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Argentina 19 Scotland 21: Exorcising the ghosts of World Cup past

AT last Scotland have laid the curse of Cordoba to rest, although it would feel like they had to win this game twice before finally settling the result in their favour.

Hogg takes  on the Argentina centre Matias Orlando on his way to scoring the opening try.  Picture: David Gibson/Fotospor
Hogg takes on the Argentina centre Matias Orlando on his way to scoring the opening try. Picture: David Gibson/Fotospor

Playing in the very stadium where the nation's football team crashed and burned at the 1978 World Cup, it appeared for 70 minutes as though Scotland's rugby players were fated to sample similar heartbreak. Instead, they managed to rescue the game - and they did so in the most dramatic fashion, too. The Scots were trailing by nine but Duncan Weir cut the deficit to a single converted try with a long-range penalty.

Tommy Seymour then brushed off a series of tackles and found Henry Pyrgos inside, with the replacement scrum-half able to race in the try which many thought was going to win the game. The conversion was no formality, but neither was it all that difficult. It was with perceptible frustration then that Weir sent his shot wide of the target.

Argentina had five minutes to hang on to a one-point lead but Scotland proved determined; tearing into the opposition, letting the forwards pile upfield and eventually winning a penalty on the 10-yard line. Weir did not hesitate and grabbed the ball, a decisive swing of his left boot sending the ball between the posts as the celebrations got under way.

This being Scotland, though, they had to put their supporters through one final nerve-wracking moment. However, Nicolas Sanchez's drop goal attempt sailed wide and the Scots could all breathe easily.

One might have expected a slightly disjointed game since both coaches had opted for adventure ahead of stability, making 20 changes between them from the XVs which started last week's games. For the Scots, it was more a case of needs-must as they try to work out how they can send a competitive side to South Africa next week, since the have been banned from taking any of their players based in England and France. For the Pumas, it was more a case of conducting an experiment for the sake of it.

Their long-term aim is to end a dependence on the rich European clubs which offer the leading Argentine players regular professional rugby and to instead become entirely self-sufficient, with their team picked from players based in the country. In the short-term, though, they will bring back the big names when the Rugby Championship starts next month, but until then Argentina are giving the home-based players the chance to show what they can do.

With the Scots being forced into much the same selection policy for this game, it did mean that there was more of a level playing field than usual. There was also a slightly old-fashioned feel to the game as local lads from either country faced off without the usual horde of Exiles to muddy the meaning.

For the first few minutes it looked as though all that was going to work to the Scots' advantage, with the early pressure going their way as the big forwards pummelled their opponents. That even produced a try with Seymour held a couple of yards short of the line and off-loading to Stuart Hogg in support, who went over the line.

Argentina, however, looked more creative, particularly with their handling and off-loading game which seemed to catch the Scots by surprise. The home side were able to keep the ball alive through half a dozen phases when it seemed to have been stifled and earned their reward when Javier Ortega Desios charged over wide out.

Weir converted Scotland's try and Nicolas Sanchez missed his team's conversion, leaving Scotland with the early advantage. It was a crucial episode in the match.

The latter soon made up for it, though, popping over a drop goal when he realised the attack in front of him was going nowhere. Although he missed with an attempt to emulate that score later on, it was still the home side which were creating more, with the Scots having to rely on raw power to produce an attacking threat.

Both sides were anxious to play territory and but, just as happened in Canada, the Scots were making too many elementary errors to maintain the pressure for long enough to threaten another try. Perhaps it was an omen of things to come when Weir missed a 40-yard penalty at the end of the first half.

The difference between the sides was that, while the Argentina backs were outweighed, they were much better at spotting where the space was and getting the ball there. Their secure handling helped but their ability to find overlaps was the real key and it was no surprise when Sanchez increased their lead with a penalty from in front of the posts early in the second half.

Juaquin Tulet did wriggle through some weak tackling for the final Argentina score but that only set up the finale and Weir's dramatic kick.

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