WINNING a first Test is no guarantee to a touring side that they will go on to triumph in a three-match series. Losing it, however, all too often ensures overall failure.

That is the stark reality confronting Scotland today in their opening match against Argentina at the Estadio 23 de Agosto in Jujuy. Win here and they will go on to Salta next week then Santiago del Estero in a fortnight’s time with high hopes of pulling off what would be a morale-boosting series victory. Lose, and the remaining fortnight of their South American tour could begin to feel like a relentless uphill slog. 

The Pumas, for whom this is a first home fixture in almost three years, have not played anywhere since a heavy loss in Dublin back in November. So they are likely to be a little rusty this evening, and Gregor Townsend’s team will surely need to exploit that vulnerability to the full if they are to get the three-Test challenge off to the best possible start. At the same time, Scotland will hope to pinpoint some more persistent failings in the home team - failings that are not only down to lack of match practice, and could thus be used against Argentina in the second and third Tests too.

Having been an assistant coach on last year’s Lions tour to South Africa, Townsend will remember well that the Springboks went into the matches undercooked and lost the first Test before bouncing back to take the series 2-1. In retrospect, the narrow defeat in game one came to be seen by the world champions as a moral victory. Simply winning tonight has to be the priority for Scotland, of course, but ideally they will do so in a way which leaves the Pumas with nothing from which to take comfort.

Certainly, Scotland know how to get the better of Argentina whatever the venue. They have won the last five meetings between the teams, and enjoyed a big win on their last visit to the country four years ago, so the partisan home support should not be an intimidating factor for them. Indeed, captain Grant Gilchrist, who has played in Argentina twice before and won both times, believes that his team can use the hostility of the crowd in their favour.

“I love it,” the second-row forward said. “I love the passionate support and the hostile crowds.

“As a player, you love playing in front of noisy crowds. It might be against us, but it still gets the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. 

“You also have the ability to influence the crowd with your performance. If we start the game well and we build throughout the game, you can notice when the crowd starts to turn or starts to quieten down a bit - and that can be a huge lift for an away team.

“It’s something we’re going to have to get good at over the next three Tests: taking in the good parts of the atmosphere, whether it’s for us or against us. It’s a great chance to play in front of the sort of crowd you are never going to experience in the UK.

“Hopefully by the way we play we can quieten them down or turn them against their team. It can be a huge moment for us and something we can get a lot of energy from.”

This is also likely to be a huge moment for Argentina, who will be playing for the first time under head coach Michael Cheika and are in far better spirits than they were when losing 44-15 at home to Scotland back in 2018. Gilchrist, for one, is convinced that today’s game will be a lot less one-sided.

“It was a good day for us - things clicked for us from minute one,” he recalled. “We played well on that day. Hopefully performance-wise we can replicate something similar to that, but results-wise we are under no illusions that the challenge will be harder than it was that day.”

Scotland should be sharper than their opponents today. Some of the squad saw action in last week’s 45-5 win by the ‘A’ team against Chile in Santiago, while those like Gilchrist who sat out that game are desperate to see some action after weeks on the training field.

“The way the boys played at the weekend was awesome to see,” the captain added. “We also got to train against that team, so the guys who didn’t play still had great prep. We had a week in Edinburgh together as well, so we’ve now had three weeks of prep - and the guys who haven’t played are itching to go.”

Even without the injured Hamish Watson, the solidity of Gilchrist and his fellow-forwards should make for a close and hard-fought contest. If Scotland are to end up on the winning side of it, they will need to leave little or nothing to chance.