Settled Scotland look to end an underwhelming year on a high with victory over Argentina

Gregor Townsend felt Scotland played some of their best rugby of the past two years against New Zealand which made the defeat all the more galling and the head coach knows his team need to find a way to win matches their dominance deserves, as was the case for long periods last Sunday.

Jack Dempsey will make his first start for Scotland against Argentina. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Jack Dempsey will make his first start for Scotland against Argentina. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

The Scots held a nine-point lead going into the final quarter but Townsend knows it should have been more and was left to rue three or four missed opportunities as the All Blacks came back to win 31-23.

Argentina visit Murrayfield on Saturday, the final visitors in what has been a mostly underwhelming year for Scotland. It began so promisingly with the win over England in the Six Nations opener, the first time Scotland had beaten the Auld Enemy in consecutive matches for 38 years. But defeat in Cardiff a week later quickly doused the feel-good spirit and talk of a title challenge quickly cooled.

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Indeed, Italy were the only other side Scotland beat in the Six Nations and the record of two wins and three defeats was their worst return in the championship since 2019. A lost Test series in Argentina followed in the summer and autumn has brought a narrow reverse against Australia, a laboured win over Fiji and the defeat by New Zealand. As things stand, the record for 2022 reads, played 11, won four, lost seven.

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A home win over Argentina would add a bit of gloss but the overall picture is not what we’ve come to expect under Townsend who, along with his predecessor Vern Cotter, is one of only two coaches in the professional era to boast a win rate of over 50 per cent while in charge of Scotland.

Townsend looked devastated in the immediate aftermath of the New Zealand game but, four days later, he was at least able to appreciate the positive parts of a performance in which Scotland outplayed their illustrious opponents for large parts and genuinely looked on course for a historic first victory over the All Blacks.

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“There was a period of the game where we put together some of the best rugby we’ve played over the last two years,” said the coach. “That was against very high class opposition. The sense of occasion and the atmosphere was special so there were a lot of positives to take. But, at the end of the day, it was a missed opportunity and there’s no getting away from that. The missed opportunity didn’t just result from how we played in that closing ten minutes, but from the period when we did have that domination.

“We were close to the try-line, if not over the try-line on four occasions. The goal this week is to score more points when we have those opportunities.”

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Jonny Gray replaces his suspended brother Richie against Argentina. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

There is a settled look about the Scotland team selected to face the Pumas, with an unchanged backline and two enforced changes in the pack. The suspended Richie Gray is replaced by his younger brother