WHEN Scotland travel to Argentina for this summer’s three-Test series, they will do so with happy memories of the last time they played there. Four years ago, after a big win over Canada had been followed by a shock one-point loss to the USA, Gregor Townsend’s team rounded off their tour of the Americas with a 44-15 victory in the northern city of Resistencia.

The Pumas were painfully low on morale at that point, and about to change coaches, so the scale of their defeat did not come as a huge surprise. They were still in a period of transition later that year when they came to Murrayfield later that year and lost again, albeit on that occasion only by 14 points to 9. 

But a lot has changed since then, and Townsend expects a far tougher challenge next month than his team were given back in 2018. For a start, Argentina have changed coaches again, and are now managed by the wily Michael Cheika, the only coach who has won both the European Champions Cup and the Super Rugby competition as well as taking Australia to the 2015 World Cup final. 

And, just as importantly, the squad chosen by Cheika to face the Scots is packed with talented individuals who are on top of their game right now - none more so than Emiliano Boffelli. Voted players’ player of the season by his Edinburgh team-mates last week, full-back-cum-winger Boffelli has enjoyed a dream debut campaign in the capital, rediscovering his best form as a devastating counter-attacker.  

“He is a very good player,” Townsend noted last week with a degree of understatement. “The Edinburgh players have huge respect for him, and that is the quality they have throughout the Argentina team. 

“They changed their coach in the week of that game in 2018 and were in a bit of turmoil then. But they are an excellent team. If you look through their squad, most of them are with clubs in Europe – you don’t have to look very far, at Edinburgh and Glasgow - and they have some quality, quality players. 

“Michael Cheika has just taken over and he has been a very successful coach at Test and club level, so they have got a quality coach in and he has picked the strongest squad he could. He has brought back experienced players like hooker Agustin Creevy and wing Juan Imhoff. It is a top squad, and some really good players – at Gloucester, Newcastle and in France – haven’t made the squad.  

“So we are under no illusions these will be proper Test matches. You can look at their positive results over the last 12 months: they beat the All Blacks, they pushed France very close at the Stade de France, and they have everyone available now to them. 

“You could look at the negatives and say they lost heavily to Ireland, after getting a red card early on.  But we know this will be a real challenge. 

“We just have to show we are better prepared, with what we have learnt during the Six Nations. This two-week period we have before the first Argentina Test – that is the advantage we believe we can have. Some of the Argentina players might be still playing in France and coming out at different times. So we have to show we are ready to win that game more than they are.” 

Townsend’s squad of 40, which includes six uncapped players but is without three key individuals in Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris, will meet up on Wednesday. Then the players will be given Friday and Saturday off before assembling again next Sunday and flying out to Chile a week tomorrow. Only his Edinburgh and Glasgow players will be available to the head coach for the ‘A’ game in Santiago on Saturday 25, as it is taking place outside the international window. But that fits in well with his plans in any case, as he wants the bulk of his Test team to sit that game out and concentrate instead on preparations for the first Test against the Pumas a week later.

The squad will be cut twice over the course of the tour. The first time will be on the Wednesday after the Chile game, when five or six players will be released, thus reducing the size to the number that would have been taken for a three-Test series. And then, in the week before the third and last game against Argentina, the squad will be cut to 28 or 29.

“There’s no point in keeping them all for the last Test when some could have an extra week’s holiday before pre-season,” Townsend added. “It will be cut down to 28 or 29 - whatever we feel is enough to cover the final Test.”