Scotland tour: Townsend’s squad hope back-to-basics approach will see off Argentina

Besides needing to play with greater physicality, Scotland will also aim to be more direct.

Stuart McInally
Stuart McInally during the captain's run at the Estadio Centenario. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson.

STUART BATHGATE

In Resistencia

WITH just a game to go, Scotland’s tour of the Americas hangs in the balance. If they claim victory against Argentina here today, they will end it with a winning record, their only defeat having been by a single point in Houston. If they are beaten, it will be two losses and one solitary win in Edmonton against a very limited Canada.

In statistical terms at least, there is a narrow margin between success and failure, and it is little surprise that the players are desperate to end up on a high. “You’d take a 3-0 on the weekend here,” is how inside centre Pete Horne put it. “You just want to come here and win. All you care about is winning: you don’t care how the game goes, how you play, as long as you do your job in a winning performance. Then you can go home, rest easy, and have a good summer.

“Our big thing is just physicality. We’ve spoken a lot about making sure we win collisions and just really stamp our physicality right.

“We’ve spent so long the last couple of years taking so many steps forward, and that was a massive one back at the weekend. So we need to make sure that we start making some big physical tackles and making sure they realise it’s not going to be the same as last week.”

Risk-taker Gregor

It is evident from the team selection, however, that Gregor Townsend is not quite putting the need for victory above all else. If he had wanted to keep the game tight and play safety-first, the head coach could have made a more conservative choice of starting line-up. Obviously he believes the team he has chosen can win, but he has also made a calculated gamble by persisting with George Horne and Adam Hastings at half-back, and to a lesser extent hooker Fraser Brown at openside.

Curtains for Hourcade

This is Argentina’s last game under the stewardship of Daniel Hourcade, but if the players want the head coach’s reign to end on a high they have shown little sign of such an inclination over the past fortnight, in which they have twice lost to Wales. However, every member of the Pumas team also plays for the Jaguares, who are second in their Super Rugby pool having achieved some impressive results both home and away.

With a vociferous support behind them at the Estadio Centenario, home of the Sarmiento football club, the Argentines are likely to put in a passionate performance whatever their feelings about Hourcade. As Horne said, Scotland will need to improve their physicality from last week, but this game will also be a mental challenge for them. There is a temptation to retreat back into your shell when you find yourself in a different language community without many of life’s little luxuries, something the tourists will have to resist if they are to get out there, impose themselves on their opponents and silence the crowd.


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“We’ve made a real conscious effort not to close in on ourselves,” added Horne, who will have Nick Grigg outside him in midfield. “When you think something’s going to be really rosy and then it isn’t, there’s a real temptation to go into your shell. That’s the worst thing you can do and I almost felt we did that in the second half in Houston. It got tight and we started playing not to lose instead of going out there, expressing ourselves and playing to win.

“We can’t let that happen against the Argentinians or they will run riot. Wales were very, very physical, they got off the line and defended well but they also played a good, positive brand of rugby which is something Argentinian defences seem to be struggling with. We’ve got all the tools to beat these guys at the weekend, so fingers crossed.

“We need to get better at beating lesser opposition – no disrespect to America and Canada – but we also need to start winning away from home in brutal environments. This will be noisy, it will be loud, and that gives me goosebumps straight away just thinking about it.

“It tests character. It’s a fight-or-flight kind of thing.”

A point to prove

Besides needing to play with greater physicality, Scotland will also aim to be more direct. Their plan to score tries off a few phases worked in the first minute last week, but after that they got bogged down, becoming more laborious and less direct. Stuart McInally, back from injury to captain the side for the first time, believes that they need to revert to the high-tempo game that was so impressive in this year’s Six Nations Championship against England and France and also put paid to the more modest opposition of Canada a fortnight ago.

“It was massively disappointing last week,” McInally said. “I don’t feel we were ourselves at all – we didn’t look like the Scotland team that has played recently. We were miles off it for whatever reason. We’re looking to put a lot of things right this week and finish on a high.

“It’s been a week of getting back to basics for us. It’s just a case of what makes us tick and what makes us play well – that’s a case of being physical in defence and playing fast rugby. You’re not going to see anything different to what we did in the Six Nations and in that Canada game – we just want to get back to when Scotland play well.”

McInally was close to being passed fit to play last week, but erring on the side of caution always made sense with this game being the most physically demanding of the tour. “It’s been an annoying couple of weeks, having to be around and not be able to take to the pitch,” the Edinburgh forward added. “But it’s been good trying to lead in other ways, not just on the pitch. It’s been a good challenge, but I’m much more confident now I’m back training and playing.”

 

Argentina: E Boffelli; B Delguy, M Orlando, B Ezcurra, S Cancelliere; N Sanchez, M Landajo; J Diaz, A Creevy, N Chaparro, G Petti, M Alemanno, P Matera, T Lezana, L Senatore. Substitutes: J Montoya, S Garcia Botta, S Medrano, M Kramer, T Lavanini, G Bertranou, S Gonzalez Iglesias, J Mallia.

Scotland: S Hogg; D Fife, N Grigg, P Horne, B Kinghorn; A Hastings, G Horne; A Dell, S McInally, S Berghan, T Swinson, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, F Brown, D Denton. Substitutes: G Turner, J Bhatti, Z Fagerson, B Toolis, J Ritchie, S Hidalgo-Clyne, J Lang, C Harris.


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About Stuart Bathgate 1096 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.