|Venue: Santiago del Estero Date: Saturday, 16 July Kick-off: 20:10 BST|
|Coverage: Follow live text updates on the BBC Sport website & app|
Last Saturday, Scotland absolutely had to win. They did so, and that is how folk will remember the second Test in Salta.
However, the fact remains that in the opening 30 minutes Scotland were miles off the levels required to be successful at the highest level. After the dismal showing in Jujuy, once again they lacked accuracy, made sloppy mistakes and gave away soft penalties.
To call the attack blunt would be exceedingly generous. Watching the Ireland victory in Dunedin earlier that day was like watching a different sport.
One can only imagine the rollicking that Gregor Townsend dished out at half-time, but it evidently did the trick. Scotland were more direct in the period that followed, kept things relatively simple, and their quality in the forwards shone through.
Admittedly, Argentina were below par, but you can only beat what’s in front of you. The challenge now for Scotland is improve on a performance that Townsend rated six out of ten, win the series, and move towards the 2023 World Cup with a clear sense of purpose.
Love Island driving team spirit
One thing Townsend knows he can rely on is the camaraderie within this group.
“[The togetherness] is the best I’ve ever seen it”, he said. “You see how hard they’re working on the field, the amount of laughs we hear at training. That’s mainly about the people we have here, but it’s also about touring. Touring brings you closer together and we’ve seen that over the past weeks.”
One constant throughout the tour has been a mass daily viewing of reality TV show Love Island. Whilst it is clearly bringing the players together, Townsend is yet to understand the appeal.
“I watched about five minutes and just shook my head. It’s about connecting with each other and having fun. Grant Gilchrist and Dave Cherry, two of our older players, are the ones downloading the episodes every day – they’re first in at eight o’clock getting a good seat. I caught about two minutes of last night’s episode – it sounded like a sadder episode, so I hope tonight’s is a bit more upbeat for our players.”
If Scotland are to look at areas of strength heading into a world cup year, the back-row stands out above all others, even before Jamie Ritchie returns from injury.
In Rory Darge, Scotland have a hugely impressive talent, seemingly built in the image of fellow flanker Hamish Watson. A terrier in defence, he flies into contact and is immense at the breakdown.
That brings us to Watson himself. By his own lofty standards the Edinburgh man has had a quiet year, perhaps a slight hangover from the Lions tour of last summer. However, in Salta he was back to his brilliant best; scoring the try which sparked Scotland’s improvement. Although he missed his first tackle in a Scotland jersey in three years, he led from the front on his 50th cap.
“We’ve seen players develop, on and off the field – leaders emerging, like Hamish, someone who hadn’t been in a leadership group before, and is now captain,” said Townsend.
Without Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris on this tour, Scotland needed their flanker to stand up and shoulder more responsibility – he has shown he is more than up to the task.
A glimpse of the future?
Ollie Smith’s card has been marked as ‘one to watch’ since he shone in the flailing U20s set-up. Now, just 18 months since his full debut for Glasgow, the Ayr man makes his debut for the national side in a must-win fixture. It is a reflection of just how seamlessly he has adapted to professional rugby at Scotstoun.
With Blair Kinghorn clearly viewed, rightly or wrongly, as a flyhalf by Townsend and co, Smith is the standout candidate for the 15 shirt, given Rory Hutchinson’s absence through injury.
Stuart Hogg is still one of the first names in Scotland’s starting XV when available, but he is 30 now, and cannot go on forever. Smith is his heir apparent at fullback.
“We’ve got high expectations of Ollie”, Townsend said. “Because of the way he’s training, and the way he’s been playing for Glasgow this season. It suggests that he’ll transfer that form into the Test match arena. He’s got a good left boot, he’s a very good attacker and he’ll get a lot of ball.”
So, on to Santiago del Estero, with the series on the line. Can Scotland deliver? We’ll soon find out.