From a stodgy Argentina display to an encouraging debut from Scotland debutant Magnus Bradbury, the last-minute win for Scotland was a vital step forward
By Rory Baldwin
It was vintage Argentina, but not the post-Henry Argentina we love
It wasn’t quite the stodge seen in their match against Wales, but Argentina – or the Jaguares as they were, save for a couple of replacements – looked a fatigued side after a long dual season. They missed the attacking verve of recent World Cup campaigns, and players like the princely Juan Imhoff.
That meant it was one of those old-style tests between Scotland and Argentina, scrappy and dramatic but not particularly entertaining for a big November crowd at BT Murrayfield as both sets of players stuttered.
Argentina were a constant nuisance and a threat in and around the breakdown, which when you consider Greig Laidlaw’s leisurely approach to getting the ball away meant that Scotland’s possession was often on Argentina’s terms. Consequently Scotland looked a pale shadow of the ball-carrying force they were against Australia.
It was a shrewd approach by the visitors: they may have been tired in terms of execution in attack but their defence was capable enough when given time to reset, and there were a lot of turnovers to pounce on as balls popped out of rucks on all sides.
It was tough in the scrums
Greig Laidlaw described it afterwards as “a slippery old ball” so there were a lot of knock-ons, and a lot of scrums.
Winning only his third cap, tighthead Zander Fagerson was under huge pressure from an experienced Argentine front row. He seems to be susceptible to downward pressure, perhaps because he is a tall lad, but the referee probably saw it his way about a third of the time, and once again when the scrum really needed to be strong – inside Sanchez’s kicking range – it held.
The experience he’s gathering these past weekends is invaluable, and he’s got perhaps the toughest test yet in the shape of the Georgian scrum next weekend.
It might be prudent for Vern Cotter to keep Newcastle’s Jon Welsh on speed-dial though, just in case.
A strong start by the debutants
For the other inexperienced players in this team – John Barclay provided half the pack’s caps and Jonny Gray another quarter – this tussle will have done them some good.
Allan Dell was a lot more involved in the loose and now looks comfortable, while young Magnus Bradbury took everything that was thrown at him in his stride and might have deserved a little longer on the pitch. He’s a strong ball carrier and a hard tackler in the Jason White mode, but he has a good turn of pace for a back row. There were snippets of what he can do, and we’ll see more in the years to come. Hamish Watson too continues to thrive.
Huw Jones and his magic feet maintained a dream autumn with one of the few moments of magic for Scotland to create Sean Maitland’s try, but there was still no cap for Ali Price. Cotter still clearly trusts Laidlaw, and Laidlaw alone, to close out the tight contests.
Are Scotland bringing drop goals back?
After a period where they’ve been a little unfashionable, and after the game last week when a sneaky 3 points would have been enough, the drop goal has apparently become a part of Scotland’s plan.
It’s not bad idea, given the margins by which Scotland often lose tight games.
Unfortunately the two that Finn Russell attempted failed. One was badly wide of the mark and another taken too close and charged down. Were it not for Ryan Wilson’s awareness to regather the ball, he would have looked very silly indeed; It might be time for a little more practice.
As a means to earn points without relying on the sympathy of the referee, the drop goal is a tool that Russell, Horne and Hogg should all have in their box.
The Win is huge
This time of course, Scotland did get the whistle in their favour, with the penalty for Juan Manuel Leguizamon’s chop tackle in stoppage time allowing Laidlaw to kick for victory.
What was very encouraging was that when the game was all-square in the final minutes and both teams were trying to win, Scotland made sure the ball stayed in the Argentine half. A draw was a fair result given the spectacle as a whole, but they were in a position to win this one where they have lost in the past and you can bet Cotter and his team will take it as an early Christmas present.
As well as a huge confidence boost for a team desperately in search of a corner to turn, this result could be vital for the 2019 Rugby World Cup draw – this result moves Scotland above Argentina and into the top 8. It wasn’t perhaps as momentous as Italy’s win over South Africa or Ireland’s recent win in Chicago, but it could be very important for the growth of this team – as long as they beat Georgia next weekend, no easy task these days.
For laying the groundwork on this, and blooding young talent now who will mature in plenty of time for 2019, Gregor Townsend may yet have further cause to be grateful to Vern Cotter.