AFTER being well off the pace in an error-strewn first half, Scotland fought back impressively in the second only to fall just short of victory in Jujuy last night.

Indiscipline as well as some unforced mistakes cost the tourists in an opening 40 minutes which ended with them 18-6 down, but tries after the break from Mark Bennett and Rory Hutchinson drew them level just inside the last quarter before the home team pulled away.

Those scores along with the defiant attitude shown in the Estadio 23 de Agosto will give Scotland hopes of fighting back in the forthcoming two Tests. By the same token, however, Argentina will surely be that much slicker than they were here on their first outing of the year and their first home game since August 2019.

The Pumas were forced into a late change after scrum-half Tomas Cubelli picked up an injury. His place in the starting line-up went to Gonzalo Bertranou, while Juan Imhoff came on to the bench. The enforced alteration appeared to have no disruptive effect, as the home side took the game to Scotland right from kick-off and took a third-minute lead through a Nicolas Sanchez penalty. 

Scotland drew level after quarter of an hour through a Blair Kinghorn, but another offence soon allowed Sanchez to restore the home lead.

The stand-off left the field injured just after that kick, which left his team without their originally selected half-back pairing. Santiago Carreras came on for Sanchez, but when the next penalty was awarded, Edinburgh’s Emiliano Boffelli took over the kicking duties, only to miss from close to the right touchline.

Minutes later, Kinghorn made no mistake from a central position after the Pumas were penalised for a neck roll, and Scotland were level again. As had happened after the stand-off’s first points, however, Argentina hit back straight away, this time with a try. 

A promising break from midfield became a lot more dangerous when Francisco Gomez Kodela took it on, and eventually Jeronimo de la Fuente was awarded the try despite an attempt by Ali Price to hold him up just short of the line.

Boffelli’s conversion attempt went wide, but Argentina were immediately back on the attack, and stretched their lead when Carreras finished off on the right after an excellent break by Juan Cruz Mallia. A far better kick from Boffelli than his first two efforts took Argentina’s lead to a dozen points with under five minutes of the first half to go.

That lead might well have stretched after a Kinghorn pass failed to find Sam Johnson and the Pumas hacked ahead, but Duhan van der Merwe got back to kick the ball dead under heavy pressure. Nonetheless, an 18-6 half-time lead meant the home team were firmly in control of the game.

Two minutes into the second half, Van der Merwe came close to touching down off a loose ball from a lineout, but referee Nic Berry ruled the winger had knocked on. A much-improved Scotland were not to be denied, though, and with more than half an hour to play Mark Bennett sliced through the defence from a flat Kinghorn pass to score his team’s first try of the night. Kinghorn missed the conversion.

Barely two minutes later, the stand-off created another try, this time cutting it back for Rory Hutchinson to score. This time the conversion was good, and Scotland were level at 18-18.

Yet again, though, the home side countered rapidly. Boffelli seized the ball from the restart, and eventually Bertranou scored in the left corner. Boffelli missed again to leave the score at 23-18.

Scotland brought on a new front row on the hour mark, and came close to equalising minutes later, but what would have been Kinghorn’s scoring pass to Sam Johnson was ruled forward. Ten minutes from time, a Boffelli penalty made it an eight-point lead, and that margin gave Argentina the confidence to run the clock down.