NOW that the warm-up is out of the way, Scotland now face a real examination of where we are in the world rugby stakes at the moment. Three tests against Argentina in their backyard will be a searching inquiry into how well prepared Scotland are for next year’s World Cup in France.

At the very least a series victory must be achieved by Scotland, but there are several reasons why that might not happen. The days when the Scottish Rugby Union could dismiss Argentina as not worthy of full cap status are long gone, and as I write this, Argentina sit in eighth place in the world rankings, narrowly behind Scotland in seventh. Indeed if Argentina were to win the series, they would overhaul us.

As with Scotland, professionalism hit Argentina hard, but they have prospered and are now valued members of the Rugby Championship, albeit they had a disastrous season in last year’s edition of the Championship which eventually cost head coach Mario Ledesma his job. As I read it at the time, Ledesma jumped before he was pushed, having recorded eight wins and 22 defeats in charge of the Pumas.

The advent of Michael Cheika as head coach is one of the reasons why Scotland should be very wary over the next few weeks. He is not everybody’s cup of tea, but he has a track record of success and took Australia to the final of the 2015 World Cup, though they only got there because Scotland were robbed of victory over the Wallabies because of refereeing incompetence in the quarter final – bitter? Me?

Cheika is a former World Rugby coach of the year, an award he achieved in 2015, and is the only man to coach the winners of the two major club tournaments in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with Leinster winning the Heineken Cup in 2009 and the New South Wales Waratahs winning Super Rugby in 2014.

The first of those trophies was achieved at Murrayfield with a close but deserved victory over Leicester Tigers. I remember meeting him afterwards and thinking ‘he’s alright, this fellow’.

He did not prosper at Stade Francois from 2010 to 2012, but going back home he coached the Waratahs where he built a superb team by signing the likes of Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale. When Ewen McKenzie dramatically resigned as head coach of Australia in 2014, Cheika was the obvious candidate to replace him.

After being runners-up in 2015, Cheika led the Wallabies in the 2019 World Cup when they were eliminated in the quarter final by England. His disappointment was written all over his face. His contract was due to expire at the end of the tournament so he confirmed that he would be going.

It was at that point that Chjeika’s renowned old pals’ network kicked in. He had made Mario Ledesma his scrum coach at the Waratahs and Wallabies and now Ledesma returned the favour by recruiting Cheika to Argentina’s coaching staff – they promptly beat the All Blacks for the first and only time, earning a deserved victory over New Zealand in Sydney in November, 2020.

My point is that apart from his sojourn in France, which was not as disastrous as people made out at the time, Cheika has met with success wherever he has coached. He has had his fair share of controversy over the years, notably when he chopped and changed a successful Australian side and turned them into a sometimes nasty mob, but he is a proven winner and I have no doubt that he will be plotting Scotland’s downfall with some unexpected choices and tactics.

He does not have any real superstars in his squad, but Cheika is a team builder and when Saturday comes you can bet that he will have 23 very professional and experienced players in that lovely sky blue and white strip.

The fact that Scotland will be Argentina’s first opponents of the Cheika era will be a huge incentive for the Aussie and his players to win the match and unfortunately I think they can do so.

Other reasons for saying that? When you leave three of your best players at home you are automatically fielding a weakened side and while I understand the need for Stuart Hogg, Chris Harris and Finn Russell to get some rest after what seems like years of unbroken rugby, nevertheless their absence will be crucial. That being said, I expect big performances from the likes of Ali Price and Blair Kinghorn, while head coach Gregor Townsend has made he correct decision in appointing Grant Gilchrist as captain for the tour.

It’s a very tough start to the tour – I don’t count the ‘A’ team success against Chile as anything other than a training exercise – and much will depend on the Scottish forwards who will have to front up to a big tough pack of Pumas that Cheika will have ready to roar.