When the dust settled Scotland had a record number of points in the fixture, beating Argentina 52-29 in a coruscating match at Murrayfield. It was a winning end to a difficult year for Gregor Townend’s side, who scored eight tries and played some lovely rugby at times. Russell was the conductor and seemed to have a hand in every one of them. In this form, he is irresistible.
For Argentina, their indiscipline was off the scale. An early red card for flanker Marcos Kremer saw them play for an hour with 14 men. At one stage they were down to 12, following two yellow cards inside a minute in the second half, but somehow managed to keep the score at parity for those 10-11 minutes.
A major dust-up on the touchline soon followed as tempers frayed and Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie was sent to the sin-bin to cool his heels along with Argentine prop Thomas Gallo. As overworked referee Karl Dickson said with commendable understatement: “We’ve got a lot going on”.
Emiliano Boffelli feels at home in Edinburgh and it didn’t take him long to get his feet under the table. There were only 15 seconds on the clock when he slotted over a penalty after Scotland had been guilty of coming in from the side while trying to deal with Argentina’s kick-off.
It was an inauspicious start from the hosts but they quickly found their feet, with Russell taking control. Scotland had made impressive territorial gains and the stand-off made it count to play in Sione Tuipulotu for the game’s opening try. Russell delayed and delayed before releasing the centre on his right shoulder. Tuipulotu still had plenty to do but ran a superb line and used all his strength to ground the ball in the face of some desperate Argrentine defending. Russell converted.
The Pumas came straight back at Scotland and had a try of their own in the 15th minute. The Scots were under pressure and when Russell tried to kick away the danger he was caught by Matias Orlando. The ball was shipped wide and Jeronimo de la Fuente made it through in the corner. Boffelli, fallible after all, missed the conversion.
It was end-to-end stuff, but midway through the first half the game was turned on its head as Kremer flew into Ritchie at a ruck, catching the Scotland captain in the head with his arm. English official Dickson had a careful look at replays before showing the Pumas flanker the red card. Head contact, dangerous and no mitigation was the official’s verdict.
Scotland made the extra man count almost immediately, and again Russell was the architect. With Argentina expecting Scotland to go wide, the fly-half stayed narrow and delayed the pass once more before flipping it out the back to Van der Merwe who juggled, gathered and forced his way over. Russell knocked over the conversion from wide on the left.
Scotland had the momentum against their short-handed opponents and added a third try three minutes later. Russell spotted a gap between two lumbering Argentine defenders and exploited it to the full before offloading to Grant Gilchrist. The ball was recycled and moved wide right where the Scots had extra men. Chris Harris should have moved it quicker but Graham stepped in to finish things off. Russell was off target with the kick at goal this time but Scotland were flourishing. A lovely piece of interplay between Hogg and Graham sent the winger charging up the right, but it came to nought on this occasion.
And then, against the run of play, Argentina conjured up a second try. Having pushed Scotland back to their own line they won a penalty five metres out and used their big men to force Matias Alemanno over the whitewash. Boffelli’s conversion made the half-time score 19-15, far closer than it should have been.
Stung by the loss of the try, Townsend’s side responded with one of their own immediately after the restart and once again Russell was at the heart of it. His show and go committed the Argentine defence and he then released Hogg with a one-handed offload. The Scotland full-back timed his pass to Graham to perfection for the winger to run in his second try.
The Scots now had a nine-point advantage and it was the cue for Argentina to unravel as they conceded two yellow cards in a minute. First to go was Alemanno who, like Kremer, charged into a ruck and made direct head contact. Dickson thought this was a lower degree of danger and was content with a sin-binning and the lock was soon joined on the exercise bike by Tomas Lavanini, who pulled down a maul.
It was now 15 versus 12 but, incredibly, it was Argentina who scored the next try. Scotland were guilty of not playing with their heads and when Jack Dempsey got caught. Orlando made a searing break the played a beautifully disguised pass to the supporting Boffelli who swan-dived under the posts and then converted.
Twelve-man Argentina were suddenly back within two points before Scotland finally managed a try against the defiant dozen. Fraser Brown, recalled and revitalised, did all the hard work. Russell then showed patience to open up space for Hogg to play in Tuipulotu for his second try.
You couldn’t take your eyes off this game but when all hell broke loose in the 62nd minute the officials needed eyes in the back of their heads. It was a full-scale 1970s-style rammy, with a couple of breakaway skirmishes off to the side. When the dust had settled referee Dickson decided Argentina prop Gallo and Scotland skipper Ritchie were the initial instigators and both were yellow carded. “Unacceptable on a rugby field,” said the admonishing Dickson.
Russell was the calm man in the eye of the storm and continued to prompt and probe. He threaded a lovely left-footed grubber through for Cam Redpath to run on to for his first Test try. Scotland scored their seventh shortly afterwards, Hogg touching down after work by Redpath and Russell.
The clock was edging towards 80 minutes but there was still time for one more try for each side and yet another yellow card. Graham bagged his hat-trick with a fine finish in the corner after being played in by Blair Kinghorn, the Scotland replacement.
Tuipulotu was then sin-binned for a tip tackle on Juan Cruz Mallia and Argentina went on to have the final say with a try from sub hooker Ignacio Ruiz.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Tuipulotu 2, van der Merwe, Graham 3, Redpath, Hogg. Cons: Russell 6.
Argentina: Tries: De la Fuente, Alemanno, Boffelli, Ruiz. Cons: Boffelli 2, Sanchez. Pens: Boffelli.
Red card: M Kremer (Arg). Yellow cards: J Ritchie, S Tuipulotu (both Sco); M Alemanno, T Lavanini, T Gallo (all Arg).
Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris (C Redpath 61), S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe (B Kinghorn 70); F Russell, A Price (B White 52); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 65), F Brown (G Turner 58), Z Fagerson (M Walker 65), J Gray, G Gilchrist (G Young 75), M Fagerson, J Ritchie (c), J Dempsey (A Christie 58).
Argentina: J C Mallia; B Delguy (N T Chaparro 62), M Orlando, J de la Fuente (L Paulos 50), E Boffelli; S Carreras (N Sanchez 60), G Bertranou (L Velez-Bazan 76); T Gallo (F Isa 72), J Montoya (I Ruiz 64), E Bello (S Medrano 56), M Alemanno, T Lavanini (M Moroni 60), J M González, M Kremer, P Matera.
Referee: Karl Dickson (Eng).