A tour in which you win two games out of three convincingly and lose the other by a single point has to be regarded as a success, statistically speaking. But these few weeks in the Americas have been about far more than the Tests against Canada, the USA and Argentina: they have been a baptism of fire for many members of Gregor Townsend’s young squad, and on Saturday night in Resistencia they came through it with flying colours.
It would have been logical beforehand to presume that the wins would be against the Canadians and Americans, the narrow defeat to the Pumas. What made the final match all the more impressive was not just the comprehensive nature of the 44-15 victory over shell-shocked opponents, but also the fact that it followed the defeat in Houston which could easily have had a demoralising effect on some of the more inexperienced players.
It was a demanding week for the squad in northern Argentina, because of that result and because they were out of their comfort zone in a part of the country where little English is spoken and many familiar comforts are missing. That they dealt with it in such commanding fashion is testament to their strength of character, and a deeply encouraging sign for Townsend as he tries to deepen his resources with next year’s Rugby World Cup in mind.
“We took players here that we believed could be part of the World Cup squad,” the head coach said. “Some of them might have to fight really hard and have a great season, because they’re up against guys who are probably pencilled in to the World Cup squad if they play as well as they have in the last few years. Everyone knew this was an opportunity, the first opportunity in the next 12 months, to say, ‘pick me’.
“It was always going to be a learning tour and we were hoping to win all three games. We knew this one would be definitely the toughest, and we were in positions to win against USA, so that’s the disappointing aspect.
“But you learn a lot when you lose. You see the characters in your group, see the technical and tactical changes that the players have to take on board and sometimes you don’t see them for a few months. To see them the following week is a big boost.
“We don’t see them now till the end of October, so it’s great to have that footage, those memories, for the players coming back into the squad as well. They’ll be thinking, ‘I want to be part of this. That’s a young guy who has grabbed his opportunity.’ It builds it up nicely for next season.”
Adam Hastings, whose rawness had been exposed when up against AJ MacGinty in Texas, was just one man who proved how quickly he could recover from an upset. George Horne, his partner at half-back, was a livewire. Blair Kinghorn on the wing now looks an established international after just five caps. And the pack, led from the front by captain Stuart McInally, were on top of their opponents from the start.
This was only the second Test the Pumas had played in Resistencia, and a near-capacity crowd had turned up at the Estadio Centenario ready to lend their vociferous support to their team. But Scotland’s lightning start left them dumbstruck, ending any prospect of a really intimidating atmosphere. George Horne, Kinghorn and McInally had the tourists 21-0 up by the end of the first quarter, and further tries from Magnus Bradbury then George Horne again, aided by four conversions and two penalties from Pete Horne, made it 36-3 at half-time.
Badly organised in defence and apparently not at all eager to end the reign of coach Daniel Hourcade on a high, the Pumas at least made a better fist of things in the second half with two tries. However, a Dougie Fife touchdown in between those scores was a reminder that Scotland were well on top, and a defensive display that was extremely well-disciplined throughout restricted Argentina’s opportunities. Pete Horne had the last word with a penalty 15 minutes from time.
“We had a younger team, players that have not had experience of Six Nations rugby, who have not had much experience of professional rugby,” Townsend pictured, added. “So to go out there against a full-strength Argentina team who were going to be coming out fighting and do what they did – the confidence and the execution – was great to see. They felt as comfortable playing the way we know they can play in north-eastern Argentina as they would have done at Murrayfield.
“That was one of the goals for this tour, that we put a performance in, hopefully three, that showed we can play to our potential away from home. We certainly did that on Saturday.”
Bearing in mind some of the names missing from the tour party – Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell, Jonny Gray, Ryan Wilson, Willem Nel, Tommy Seymour and more – this victory was all the more remarkable, and deserves to be remembered as one of the great Scottish performances of recent times.
Summer tours are sometimes written off as meaningless end-of-season excursions, and sometimes that is indeed all they are. Not this one.
The growth in the squad from the 48-10 win over Canada then the 30-29 loss to the USA to Saturday night’s triumph has been extraordinary.
The players and coaches responsible will now take a short, well-merited break for summer, but for them and for the Scotland support, next season can surely not come quickly enough.