SCOTLAND defence coach Steve Tandy believes that the “hostile environment” of Argentina will be a proving ground for the national squad over the coming weeks.

The tour party fly out tomorrow[Sun] and will have an ‘A’ fixture against Chile a week today before playing the Pumas in a three-Test series over the following three Saturdays. It is the first time in four years that Gregor Townsend’s squad have been able to tour - the World Cup took precedence in 2019 and then the pandemic put paid to plans in the subsequent two years - and Tandy is confident that the South American adventure will help the players grow both as individuals and as a collective.

“We feel very fortunate and grateful that we’re able to tour,” Tandy said yesterday after a squad training session at Riccarton. “Argentina are an unbelievable outfit and there’s the game against Chile as well - they beat Canada and played a Test match against Russia. 

“We see great excitement, great opportunities for people, and it’s a chance to go on tour for four weeks and we haven’t done that for a long time. Get connected and be in a really hostile environment for those Test matches.

“I always feel excitement coming in whatever group we’ve got. It’s just absolute excitement to see all the boys and the energy they’re bringing.”

Scotland beat Argentina comfortably the last time they played in the South American republic, on the American tour of 2018 when they also defeated Canada and lost narrowly to the United States. But the Pumas were at a low ebb then, and are in a far better shape now under new head coach Michael Cheika, as Tandy acknowledged.

“They’ve got quality - you see the experience they’ve got within the group,” he continued. “They’ve got guys playing Super Rugby, boys playing all over the world.

“They’re absolute physical beasts, so it’s going to be a huge test for us. It’s going to be a real challenge, but it’s one we can’t wait to undertake.”

Emiliano Boffelli is the member of the Pumas squad who will be most familiar to his Scottish opponents thanks to an outstanding debut campaign with Edinburgh that ended in his being named players’ player of the season. Yet although the individual trickery of the man his team-mates know as King Boff will present a significant threat in itself, Tandy is well aware that Argentina will be dangerous throughout the team. Scotland’s defence may have been a little brittle at times during the Six Nations Championship, certainly when compared to the previous couple of tournaments. But the man in charge of that department is confident that, with certain subtle upgrades having been implemented, it will be able to withstand the rigours of the three-Test series. 

“Boffelli has been outstanding for Edinburgh - he’s a high ball threat,” he said when asked about the back-three star in particular. “[But] trying to stop Argentina is about 15. They’ve got real depth across the board. 

“We know we have to be what we want to be defensively in particular. We believe our team and our system will be capable of that.

“There’s always a bit of recalibration. We had a couple of amazing seasons around our defence. Looking back at the Six Nations, France was a big disappointment, but I don’t think it was all around the D. The last 15 minutes against Italy - we were really disappointed with that. Ultimately, we’re striving to be better than we were there.”

The tour has an attritional schedule at the end of a long and demanding season, and the party of 40 named by Townsend last week suffered its first casualties yesterday when both Adam Hastings and Huw Jones pulled out of the squad because of injury. There are no immediate plans to replace the two with other backs, but their loss cuts down on the selectors’ options at stand-off and full-back respectively. 

Meanwhile, Glasgow hooker Johnny Matthews was added to the squad yesterday in a well-deserved reward for a fine season with the Warriors. Although he has been called up initially as cover for clubmate George Turner, who is ill and currently unable to train, he seems sure to get his chance at some point over the coming month. The Chile game, in which only home-based players are available for selection as it takes place outside the recognised Test window, could provide an excellent opportunity for the likes of Matthews to show what they can do at a higher level.

“We want to give people opportunities and it’s a great chance to do that against Chile - but we don’t want to underestimate them either,” Tandy warned. “They are a real physical outfit and they want to play. We’d like to see everyone get an opportunity at some point, but we’ll definitely be taking them very seriously.”