ON the plus side, Scotland showed some grit when fighting their way back from 18-6 down at half-time to tie the match just before the hour mark, but there was little else to be encouraged by in this performance. The tourists were a distant second-best during the first 40-minutes, and then failed to kick-on in the final quarter when the game was there for the taking.
This was Scotland’s first defeat to Argentina since the 2011 World Cup (six matches ago) and the pressure is now on Gregor Townsend and his team to sharpen up across the board ahead of next Saturday’s re-match in Salta, which they must win in order to avoid handing their opponents an unassailable 2-0 lead in this three Test series.
“We didn’t get going until the second half and that was frustrating,” said Townsend afterwards. “We then got into a position where we believe we could have and should have kicked on, but we didn’t and credit to Argentina for winning the restart and getting a try off that.
“The game then slowed down so we needed more to change the momentum of that last 20 minutes. It was a stop-start contest all the way through, with a lot of scrums and lot of errors from both teams. Sometimes you’ve got to create your own momentum and you do that through accuracy, but for a lot of the first half that wasn’t the case in the way we played. The second half was better, we just didn’t kick on in the final quarter.”
Townsend was in no mood for excuses and refused to be drawn on whether he felt his team had got the rub of the green in terms of refereeing decisions – including two potential tries being chalked off in the second half – but did express frustration that the game didn’t ever get into the sort of flow he believes suits his players
“You’ve got to make the most of the opportunities you have, especially away from home,” he explained. “You are going to get decisions against you, the big thing for me was the slow nature of the match.
“There was too much stop-start, too much talking while the clock was still on. If that’s the way it is going to be over the course of the series then we’ve got to make sure that we are better and more accurate when the ball is in play to put points on the board.
“We’ve got to up our intensity at the start of the game. I think Argentina brought more energy then, but after that we had some really good moments in defence. The work-rate was good but we’ve got to be more accurate in attack.”
The hosts drew first blood with the game still less than three minutes old when Zander Fagerson tidied up scrappy line-out ball but was penalised for not releasing on the deck under pressure from Juan Martin Gonzalez, with Nicolas Sanchez stepping forward to fire home the points.
The visitors survived the inevitable early onslaught from an Argentinean team playing on home soil in front of their own people for the first time in almost exactly three years with no further points lost, and they then squared the contest with their first trip into enemy territory through a Blair Kinghorn penalty from about 30-yards out and directly in front of the posts.
However, Darcy Graham misjudged the restart, catching the ball when his feet were out of play, and that handed the initiative straight back to the Pumas, with a line-out penalty giving Sanchez a chance to fire his team right back into the lead.
Having lost their selected scrum-half, Tomas Cubelli, to a calf injury just before kick-off, Argentina then lost stand-off Sanchez with a leg injury on 21 minutes, but were clearly in no mood to let that double setback ruin their plans.
A neck roll by Matias Orlando on Sam Johnson allowed Kinghorn to square the contest a few minutes later, but Argentina bounced back immediately with a sweeping attack which led to the game’s opening try. It was a score which featured classic Argentinean power as well as some beautiful handling, with a wonderful overhead pass from prop Francisco Gomez-Kodela sending second-row Guido Petti galloping up field, before Jeronimo de la Fuente powered over a few phases later.
Kinghorn’s restart didn’t go 10 and Argentina helped themselves to try number two just four minutes later when full-back Juan Cruz Mallia ran the ball back from deep and Santiago Cordero carried on momentum for replacement stand-off Santiago Carreras to score. Emiliano Boffelli – who plays his club rugby for Edinburgh – added the conversion to establish a commanding 18-6 home lead at the break.
Scotland had an early opportunity to haul themselves right back into the contest at the start of the second half when a cheap offside penalty by Argentina provided entry into the home team’s 22 for the first time in the match, and the TMO was required to deliberate over whether Duhan van der Merwe had managed to ground a loose ball inside Argentina’s in-goal area, but the decision – rightly – went against the big winger.
Townsend’s boys came again and they got their reward when another Argentine penalty provided the line-out platform for some clever interplay between Rory Hutchinson (coming in from full-back to first-receiver) and Kinghorn, which released Mark Bennett on an arcing run to the line for his first international try since the 2015 World Cup, and when Argentinean indiscipline put Scotland back on the front foot, they took full advantage with Kinghorn sending Hutchinson over on a switch pass.
Kinghorn’s conversion squared the match, but only briefly because Boffelli won back the restart and Argentina burst back into the lead through a try by scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou.
Scotland looked to bite back Johnson went over on the left, but referee Nic Berry called it back for a forward pass by Kinghorn.
Another Boffelli penalty with 10 minutes to go gave Argentina some breathing space and the South Americans had by now regained almost complete control of possession and territory.
When Scotland did have a chance to attack with ball in hand, Matias Moroni managed to swallow up Kinghorn in the tackle to win a penalty.
Argentina: JC Mallia; S Cordero, M Orlando (J Imhoff 65), J de la Fuente (M Moroni 55), E Boffelli; N Sanchez (S Carreras 21), G Bertranou; N Tetaz Chaparro (M Vivas 56), J Montoya (A Creevy, 59), F Gomez Kodela (J Sclavi 56), G Petti, M Alemanno (L Paulos 72), JM Gonzalez Samso, M Kremer (F Isa 59), P Matera.
Scotland: R Hutchinson; D Graham, M Bennett, S Johnson (S Tuipulotu 70), D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, A Price (B White 66); P Schoeman (R Sutherland 59), G Turner (E Ashman 59), Z Fagerson (J Sebastian 59), G Gilchrist, J Gray (S Skinner 66), M Bradbury, L Crosbie (R Darge 53), M Fagerson.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Argentina: Tries: de la Fuente, Carreras, Bertranou; Con: Sanchez; Pens: Sanchez 2, Boffelli.
Scotland: Tries: Bennett, Hutchinson; Pens: Kinghorn 2.
Scoring sequence (Argentina first): 3-0; 3-3; 6-3; 6-6; 11-6; 16-6; 18-6 (h-t) 18-11; 18-16; 18-18; 23-18; 26-18.