AFTER a tough seven days, this was an important step in the right direction for Gregor Townsend’s Scotland team, but the head coach was quick to acknowledge afterwards that one swallow does not make a summer.  

“We knew we would get a response this week, with how the players had trained and how committed they were to improving,” he said. “It is a good foundation to build on for next week and next season. We were better today than we were last week, and we’ve got to be better again next week.” 

All eyes now turn to Santiago next Saturday night when Scotland will aim to secure the win they need to claim the series. Momentum is on their side, but they have developed a frustrating habit in recent years of producing excellent one-off performances but failing to build on them. For example, in the last two Six Nations they have beaten England on the opening weekend only to let golden opportunities against Wales slip through their collective fingers in round two of the championship.

In fact, the only time Scotland have managed back-to-back wins in the same series against teams ranked in the top 10 in the world during the Townsend era was against England and France during the 2018 Six Nations.

Argentina are a proud rugby nation, and will be desperate to bounce back from this defeat, especially as they will feel like much of their own undoing came down to their own inaccuracies at key moments.

On five occasions Argentina got over the Scottish line during the second half only to lose the ball in contact, or fail to ground it, or be pulled back by the TMO for a forward pass earlier in the move. They will not be as wasteful again. 

The plan for Scotland next week must be to attack for the full 80 like they did in the third quarter of this match, when they produced a direct style of rugby which featured runners continually punched holes in Argentina’s defence by hitting the line hard off short passes from the excellent Ben White, and to defend for the full 80 like they did in the fourth quarter when they repelled wave upon wave of Argentinean attack.

Townsend faces some big selection calls, such as at scrum-half. White gave a masterclass performance in his first Scotland start. His tactical kicking was on point, he was a real threat sniping from the base of ruck and scrum, and he controlled the pace of the game brilliantly at the start of the second half when Scotland roared into the lead. 

Then, when Ali Price took over the No 9 jersey with just over 20 minutes to go, he immediately conceded a scrum to Argentina for taking too long to move the ball away from the base of ruck. 

Meanwhile, Blair Kinghorn struggled again to strike the right balance between control and creativity at stand-off, with several forced passes not going to hand during the first half, which was a big factor in Scotland failing to build momentum despite dominating possession. 

The playmaker looked far more comfortable after switching to full-back early in the second half, where he made at least two try-saving interventions in defence. 

Ross Thompson was composed and error free during his half hour on the park at stand-off, although much of that time was spent defending the Scottish line so he wasn’t particularly busy in an attacking sense. 

With both Rory Hutchinson and Kyle Rowe picking up injuries which are set to rule them out of next Saturday’s match, the three options facing Townsend are: to start Kinghorn at full-back and Thompson at stand-off, to give youngster Ollie Smith a debut in the No 15 jersey, or to move the talismanic Darcy Graham infield from the wing.   

Another big decision for the head coach relates to Duhan van der Merwe, who once again failed to live up to his billing. The big South African might have been the game’s top carrier with 44-metres made, but the only time he really threatened with the ball in hand midway through the first half, he allowed himself to be shepherded harmlessly into touch instead of having the wherewithal to check his run and keep the promising attack alive. 

Could it be time to give Rufus McLean another hit-out in the No 11 jersey? 

The biggest success story of the match from a Scottish perspective was the back-row of Watson, Rory Darge and Matt Fagerson, who proved that good things can, indeed, come in small packages. What this trio lacked in bulk they more than made up for in terms of work-rate, dynamism and aggression. They dominated the breakdown area (often working in concert to win crucial turnovers), tackled like their lives depended on it and were important carriers throughout. 

Townsend has said that he is keen to give players who missed out on this match an opportunity to show what they can do next weekend, but it is going to be a delicate balancing act because the best possible way to build towards next year’s World Cup is to generate winning momentum.

Tinkering with success is always a risky strategy.