Scotland tour of Argentina: Gregor Townsend wary of Michael Cheika’s dangerous Pumas as Scots take a step into the unknown

Scotland’s last visit to Argentina in 2018 saw them record a crushing 44-15 win over their hosts in Resistencia but Gregor Townsend expects this summer’s tour to be a lot tougher.

Scotland will be up against Emiliano Boffelli, the Argentina winger/full-back who has been outstanding this season for Edinburgh. (Photo by PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP via Getty Images)
Scotland will be up against Emiliano Boffelli, the Argentina winger/full-back who has been outstanding this season for Edinburgh. (Photo by PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP via Getty Images)

The Pumas were a little declawed that evening, swept away in the first half as George Horne and Adam Hastings ran the show at half-back for the Scots.

Intriguingly, both have been recalled to the squad for what is Scotland’s first ever three-Test tour against a Tier 1 nation.

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The Argentina of 2018 were missing key players and Townsend thinks they will pose a far stiffer test this time around, not least because they are now coached by Michael Cheika.

Michael Cheika, right, took over as Argentina head coach in March. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The man who led Australia to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final (via that infamous quarter-final win over Scotland) took over in March and has an enviable CV. As well as his work with the Wallabies, Cheika won the Heineken Cup with Leinster in 2009 and Super Rugby with the Waratahs in 2014, a notable double.

Townsend has been impressed by the quality of the squad Cheika has named which includes Emiliano Boffelli but not Edinburgh team-mate Ramiro Moyano nor Glasgow winger Seb Cancelliere who are both injured.

“They are an excellent team,” said Townsend. “If you look through their squad, most of them are with clubs in Europe – you don’t have to look very far, at Edinburgh and Glasgow - and they have some quality, quality players.

“Michael Cheika has just taken over and he has been a very successful coach at Test and club level – in Super Rugby and the European Cup, and he took Australia to a World Cup final.

Adam Hastings in action for Scotland in the 44-15 win over Argentina in 2018. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

“So they have got a quality coach in and he has picked the strongest squad he could. He has brought back experienced players like hooker Agustin Creevy and wing Juan Imhoff, who has not played for the last couple of seasons. It is a top squad and some really good players – at Gloucester, Newcastle and in France – haven’t made the squad.

“So we are under no illusions these will be proper Test matches. You can look at their positive results over the last 12 months…they beat the All Blacks, they pushed France very close at the Stade de France and they have everyone available now to them. You could look at the negatives and say they lost heavily to Ireland, after getting a red card early on. But we know this will be a real challenge.”

Boffelli has been outstanding for Edinburgh in his debut season in Scotland and was a worthy winner of the club’s players’ player of the year award on Monday evening. A dangerous runner, solid under the high ball and near perfect off the tee, Boffelli is likely to be key Argentina’s hopes.

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George Horne, back in the Scotland squad, scored two tries in the victory in Resistencia four years ago. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

“He is a very good player,” acknowledged Townsend. “The Edinburgh players have huge respect for him, and that is the quality they have throughout the Argentina team. We just have to show we are better prepared, with what we have learnt during the Six Nations.

“This two-week period we have before the first Argentina Test – that is the advantage we believe we can have. Some of the Argentina players might be still playing in France and coming out at different times. So we have to show we are ready to win that game more than they are.”

The preparation period includes an A international against Chile in Santiago on Saturday week which is likely to see outings for most of the six uncapped players in the 40-man squad. The fixture falls outside the international window so Townsend will be calling upon home-based players only, ruling out an appearance at this stage from London Irish winger Kyle Rowe. But Edinburgh’s Ben Muncaster, Glen Young and Matt Currie, and Glasgow’s Murphy Walker and Ollie Smith could all see action.

“The Chile game is going to serve a couple of purposes,” said Townsend. “First, it will be a tough game. They play the USA the following week and all their players play in Chile and have all been training together.

“They have had a South American professional competition going on and Chile have had a team in that – they beat the Jaguares, Argentina’s professional side, a couple of weeks ago. They beat Russia, they beat Canada, and will know the rugby they’re going to play so will be a big threat. So that is a proper match for us.

“The other thing is the opportunity some of our guys have to play in that match. With the numbers we’ll have, we will be able to have two teams training against each other, which is really good preparation for the group that goes ahead and plays against Argentina. Obviously there will be some overlap. As one team is preparing to play Chile, a lot of the other team are going to be playing against Argentina.

“So we felt this fourth game was really important for both the long term – otherwise some of this group may not have made this tour, and obviously there is a World Cup next year – but also for the short term, helping players prepare to face Argentina. We have not played for a few months so to have that extra week’s preparation should help us a lot.”

Townsend plans to reduce the squad after the Chile game, with five or six players heading home. The touring party will be slimmed down further ahead of the third Test against Argentina, leaving 28 or 29 players for the final match.

The Argentinian leg of the tour consists of matches in northern enclaves never before visited by Scotland, with the first Test in Jujuy on July 2, the second in Salta on July 9 and the last game in Santiago del Estero on July 16.

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