Pumas and Scotland reset lineups for series ‘final’
Argentina had momentum then Scotland earned it.
Neither has it anymore going into the last and decisive rugby match of their first three-test series, not after both tore up their own lineups.
The Pumas and Scotland pressed the reset button ahead of their series ‘final’ on Saturday in the provincial city of Santiago del Estero by making unusual wholesale changes.
Scotland announced eight changes and Argentina 12, including one positional shift.
A high number of changes usually indicates rotation of a squad, but Argentina is highly motivated to snatch a first home series in 15 years and Scotland insists the primary aim of the tour is to win the series ahead of player development.
Which makes all the team chopping and changing appear excessive and counter to forming cohesion.
The first test in Jujuy was won well by Argentina 26-18 when a big lead was blown but recovered in style.
Knowing Scotland would rally in the second test in Salta last weekend, Argentina’s promise of improvement never materialized. Argentina was second best in scrums and rucks, slow again out of the gate after halftime, and a waster of chances. Four tries went begging in the second half.
New coach Michael Cheika reacted this week with what he called “a nice mix of opportunity and continuity.”
He kept only lock Guido Petti in the pack, flyhalf Santiago Carreras, center Matias Orlando in his 50th test, and Emiliano Boffelli, who was switched back to the wing from fullback.
Injuries ruled out picking captain and hooker Julian Montoya, wing Santiago Cordero, flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta and backup halves Felipe Ezcurra and Domingo Miotti. Montoya misses his first test since the 2018 Rugby Championship after 33 straight appearances.
The captaincy has gone to recovered No. 8 Pablo Matera after it was stripped from him at the end of 2020 for historical tweets, and the No. 2 jersey to former skipper Agustin Creevy for his first start since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Into the pack comes Tomas Lavanini, who received a world record third red card in his last test, against Ireland in November.
Lautaro Bazan Velez will debut as Argentina’s fourth scrumhalf of the series. Bazan Velez recently finished more than five years with Argentina sevens following a Tokyo Olympics bronze medal. “He’s not played much 15s,” Cheika said, “but he’s got speed and got an engine.”
Two more could make debuts off the bench; hooker Ignacio Ruiz, and flyhalf Tomas Albornoz, fresh from Argentina XV wins over Georgia and Portugal.
Another feature of the backline is Juan Cruz Mallia restored at fullback where he impressed in Jujuy.
“We need to believe in ourselves, change some habits, improve those habits, and that takes time,” Cheika said. “This next game is about how we get up and fight again.”
Following Scotland’s best half of rugby in 18 months, coach Gregor Townsend’s response to winning 29-6 was to change half the pack which dominated Argentina, and drop scrumhalf Ben White, who was the backline star in Salta.
With lock Grant Gilchrist left out, the captaincy has passed to flanker Hamish Watson, who played his 50th test last weekend and missed a tackle for the first time since his 25th.
Injuries to backs Darcy Graham, Rory Hutchinson and Kyle Rowe have given uncapped Glasgow fullback Ollie Smith a test debut while Blair Kinghorn, the Edinburgh fullback whom Townsend is trying to convert into a test flyhalf, was retained.
“Opportunity is the word to describe this tour,” Townsend said. “I know they have got one big performance left.”
Argentina: Juan Cruz Mallia, Bautista Delguy, Matias Orlando, Matias Moroni, Emiliano Boffelli, Santiago Carreras, Lautaro Bazan Velez; Facundo Isa, Santiago Grondona, Pablo Matera (captain), Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Joel Sclavi, Agustin Creevy, Thomas Gallo. Reserves: Ignacio Ruiz, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Franciso Gomez Kodela, Marcos Kremer, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Gonzalo Bertranou, Tomas Albornoz, Lucio Cinti.
Scotland: Ollie Smith, Rufus McLean, Mark Bennett, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Blair Kinghorn, Ali Price; Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson (captain), Rory Darge, Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings, Zander Fagerson, Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland. Reserves: Dave Cherry, Pierre Schoeman, Javan Sebastian, Glen Young, Andy Christie, George Horne, Ross Thompson, Sam Johnson.
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