The weather and atmosphere at BT Murrayfield was a bit too dreich in the early stages for a party to welcome the new Rustings/Hassell 10-12 axis (call it what you will) as a starting combination and that may have hampered the ambition available to either side with a slippery ball.
It meant plenty of kicking; the ball hanging high in the Roseburn air long enough to gather a bit of mist on it before dropping towards the arms of, say, Stuart Hogg who would fail to gather. It did also mean that in turn the multitude of grubber kicks tried by Adam Hastings became more unpredictable for the Argentine defence to handle, but nothing they weren’t able to handle.
Overall, it was probably advantage Argentina despite an early Laidlaw penalty giving Scotland the lead well into the 27th minute until Sanchez equalised the scores. Scotland were also lucky that a loose, swinging Fraser Brown arm during a tackle didn’t earn him any time off the pitch.
Jamie Ritchie had a good opening half hour, getting involved in the lineout, and managing a rampaging carry off the back of a typically mazy Adam Hastings run that left Argentina with no option but to slow the ball illegally. Laidlaw restored Scotland’s lead and it remained at that cagey scoreline until half time.
After a good performance last weekend, it wasn’t great to watch but Argentina were doing what they needed to do and Scotland couldn’t impose their gameplan in the conditions. Is there a version of Chaos Rugby that works in the rain?
Half-time: Scotland 6-3 Argentina
Sanchez opened the scoring early into the first half after Adam Hastings was caught sealing off the ball at the ruck but conditions did seem to be drying out a little. Scotland were at least starting to look like they might try something, if only they got some ball or could hold on to it for more than a few phases.
While Russell was quiet moved out to 12, Hastings was responsible for about every decent break Scotland had in the first hour. One such scamper and the Scots being a little more savvy keeping the ball moving led to a high tackle on Huw Jones which earned Laidlaw an easy 3 points. Argentina on the other hand had missed three to that point.
On the hour mark Hastings was replaced by Dunbar to restore a more familiar structure to the backline.
It was Stuart Hogg though who created the game’s opening try, spotting a lack of defenders on the blindside and screaming at Laidlaw to switch direction. The scrum half was brilliantly deceptive and give Hogg an easy two-on-one to put Sean Maitland away in the corner. Laidlaw’s kicking was unerring from the touchline, especially in comparison with Sanchez who was essentially giving Scotland the cushion they needed to stretch out a lead. It’s worth noting the scoring position was also thanks to a decision to remove the ball from a rolling maul going nowhere the phase before.
The inability of Sanchez to slot the straightforward kicks perhaps altered their thinking when Argentina were awarded a scrum penalty under the posts. Knowing they needed at least a try and a 3-pointer to win they took the little one first in the easiest of situations when perhaps pressure on a new front row – McInally appeared to be carrying a shoulder injury – might have been more profitable. Such were the decisions by the visitors that perhaps took the pressure off Scotland in a game they could easily have lost.
As Scotland had opened things up, so had Argentina and they were starting to make line breaks. The “slippery ball” perhaps sparing Scottish blushes once into the 22 although the scramble defence was up to the task.
Scotland had their last decent chance in the dying minutes when Finn Russell weighted a superb chip kick for Byron McGuigan to gather at full tilt but the winger opted to chip on himself rather than pass to the flying Huw Jones inside him. Instead the move ended with the usual collection of rucks, and Argentina conceded another penalty. The range was just too great for Laidlaw but he used up valuable seconds on the clock.
Argentina played with the most intensity they had all game in the last minute, but they were chasing a wonder try deep inside their own 22 and Scotland’s stout defence kept them under pressure until the game ended, fittingly, with a knock on.
(apologies for old picture – Ed)
Referee: Paul Williams (NZ)
SRBlog Man of the Match: It wasn’t one for the swashbucklers this, although Adam Hastings gave it a shot as best as he could. Greig Laidlaw showed composure and leadership (this was a perfect Greig sort of game) but for me Jamie Ritchie was tireless from start to finish, had a huge game in defence and set-piece and gets the nod.