Argentina represent a tough test for new-look Scotland
Well, we are about to find out because they may wear the Pumas’ badge of Argentina but today’s opposition go about their day job as “Los Jaguares” who, incidentally, won just four of their 15 matches last season.
Just nine years ago, Scotland and Argentina battered each other to a standstill in the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup. Each side scored one try and the match was decided on penalties, two to Scotland, three to Argentina plus a drop goal by Juan Martin Hernandez, the only survivor from either side who takes to Murrayfield this evening.
In that 2007 match coach Frank Hadden picked one of the beefiest Scottish packs ever to take the field. Today’s version is a popgun by comparison. Four of the Scottish forwards share just six caps between them and the front row concerns have not disappeared in the space of one week, although Allan Dell, Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson will probably be hitting the scrum machine in their sleep by now.
Immediately after the World Cup is exactly the right time to baptise new blood but Vern Cotter would rather not have thrown four into the deep end in one fell swoop. The question is whether Argentina threw the baby out with the bathwater when Graham Henry politely suggested that the outside backs might be useful for something other than decoration.
The former All Blacks coach instigated the biggest about-turn in international rugby. Having historically been totally forward orientated, Argentina are now one of the most exciting teams to watch but whether they retain the grunt to take advantage of Scotland’s obvious scrum shortcomings is another matter; conceding seven scrum penalties against Wales suggests not, although this Pumas team retains plenty of threats as Matt Taylor highlighted on the eve of the match.
“Isa Facundo and Pablo Matera, the six and eight, are extremely good ball carriers, they bust tackles and offload,” said Scotland’s defence coach.
“The number eight launches from the back of scrums close to our line, the six picks and goes and often beats the first couple of guys so we have a real focus on the forwards.
“The nine and ten really make the team tick, the nine particularly loves a quick tap, he loves sniping around the base of scrums so we have to be extremely well prepared defensively for him. The ten is very good, his little chips, his dummies, he gets the team going. Certainly they have good players across the pitch but, those four guys particularly, we’ll be looking to do our best to shut down.”
These two teams were similar in style back in 2007 and they remain twins separated at birth because Scotland, too, have undergone a metamorphosis in playing style even if theirs owes more to evolution rather than the South America’s preferred revolution.
Both teams share a rugby philosophy which wants to attack with the ball in hand and Taylor admits to being mesmerised by some of Argentina’s tries. But we have always suspected that Super Rugby’s helter-skelter style might come unstuck in the international arena, where ruthless defence creates pressure and problems for the most skilled side, especially one that offloads as much as Argentina.
According to Taylor, Argentina pass out of the tackle perhaps 20 times in any match, one of the highest figures in world rugby, which can be a mixed blessing as the coach explains.
“When you intend to offload a lot there is an advantage when they stick but there is a disadvantage if you throw them when they are not on. We’ll be looking to have a forceful tackle and shore up those channels either side of the ball carrier. That was one of our focuses against Australia and we managed to turn them over 21 times, so it’s a strength and a weakness in any team.”
You can be sure that Tommy Seymour will look to add to his long list of interception tries, one of which he scored two years ago against the self same opposition.
As if any were needed, the match has added spice thanks to World Rugby’s decision to delay the World Cup draw until after next year’s Six Nations. Argentina sit in eighth place, Scotland less than a point behind them in ninth.
Both sets of backs look well matched in attacking prowess and if this match is decided by whichever forward pack can provide the best supply of quick ball then Argentina must start as slim favourites.
It can’t get much closer than last week but this one looks likely to go the distance, too.