FOR all its complications and a book of laws you’d need a degree in philosophy to understand, rugby union is at heart a simple game. Pick the right players in the correct positions, mould them together as an outfit, practise forever, and then go out and play with courage and creativity. For much of the game against Argentina on Saturday, Scotland just did not do these basic things.

Last week I wrote that I thought Argentina would win the First Test, so perhaps I am going to surprise you by saying that I think Scotland can and will win the Second Test.

The weekend’s match in the Estadio 23 de Agosto in Jujuy is over and done with. It is history and the record books will show that Argentina won 26-18. What those same record books will not show is the narrow nature of the victory and the stirring comeback that Scotland mounted to be 18-18 at one point.

I don’t know why Scotland started so poorly with a first-half performance that was eminently forgettable. And that’s what the squad should do – forget how almost completely dire they were in the first half and concentrate on how and why they turned things around in a second half that contained several hopeful signs.

In that first half there were numerous errors – by both sides – and both the Pumas and the Scots showed signs of nervousness and lack of familiarity with colleagues that is often the hallmark of a series opening.

It was the Pumas who got their act together quickest, and frankly they should have been out of sight by the time the clock went red on 40 minutes. They thoroughly deserved their lead and the victory overall because they were the better side, though not throughout the 80 minutes.  

Twice looking back at the television replay of the match – the luxury of writing the midweek column – it seemed to me that Scotland simply upped their game with greater commitment and determination. Their faces even looked more determined as they came onto the pitch for the start of the second half.

The forwards in particular definitely had more oomph, and finally won some quality ball to set up Scotland’s two tries. At half-time I had feared the Scots were on to a hiding, but they moved up a gear and forced Argentina on to the back foot.

Remember this was a 23 missing five usual starters in Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Chris Harris, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson. You just cannot play to your normal standards without such men, but in no way was this a makeshift Scotland side, and it was pleasing to see that Gregor Townsend has international-class cover in every position except stand-off.

Missing Adam Hastings, Blair Kinghorn was always going to start and the continuing experiment of playing this versatile back at No.10 might just start to pay off in this series and give Townsend more options at stand-off. Yes he made mistakes, and he and Ali Price suffered from lack of quality ball in the first half, but they revelled in the changed circumstances in the second half.

Kinghorn’s reverse pass for the second Scottish try was a thing of beauty and if Finn Russell had done it, the pundits and fans would still be raving about it.

Unfortunately at the restart, the Scottish defence went to sleep and Kinghorn’s fellow Edinburgh back Emiliano Boffelli showed his flair with the outrageous interception of the kick-off to set up the clinching try. You could see the Scots looking at each other as if to say ‘how did that happen?’ and it certainly appeared to set back the visitors and destroy their momentum.      

Still, as Townsend admitted afterwards, Scotland should have kicked on and won the game and that’s why I think Scotland will win on Saturday – they have to believe they can win and on the evidence of the second half, they certainly can.

There were possible excuses for Scotland’s performance, one of which I was only vaguely aware of before the game, namely that it was played at an altitude of more than 4000 ft (1250m or so) in Jujuy. That’s like playing rugby at the top of Ben Nevis, and anyone who has ever climbed Scotland’s highest mountain will tell you that the air is rare up there.  

Saturday’s match in the Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearana in Salta will be played at not much less of an altitude, and the ground has a special significance for Argentine rugby as it was the venue for the Pumas first-ever home victory over South Africa back in 2016. The Springboks bounced back to win the next two fixtures in the same stadium, and that’s what Scotland need to do on Saturday – bounce back with the intensity they showed in the third quarter on Saturday.

Play that way for 80 minutes, cut out the errors and indiscipline, and victory is there for the taking.