Scotland's win over Argentina: Breathless, bonkers, biff-bang entertainment as Townsend's men keep going to the end
Two tests against southern hemisphere teams. Two giants of the game lurching and looking beaten. And yet ultimately two missed opportunities – falling to Australia by a single point and even more agonisingly, squandering a best-ever chance to down the All Blacks. Playing well – very well in large parts against New Zealand – hadn’t been enough.
It was the peerless Hugh McIlvanney who coined the phrase about the propensity of men wearing dark blue to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory”. He was talking about the Scotland football team but this autumn it has equally applied to the rugby boys. Gregor Townsend’s side simply couldn’t flatter to deceive against Argentina, the latest to play the part of the bonnie lass.
It wasn’t going to be easy; the Pumas have always been tricky opponents. Maybe not in the first official international between the countries in 1990 when the Scots romped across the line nine times, but Argentina won the next seven contests, have dumped us out of World Cups and claimed the most recent summer series.
And 2022 for them is already a year for the ages. Victories in Christchurch – their first on New Zealand soil – and at Twickenham. That must impress their football boys, Lionel Messi and all, so maybe another success here would be small cerveza.
Emiliano Boffelli is well known around these parts. The Edinburgh winger kicked 20 of the 25 points against the All Blacks, struck the winning blow against the Scots in the summer and again at Twickers. Boffelli can boff it and he did it again yesterday with a first-minute penalty.
Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg in quick succession had zero time to gather kicks before a player in sky blue hoops was biting at their ankles. But Scotland surged into the lead with a try by Sione Tuipulotu.
Finn Russell setting him up seemed to have no room for manouevre. For the magician of the midfield this was akin to a real illusionist finding himself trapped in a box with swords being steadily inserted. Somehow, with a delivery that must have been borderline legal, he found a way. A few minutes later he was flagged for a forward pass. By then Argentina had regained the lead with a try by the man with the best name on the teamsheet – Jeronimo de la Fuente.
There’s history with Argentina and there’s pre-history. In 1969 Jim Telfer led a team into a maelstrom with civil unrest on the streets and rugby unrest on the pitch. The SRU didn’t award caps and, added to insult, there was injury from brutal straight-arm tackles. The players dodged bullets and bayonets to shelter at embassy functions where diplomats would clink their glasses and inquire: “I went to Fettes – what about you chaps?” Unofficial it may have been, a bit like boxing in a warehouse, but the tour produced a contender for the all-time best rugby quote from the late Sandy Carmichael: “One of the games had to be postponed for two days because of snipers – surely a first.”
Relations are more cordial now and this match was proceeding in a good spirit, each side respectful of the other’s flair, but then at the midway point in the first half back-row Marcos Kremer turned himself into a human battering-ram to send Scotland skipper Jamie Ritchie into the middle of next week. Ritchie must have seen stars; Kremer, not bonnie at all, saw red.
Scotland took immediate advantage of the extra man to cross the line again, Russell flipping the ball to Duhan van der Merwe in the manner a shifty geezer would slip a bundle of notes to an equally dodgy accomplice. But then - did the team get a wee bit complacent? Chris Harris dallied too long with the ball when another try seemed inevitable and Argentina were able to reduce the deficit before the interval.
How long could the tourists grunt and heave in their diminished state? Scotland only needed a minute after the restart to improve their advantage. Russell was up to his old tricks – the backhand offload – and Hogg set up Graham for a scamper to the corner.
Then the visitors had a couple of mad minutes, losing a couple of men. First Matias Alemanno for an offence similar to that which did for Kremer if not as severe, then fellow lock Tomas Lavanini. Both yellow cards, but Argentina were down to 12 men. Still, at least the game could proceed. There were no snipers around.
So what happened then – total Argentinian collapse? Well, a brilliant try was posted but not by Scotland. Jack Dempsey spilled the ball and Matias Orlando charged up the park and out-Finned Russell for the frantically supporting Boffelli to dive under the posts. Had a team so reduced ever conjured up a pitch-length score before?
Then, excitement over surely? A last-quarter fizzle-out? No chance. When Graham was halted going for his hat-trick – only delayed – there was the most monumental punch-up. Everyone was involved in what seemed an attempt to evoke the spirit of bad old 1969. Twenty yards away half a dozen players including Hogg started their own fight, like they’d just spilled out of the pub across the road from the main trouble-spot. It took the referee several re-runs before he yellow-carded Ritchie and Thomas Gallo.
It was breathless, bonkers entertainment. There was so much happening that past failings could almost be forgotten. At last Scotland managed to keep going right to the end of a crazy match where added time produced yet another try and one more yellow card.
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