Scotland's five big talking points from tour of Argentina including captaincy conundrum, Darge-ball, Kinghorn’s improvement and the unlucky duo
Gregor Townsend went to South America without Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell and they were missed. But both deserved a break and the tour was an opportunity for others to step up. Some did, some didn’t but the most startling takeaway from the summer involved the fate of Scotland’s 2023 World Cup group opponents.
While Townsend’s side remain seventh in the world rankings, Ireland’s stunning Test series win in New Zealand has propelled them to the top of the tree.
The likelihood is that the Scots will need something from their Pool B clash against the Irish at the Stade de France if they are to qualify for the quarter-finals and avoid another early exit from the World Cup. So what impact will events in Argentina have on Scotland’s preparations for the tournament?
Captaincy conundrum appears no closer to being resolved
Scotland appear no nearer to knowing who their long-term captain is than they did in the aftermath of the Six Nations. Townsend refused to offer any guarantees about Hogg continuing in the role following the defeat by Ireland in Dublin in March.
The coach then appeared to soften his stance in June when he named his squad to tour South America, suggesting the door was open for the Exeter Chiefs full-back to return as skipper.
Hogg was rested for the tour and is unlikely to be available for the first autumn international against Australia on October 29 because it falls outside the designated Test window.
Grant Gilchrist led the team in the first two Tests against Argentina but was not involved in the decisive third Test on Saturday, with Hamish Watson taking over.
Jamie Ritchie, who missed the tour as he recovered from a hamstring injury, has been touted in some quarters as a potential new skipper. He was co-captain alongside Ali Price for last year’s Test against Tonga which also took place outside the international window.
Rory Darge is here to stay
His appearance in Saturday’s match in Santiago del Estero was only his seventh in a full Scotland jersey but Rory Darge already seems like a fixture. The Glasgow flanker’s work at the breakdown is exemplary and he dovetailed with fellow openside Hamish Watson in Argentina.
The back row was one of the tour’s success stories, with Matt Fagerson another stand-out, but it leaves Townsend with a dilemma. Who misses out to accommodate the return of Jamie Ritchie? The Edinburgh blindside flanker has been out since tearing his hamstring in the win over England in the Six Nations opener.
The injury required surgery but Ritchie is back training and should be fit for the start of the URC season. He has been a mainstay of the Scotland pack for the past four seasons, complementing Watson superbly for club and country, but three into two doesn’t go.
Return of Mark Bennett is a tour success story
Like Ritchie, Chris Harris has been a regular under Townsend but the Gloucester outside centre was rested for the tour to South America.
In his place came Mark Bennett, revived after an outstanding season with Edinburgh. Six years after he last started a game for Scotland, Bennett was picked for all three Tests against Argentina and didn’t disappoint, scoring a try in each of the first two and running a great line to help set up van der Merwe in the final match.
Bennett’s attacking menace is hard to deal with and at 29 he appears to have found a new lease of life under Blair’s coaching. He is also no slouch defensively and will be hard to dislodge in the autumn.
Blair Kinghorn stepped up in the final Test
Some will never be convinced by Blair Kinghorn at stand-off but the Edinburgh player impressed enough in the final Test to suggest he is growing into the role. Kinghorn started all three matches in Argentina at 10 and struggled in the first two. But the former full-back looked more assured in Santiago del Estero, setting up van der Merwe for his first try with a deft offload then doing the same for Ewan Ashman with a looping pass.
Stepping up to Test level was always going to be difficult and it should be remembered that Kinghorn has played only five Tests at 10.
His place-kicking also improved over the course of the series. He landed a couple of tough conversions from wide positions on Saturday and unlucky with a penalty attempt from just inside the Argentina half which struck the bar. Small margins.
Finn Russell remains out in front as Scotland’s stand-off supreme but Kinghorn deserves to be in the squad.
Tough luck for George Horne and Murphy Walker
Townsend was keen to give as many players as much game-time as realistically possible. It could be argued he chopped and changed too much, particularly for the final Test when there were eight alterations to his starting XV.
The series was ultimately lost in the dying seconds of that last match and it’s hard to say if mass rotation was to blame. It certainly seemed odd to change the captaincy for the final game and then take Watson off before full-time.
Of the 34 players retained for the Test series two never got on the pitch. George Horne was an unused replacement in Santiago del Estero and Murphy Walker never made a match-day squad. The young prop was there for the experience and will likely have plenty more tours to go on. It was tougher on Horne who found himself behind Ali Price and Ben White in the pecking order at scrum-half.
Horne and Murphy did at least feature in the A international against Chile.
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