After the narrow defeat to Australia, we considered 5 ways for Scotland to improve against Argentina. So did the dark blues ultimately do better in those areas at Murrayfield on Saturday?
Fix the restarts
- Deep and caught cleanly by Magnus Bradbury
- Short and taken by Huw Jones – but then immediately knocked on by Grant Gilchrist!
- Short and taken by Argentina. Ultimately lead to 3 points.
- Short, tapped by Argentina but recovered by Hamish Watson.
- Slightly longer. Fumbled back slightly by Watson and then Jonny Gray – eventually picked up by Alex Dunbar.
So only 1 of 5 lost directly, compared to 4 of 5 lost against Australia. It wasn’t pretty, in fact it was downright scrappy at times, but it was a definite step up. The big benefit of regaining possession when sides are kicking short is immediately starting from good field position – and denying the opposition the same advantage. It’s important that the improvement continues against Georgia where keeping their powerful pack out of the Scotland half is vital.
Execute the exit strategy
- From a lineout in the 22 – kicked to the 10m line.
- Penalty in the 22 – kicked to just inside the Argentinian half.
This was a game that was in large part played in between the two sides’ 22 metre lines. With Argentina not really pushing Scotland back deep the way Australia did exits were far less of an issue. The biggest escape from the 22 actually came on a loose ball: Alex Dunbar, Finn Russell and Hamish Watson combined to stop Sanchez on the goal line, Dunbar drove through and booted the ball out of the ruck before Greig Laidlaw hacked it up to the 10 metre line.
Make good decisions every time
A tough one to assess this week. Unlike against Australia there weren’t many situations where there was a real either / or choice to be made when play was stopped. Almost all the decisions were made on the fly with the ball in play. Overall it wasn’t really the decision-making that hampered Scotland – it was mainly the execution. In the first half Scotland’s possessions ended in the following ways:
- Knock on – 5 times
- Lost at ruck – 4 times
- Box kick or up and under – 4 times
- Kicked long – 3 times
- Penalty for Scotland – 2 times
- Kicked straight out – 1 time
- Kicked out to end half – 1 time
There really wasn’t a lot for the Scottish backs to get their teeth into because of imprecision in the side’s passing and at the breakdown. Where the whole team did do well was in that crucial last quarter. From the point at which Sanchez put Argentina in front 16-13 (with 62 minutes 39 seconds on the game clock) there was a real change in focus from Scotland to concentrate on pinning the Pumas back; retaining possession; and tying in the opposition forwards at ruck and maul. In defence Hernandez was targeted on the rare occasions Argentina got the ball – and ultimately he turned over possession 3 times in the last 17 minutes.
Scotland were able to restrict the Argentinians to just 62 seconds of possession after the Sanchez kick. The away side didn’t even make it back into the Scottish half in that period of play, while Greig Laidlaw and co. were able to carve out 4 match winning opportunities. There will be more direct tests to come but that last quarter illustrated that Scotland are capable of making the on-field decisions that go alongside a winning mentality.
Power up the maul
- 20m from Argentina goal line – ineffective.
- 25m from Argentina goal line – sacked by Argentina
- 15m from Argentina goal line – made 3/4 metres. First phase in passage of play that lead to Huw Jones’ try.
- On halfway – made 8/9 metres. First phase in passage of play that lead to Finn Russell’s first drop goal attempt.
- 21m from Argentina goal line – sacked illegally by Argentina. Gave Scotland the penalty that Greig Laidlaw hit the post from.
There seemed to be a change of tack after half time for the home side. Just a single maul was attempted in the first period, whereas in the second it was the go to option at every lineout bar one. (And if the ball hadn’t been overthrown 5 metres from the Argentinian line it’s almost certain the first play would have been to try and maul the ball in for a score.) This will be a good tactic to tie in the Georgia forwards and isolate their backline so expect to see Vern Cotter persist with it at Rugby Park. A word also for Scotland’s maul defence which had a reasonable outing with Jonny Gray to the fore on disrupting duties.
Have a drop goal threat
- After 8th phase of possession, starting from a lineout on halfway. Missed by Finn Russell.
- After 5th phase of possession on Argentina’s 5m line, following Sean Maitland’s brilliant recovery of the kick that came back off the post. Missed by Finn Russell.
The first attempt was reasonably well set up, although coming off a phase when Scotland had been pushed back the Argentinian defence were on the front foot. They were taken slightly by surprise though which helped given there was a huge gap in the screen of Scottish players for Montoya to amble through. The location was good, directly in front of the posts. Ultimately Finn Russell would expect to have slotted that one if he was more practised at taking drop goals in pressure situations.
The second attempt had almost no chance of success. No disguise on Laidlaw’s pass. 7 blue jerseys committed to the ruck, with most of them on the floor. That left another huge gap for Montoya to run through unimpeded. Allied to Finn Russell being far to close to the breakdown (probably with that previous miss preying on his mind) the charge down was a near certainty. In the Finnocent One’s favour at least this one was on target to go through the posts for at least half a second.
Grade: B+ for effort. F for execution.