There was precious little to choose between these teams, but Scotland have lost too many tight matches in recent years and the sense of relief when they finally got their nose over the finishing line was almost palpable. This squad of players has been here before and faltered in the final stretch but this time they held their nerve and were rewarded with a late, late penalty.
It wasn’t, to be honest, Greig Laidlaw’s best match in blue. The little scrum-half had already hit the post with one penalty from wide on the right and his passing had been a little wayward, but he was never going to spurn Argentina’s final invitation to close this one out.
Juan Manuel Leguizamon made a no-arms tackle straight in front of the posts, maybe 40 yards out. The penalty was awarded with the clock showing 81.52 and kicked in the 83rd minute. The Pumas’ replacement was still arguing vehemently with the referee long after Laidlaw’s fourth penalty had signalled the start of Murrayfield’s celebrations. The nail-biting finale was by far the best thing about this match, much of which was an unholy mess.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions and both these teams are well on their way to eternal damnation after serving up an error-strewn international despite conditions that looked fit for running rugby.
In fairness, matters improved considerably in the second half but only because they could hardly have got any worse.
Neither camp can be entirely happy after this encounter which showcased a crude succession of dropped balls, inaccurate passing and poor decision making. It was painful to watch and can’t have been much better to play in, although the win and those precious ranking points that come with it will go a long way to soothing Scotland’s angst.
Scotland bossed the first half to such an extent that you almost expected a white flag to be waved from the Pumas’ coaching box. Most of it was played deep inside the Argentina half and the fact that the Scots’ lead was a meagre 6-3 at the break says everything about the quality of the finishing on display.
If Scotland’s attack was stuttering at least the flip side was on song, because it was the pressure generated by Scotland’s in-your-face defence that made Argentina look so ordinary for long stretches of the match.
The guts of this Argentina team has played an entire Super Rugby season, a Rugby Championship campaign and two Tests against Japan and Wales and still the midfield combination looked like they met for the first time five minutes before kick off. Scrum-half Martin Landajo was the exception, he made one scorching break but kicked the ball away.
Neither side could hold on to the ball in the first half. Scotland enjoyed the bulk of possession but sooner or they would get turned over only for Argentina to knock on or make some unforced error. Thankfully both second-half tries were gems; two nuggets of gold in a field of weeds.
Perhaps it was cold hands due to Scotland’s seasonal weather, but it is hard to imagine Argentina playing quite so badly and still their backs came close to claiming the first try of the match in the first half.
Outside centre Matias Orlando ran right over Finn Russell and two passes later it required a brilliant tackle from breakaway Magnus Bradbury on a flying winger Santiago Cordero to prevent the score, just one of several good bits of work the breakaway managed on his debut.
A couple of plays later, Hamish Watson and Finn Russell combined to halt stand-off Nico Sanchez from burrowing his way to the Scottish line.
Laidlaw kicked two penalties in the first half, scant reward for all of Scotland’s territory and possession, but Sanchez added one at the end of the first 40 and another to tie the match just after the break and the little stand-off’s next act was even more impressive.
With a penalty advantage coming Sanchez kicked crossfield where Sean Maitland had drifted off his wing, allowing Orlando to get behind him. The ball sat up nicely for the Argentine centre and he ran through Stuart Hogg to score.
Scotland’s response was immediate. Russell kicked a penalty to the corner, the big men drove the ball and when it was moved to the right Huw Jones stepped out of one tackle before flicking the ball out the back of his hand for Maitland to dive over in the corner. Laidlaw’s touchline conversion levelled the scores.
Sanchez kicked his third penalty on 62 minutes to regain the lead, Laidlaw responded in kind six minutes later and vitally the Scots finished the stronger side. Russell fluffed two drops at goal but with the clock well in the red numbers Laidlaw finally dragged Scotland over the finish line at the second time of asking.