Argentina v Scotland - Teams and Prediction
THE THIRD TEST: Hosts Argentina had momentum then Scotland grabbed it ahead of Saturday’s rugby series decider.
The Pumas and Scotland have pressed the reset button ahead of the ‘final’ in the provincial city of Santiago del Estero by making unusual wholesale changes.
Scotland announced eight changes and Argentina 12, including one positional shift.
A high number of changes usually indicates rotation of a squad, but Argentina are highly motivated to snatch a first home series in 15 years while Scotland insist the primary aim of the tour is to win the series and not player development.
The first Test in Jujuy was won well by Argentina 26-18, where a big lead was blown before recovering in style.
Knowing Scotland would rally in the second Test in Salta last weekend, Argentina’s promise of improvement never materialised. Argentina were second best in scrums and rucks, slow again out of the gate after half-time, and wasted many chances. Four tries went begging in the second half.
New coach Michael Cheika reacted this week with what he called “a nice mix of opportunity and continuity”.
He kept only lock Guido Petti in the pack, flyhalf Santiago Carreras, centre Matias Orlando in his 50th Test and Emiliano Boffelli, who was switched back to the wing from fullback.
Injuries ruled out picking captain and hooker Julian Montoya, wing Santiago Cordero, flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta and backup halves Felipe Ezcurra and Domingo Miotti.
Montoya will miss his first Test since the 2018 Rugby Championship after 33 straight appearances.
The captaincy has gone to recovered No.8 Pablo Matera after it was stripped from him at the end of 2020 for historical tweets, and the No.2 jersey to former skipper Agustin Creevy for his first start since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Into the pack comes Tomas Lavanini, who received a world record third red card in his last Test, against Ireland in November.
Lautaro Bazan Velez will debut as Argentina’s fourth scrumhalf of the series. Bazan Velez recently finished more than five years with Argentina Sevens following a Tokyo Olympics bronze medal.
“He’s not played much XVs,” Cheika said, “but he’s got speed and got an engine.”
Two more could make debuts off the bench – hooker Ignacio Ruiz, and flyhalf Tomas Albornoz, fresh from Argentina XV wins over Georgia and Portugal.
Another feature of the backline is Juan Cruz Mallia restored at fullback where he impressed in Jujuy.
“We need to believe in ourselves, change some habits, improve those habits, and that takes time,” Cheika said. “This next game is about how we get up and fight again.”
Following Scotland’s best half of rugby in 18 months, coach Gregor Townsend’s response to winning 29-6 was to change half the pack which dominated Argentina, and drop scrumhalf Ben White, who was the backline star in Salta.
With lock Grant Gilchrist left out, the captaincy has passed to flank Hamish Watson, who played his 50th Test last weekend and missed a tackle for the first time since his 25th.
Injuries to backs Darcy Graham, Rory Hutchinson and Kyle Rowe have given uncapped Glasgow fullback Ollie Smith a Test debut while Blair Kinghorn, the Edinburgh fullback whom Townsend is trying to convert into a Test flyhalf, was retained.
Players to watch:
For Argentina: Lautaro Bazán Vélez gets his chance to show his worth in the Los Pumas’ No.9 jersey. Michael Cheika will be eager to see if he can use those Sevens skills in the XV-man game. Emiliano Boffelli has all the experience in the world out wide and his boot could be the difference between winning and losing, In the pack, Pablo Matera will be out to disrupt Scotland’s ball at the breakdowns. He also tends to give away a lot of penalties, which could be costly. No.8 Facundo Isa is a big presence in Argentina’s pack. Cheika will be hoping the big man gets plenty of gainline success.
For Scotland: Hamish Watson, who will be leading Scotland into battle, is a beast in all areas of the game. He carries the ball with plenty of aggression and he can be a real menace at the breakdowns. Wing Duhan van der Merwe has the speed and power to really trouble Argentina out wide, while Sione Tuipulotu gets another chance to try and make that No.12 jersey his own ahead of next year’s World Cup. Watson’s fellow flank Rory Darge is the future and his dynamism in open play is great to watch.
Last 10 encounters:
2010: Scotland won 24-16, Tucumán
2010: Scotland won 13-9, Mar del Plata
2011: Argentina won 13-12, Wellington
2014: Scotland won 21-19, Córdoba
2014: Scotland won 41-31, Edinburgh
2016: Scotland won 19-16, Edinburgh
2018: Scotland won 44-15, Resistencia
2018: Scotland won 14-9, Edinburgh
2022: Argentina won 26-18, San Salvador de Jujuy
2022: Scotland won 29-6, Salta
@rugby365com: Scotland by six points.
Argentina: 15 Juan Cruz Mallía, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Matías Moroni, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Lautaro Bazán Vélez, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Santiago Grondona, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Joel Sclavi, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Thomas Gallo
Replacements: 16 Ignacio Ruiz, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Francisco Gómez Kodela, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Juan Martín González Samso, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Tomás Albornoz, 23 Lucio Cinti.
Scotland: 15 Ollie Smith, 14 Rufus McLean, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson (captain), 6 Rory Darge, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Ewan Ashman, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Dave Cherry, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Glen Young, 20 Andy Christie, 21 George Horne, 22 Ross Thompson, 23 Sam Johnson.
Date: Saturday, July 16
Venue: Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades, Santiago del Estero
Kick-off: 16.10 (20.10 UK & Ireland Time; 19.10 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be windy with some clouds. There will be a high of 17°C and a low of -1°C
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France) & Tual Trainini (France)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
AAP & @rugby365com