DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
AT the end of a bumpy Autumn series, Scotland delivered an action-packed performance against ill disciplined Argentina to claim their biggest win in this fixture since beating the Pumas 49-3 in the first cap international between the nations 32 years ago.
It was by no means a complete performance, but inspired by master-creator Finn Russell, and with Darcy Graham helping himself to three brilliantly taken tries, it was certainly an uplifting way to finish the campaign.
Their opponents also contributed to the entertainment value, with same razor-sharp attacking play of their own, but the collection of one red and three yellow cards over the piece – they spent nine minutes during the second half with only 12 players on the park – meant they were leading architects in their own downfall.
It started badly for the home team with Jonny Gray being penalised straight from kick-off and Edinburgh’s Emiliano Boffelli kicking three points, but Scotland quickly bounced back to open their account when Finn Russell dummied then delayed his pass before sending Sione Tuipulotu into space. The centre still had plenty to do, but he made it look easy, stepping back inside full-back Juan Cruz Mallia then carrying three Argentinean tacklers on his back as he powered over the line.
The momentum swung back the other way and Puma No 8 Pablo Matera‘s elegant toe-poke behind forced Duhan van der Merwe to carry the ball back over his own line and touch down, handing Argentina an attacking scrum from which another toe-poke bounced off Russell’s legs, but the stand-off was clobbered as he tried to scoop up the ball and clear the danger in one action, and this time Argentina kept it in hand to send Jeronimo de la Fuente scored off the loose ball.
Scotland battled through over 20 phases deep inside Argentina territory but the opposition defence stood strong and there was no more scoring at this stage. However, visiting openside Marcos Kremer‘s reckless and dangerous clear out on Jamie Ritchie prompted a red-card, meaning the visitors had to play the final hour with only 14-men (and some spells with 13 or even 12 players on the park).
Scotland wasted little time piling further misery onto their opponents, with Russell’s delayed pass once again the decisive factor while van der Merwe used his bulk and power to wrestle the ball over the line.
The hosts were straight back on the attack from the restart, and extended their lead four minutes later, with Russell ghosting through midfield, then Grant Gilchrist carrying play up to five yards from the posts before popping off the deck to create a two-man overlap on the right, which Chris Harris initially failed to utilise, but Darcy Graham saved the centre’s blushes by collecting the pass out of contact and diving over.
An exchange of passes between Stuart Hogg and Graham sent the latter on a break-out from his own 22, but Harris lost the ball in contact, then Graham opted to run when he perhaps should have kicked and ended up being penalised for holding-on, handing Argentina a way back into the match.
The Pumas dominated possession and territory during the final five minutes of the half, and they scored their second try – narrowing the gap to four points – just before the break, when Matias Alemanno muscled over from close range.
The second half started in spectacular style for the Scots with that man Russell once again pulling the strings, wrapping round Tuipulotu and sweeping through a gap then delivering a backhanded offload to Hogg, who sent Graham scampering up the right touchline for another brilliantly taken try.
Argentina then had both starting second-rows yellow-carded inside a 30 second window, with Alemanno committing an even more mindless but not quite as dangerous ruck clear-out on Gray, and then Tomas Lavanini collapsing a maul which was travelling with purpose towards the try-line in the next passage of play.
Somehow, the 12 remaining men of Argentina scored next, aided in no small part by Scotland falling into the trap of trying to hard to make their extra men count and losing sight of their game-plan, leading to Matías Orlando gobbling up Jack Dempsey‘s loose offload on halfway then sending Boffelli in for a try under the posts, which the Edinburgh man converted himself.
Scotland recovered their composure, Fraser Brown carried deep into Argentina’s 22, and when the ball went right, Hogg drew the last man to send Tuipulotu over.
It started to get bad tempered and after a mass rammy – no real punches thrown – Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie and Argentinean loose-head Thomas Gallo were both sent to the sin-bin as chief instigators.
Once rugby returned to the agenda, Scotland really began to make the numerical advantage work in their favour, probing Argentina in the wide channels and eventually getting into position for try number six, scored by replacement centre Cam Redpath racing on to Russell’s neat grubber into the in-goal area.
More pressure brought more points, with Hogg scooting under the posts with six minutes to go for his 27th try for Scotland, stretching him three clear at the top of the nations try-scoring chart, and then his Hawick pal Graham finished off his hat-trick when he collected a pass from Blair Kinghorn and finished in the corner with a typically stylish swallow dive.
Deep into injury time, Tuipulotu was yellow-carded for tipping Mallia past the horizontal in a tackle, and Argentina another five minutes of overtime battering away at the Scottish line before eventually getting their reward when replacement hooker Ignacio Ruiz burrowed over.
Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris (C Redpath 60), S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe (B Kinghorn 69); F Russell, A Price (B White 53); P Schoeman( J Bhatti 65), F Brown (G Turner 57), Z Fagerson (M Walker 65), J Gray, G Gilchrist (G Young 75), M Fagerson, J Ritchie, J Dempsey (A Christie, 57).
Argentina: J Mallia; B Delguy (N Tetaz Chaparro 62), M Orlando, J de la Fuente (L Paulos 50), E Boffelli; S Carreras (N Sanchez 60), G Bertranou (L Bazan Velez, 76); T Gallo ( F Isa 76)), J Montoya (I Ruiz, 63), E Bello (S Medrano 57), M Alemanno, T Lavanini (M Moroni 60), J Gonzalez, M Kremer, P Matera.
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Scotland: Try: Tuipulotu 2, van der Merwe, Graham 3, Redpath, Hogg; Con: Russell 6.
Argentina: Tries: De la Fuente, Alemanno, Boffelli, Ruiz; Con: Boffelli 2, Sanchez; Pen: Boffelli.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-8; 12-8; 14-8; 19-8; 19-13; 19-15 (h-t) 24-15; 24-20; 24-22; 29-22; 31-22. 36-22; 38-22; 43-22; 45-22; 50-22; 52-22; 52-27; 52-29.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Ritchie (62mins), Tuipulotu (82mins)
Argentina: Alemanno (48mins), Lavanini (49mins), Gallo (62mins)
Red cards –
Argentina: Kremer (22mins)