Scotland debrief: Enjoy Watson and Darge, Gregor Townsend comments, conundrum for third Argentina test

If the second Test was a cup semi-final, as described by Gregor Townsend, then next weekend’s decider in Santiago del Estero will see the silverware presented to the victors.

Scotland's Hamish Watson receives the player of the match trophy. (Photo by Pablo Gasparini / AFP)
Scotland's Hamish Watson receives the player of the match trophy. (Photo by Pablo Gasparini / AFP)

The only problem being that trophies have already been handed out after the first two matches.

Rugby’s propensity for awarding prizes for every occasion notwithstanding, this is an opportunity for Gregor Townsend to rescue a tour which looked in danger of disintegrating after the dispiriting first Test defeat in Jujuy.

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The 29-6 win in Salta on Saturday was an altogether more edifying affair in which Scotland came alive in the second half. A try just before half-time from Hamish Watson set them on their way and three further scores from Mark Bennett, Matt Fagerson and Sam Johnson got the job done.

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Townsend was pleased but not elated and reckoned Scotland only “scratched the surface” in terms of how well they can play. The coach wants to see a big improvement next weekend against an Argentine side who are likely to come back strongly.

“We started the game well but it was a mixed performance after that,” he said. “At the beginning of the second half we really took the ball to them and I thought some of the running lines and some of the effort in contact was outstanding.

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“There are lots of areas to improve but to win a Test match in Argentina takes a lot of hard work and it’s a real credit to our team.

“There’s a lot of togetherness in the squad. You can see how they reacted, whether it was the tries or when they were defending their own line. They’re a group which cares about each other and also cares about playing for their country.

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Scotland's Scott Cummings wins a lineout during the victory over Argentina. (Photo by Pablo Gasparini / AFP)

“We knew we could get a response this week having seen how the players trained and how committed they were to improving. But we can improve further. We were scratching the surface with that performance and we’ll be really working to bring out our best performance next week.”

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The changes Townsend made to the team had an impact. Ben White, starting for the first time for Scotland, impressed at scrum-half, offering a significant attacking threat which was all the more important given Blair Kinghorn and Rory Hutchinson’s laboured attempts to spark the tourists.

Very little went right for the two playmakers during a first half in which Scotland looked far more lively than last week but lacked the accuracy and composure to make it count.

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If White’s contribution was important, the return of Watson and Rory Darge in the back row was the real game-changer.

Scotland players celebrate with the trophy after defeating Argentina in the second Test in Salta. (Photo by Pablo Gasparini / AFP)
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They were a constant menace with ball in hand and, defensively, they disrupted Argentina at every opportunity. Darge’s try-saving tackle on Santiago Carreras when the hosts were putting Scotland under real pressure in the second half will live long in the memory

Scotland are blessed to have two opensides of such quality and Townsend has found a system which accommodates both. What he’ll do when Jamie Ritchie returns from injury remains to be seen but for the moment we should enjoy watching Watson and Darge together.

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The former embroidered his 50th appearance for his country with the breakthrough try and was a worthy recipient of the player of the match honours.

“It definitely worked for us today,” Watson said of the two sevens ploy. “Dargey got a few turnovers.”

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Matt Fagerson is tackled by Argentina's Joel Sclavi. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
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How the Scotland players rated in 29-6 win over Argentina
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In the rush to acclaim the pair the contribution of Matt Fagerson shouldn’t be overlooked, with the No 8 turning in an assured performance for the second week in a row.

Townsend was effusive in his praise for the pack and made a point of praising John Dalziel and Pieter de Villiers, the forwards and scrum coaches respectively, but there is work to be done in the backline. Injuries forced him into running repairs either side of half-time and Scotland had three different full-backs over the course of the match. Hutchinson was forced off before half-time with an ankle injury and replaced by Kyle Rowe. The London Irish winger, making his international debut, slotted in at 15 and won an important turnover before landing awkwardly after a mere ten minutes on the field.

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The serious knee injury saw him carried off and replaced by Ross Thompson who moved to stand-off, with Kinghorn reverting to full-back where he looked comfortable after a fairly torrid time at 10.

Townsend must now decide whether to go with that combination for the third Test.

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The coach has been the driver behind turning Kinghorn back into a stand-off and will be tempted to start him again as his pivot. That would allow him to bring in Ollie Smith at full-back for his Scotland debut.

However, the pragmatist in him might think Thompson at 10 is the safer bet in the decider. The Glasgow Warriors stand-off looked assured during his 30-plus minutes on the pitch and landed two conversions after taking over place-kicking duties from Kinghorn.

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Remarkably, Scotland have never played a three-Test series before and Townsend must strike a balance in this Saturday’s decider. While the coach is keen to expose as many of the squad as possible to Test action, the main goal is to win the tour and Argentina are likely to raise their game after the stinging defeat in Salta.

“There are players who deserve opportunities, players who have been training well, players who missed out [on Saturday], guys like Jonny Gray who has played a lot of rugby for us,” Townsend told Sky Sports. “We know we’ll have players who are very motivated to improve on what we did and take home this series.

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“We’ve got to be better. We were better than we were last week and we’ve got to be better again next week.”

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