez would sit back in the pocket and then kick high into the heavens... and why not?
The first four times he used the Garryowen, Scotland failed to secure the ball when it eventually fell back to earth; Stuart Hogg appeared as frustrated as anyone else in the stadium, venting his anger at his team-mates when he finally managed to catch one.
At least Hogg finally proved his pedigree when he was involved in the one and only try of the match. In a rare sortie into the Argentine red zone, scrum-half Laidlaw was looking to the open side but Hogg called for the ball on the blind and drew in two Argentine defenders before sending Maitland over the line untouched. Laidlaw’s conversion hit the upright. It was that kind of day, if it could go wrong it did.
For the first time Scotland had a decent lead of eight points but Argentina were not finished, going in search of the try they needed and producing some of their best rugby. The Pumas made two scorching breaks up the middle of the field, the first by full-back Boffelli and the second by flanker Rodrigo Bruni only for both moves to break down as the slippy ball was spilled, and not for the first time.
Sanchez was finally handed a penalty that even he couldn’t miss and, six minutes from time, the stand-off narrowed the gap to 14-9.
The visitors were in the game but the Scots had the bit between their teeth and the Pumas were forced to play from their own try line. With the clock in the red numbers another knock on, appropriately enough, eventually signalled an end to hostilities.