|Venue: Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta Date: Saturday, July 9 Reset: 20:10 BST|
|Coverage: Follow the text messages on the BBC Sport website and app|
When Gregor Townsend released his list for the summer trials, there was some surprise at the squad’s experience on the South American tour, which was seen as a great opportunity to introduce new blood.
The key trio of Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris stayed home, but apart from that the group was as strong as Townsend could have chosen under the circumstances.
After a very poor Six Nations campaign, the head coach may have felt it necessary for this team to start building momentum ahead of what will be a very difficult series of autumn internationals.
So far it has not turned out that way. After the A’s thrashed Chile in Santiago, the full squad ran into a highly motivated Argentina who put them to the sword in Juhua. As in 2022, the performance in Scotland raised more questions than answers.
With the series in Saturday’s second Test in Salta, the match takes on a lot of significance for Townsend just over a year after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Loss of identity
After Scotland’s attempts to play the “fastest brand of rugby in the world” were brutally destroyed at the 2019 World Cup, the team has revealed a tougher edge and a meaner defence.
But what is Scotland now? What is the mantra? At this point, it’s hard to figure out the exact game plan.
What is often forgotten amid accusations of naivety about playing all-court in Townsend’s early years is that she produced perhaps the greatest attacking rugby in Scottish history.
Combining that imagination and inventiveness on offense with some defensive weapons after 2019 proved elusive for Townsend and his coaches. The team regressed both offensively and defensively this season.
“It was the lowest playing time in a game we’ve ever had as a team,” Townsend said of the first Test defeat to the Pumas. “If it happens at the weekend, we have to make sure that when the ball is in either team’s play, we play a lot better.
“It’s a cup semi-final and we have to make sure we put our game out there. We didn’t do that last weekend. We were disappointed with our play and the mistakes we made and disappointed that the game stopped.
“We know this tour is about a lot of things, a group of players coming together for four weeks and seeing what that environment looks like, giving the players opportunities. But it’s about winning the test series.”
A fly-and-a-half puzzle
Scotland have a 10 spot problem. Finn Russell’s form in the Six Nations was well below his best. His involvement in the “Boozegate” episode at the end of the championship saw him suspended for the final against Ireland and prompted another round of questions about the state of his relationship with Townsend, with whom he had a very public falling out in 2020. .
Adam Hastings was suspended for reasons that are hard to fathom, came back and then went out with injury.
Ross Thompson is apparently too green to play a Test match, which leaves Blair Kinghorn.
The man from Edinburgh is so talented that he undeniably belongs on the international stage. The doubts are whether he can be the main playmaker and provide the required level of game control in the Test arena.
Despite a hugely encouraging season for his club, Kinghorn’s performances in the Test matches in Dublin and Jujuy – although the latter saw some flashes of his best – mean those questions still hang over him.
“We have a lot of faith in Blair in terms of what he can do individually as well as how he can lead our team,” Townsend said.
“Blair has been very consistent for Edinburgh this year. Even though he wanted to play better last week, it’s all part of the learning experience and the growth and the process that we have as players, especially players who have to make a lot of decisions.”
Where is the next wave of talent?
What should be of serious concern to the Scottish set-up is the current state of the under-20 team. A midweek blowout by Georgia is reason enough to think about, but the fact that it’s the team’s 13th straight loss should raise alarm in the hallways of Murrayfield.
“We’re obviously worried about them,” Townsend said.
“Obviously we didn’t do that well at that level, but there were also some very good individuals, some very good performances where they learned as a group why it didn’t work this year and what we need to do to do better.
“We need to look deeper at what we need to do at age level, at academy level, to support our players, challenge them and give them better competition. That’s probably an important lesson in all of this.”
Showdowns in Salta
The good news for Townsend is that he can recall the influential Hamish Watson in the back row for the crucial Test on Saturday. The British and Irish Lion will receive his 50th cap and wants to mark the occasion properly.
“Getting 50 is an exclusive group and an amazing achievement for me, my family and friends,” Watson said.
“It’s about celebrating it the right way and making sure we get a win, which is the most important thing for us to make sure we make a run of it.”
If they don’t, the feeling that this team is lost will only increase.