Scotland may be just a hope for victory in summer test for Lions nations – Allan Massie

Gregor Townsend leads his Scottish side in the first of three summer Tests against Argentina today. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Now, with so many Tests – perhaps a dozen in a calendar year – and 23 matchday teams, almost all of which are likely to enter the field, if only in some cases during ten minutes or even less, one does not have such a clear idea. This is all the more the case when experienced players are excluded from summer tours and benefit from a probably well-deserved rest. You could say that international team coaches now behave more like club coaches and I guess that’s reasonable, things being what they are. So Scotland went to Argentina without Suart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris, also without Willem Nel who I think would still be on the bench if we played England or France.

The next few weeks will be a testing period for all four Lions countries – so a wise man this week gloomily suggested Scotland could be the only one of the four to win even just one of the current twelve matches ; that is, England in Australia, Ireland in New Zealand and Wales in South Africa would all lose 3-0. It’s a dire prediction, but it may be sadly accurate, although I’d be surprised if England didn’t win at least one Test in Australia. Ireland might be the second best international team in the northern hemisphere and might be able to beat anyone in Dublin, but beat the All Blacks in New Zealand? This is a difficult work. They are 12 from Leinster in their team and some of them must be a little marked by the memory of their mistreatment at the hands of La Rochelle in the Heineken final. As for Wales v South Africa, there will be fans watching in awe, even with their eyes closed.

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And so in Scotland in Argentina. Geography, Covid and the collapse of Southern Hemisphere club competition have meant that many of Argentina’s top players are once again plying their trade in Europe. Thus, their new coach, Michael Cheika, who himself has traveled a lot, recalled his men from France, England and even Edinburgh. As talented as these players are, it may take more than one game for them to play as a team. Thus, the first of the three tests may offer our best chance of victory. And of course, if you get ahead in a three-game series, it may be easier to win again.

Despite lacking rested players, Scotland are expected to start more consistently than Pumas. There are, however, other absentees. Hamish Watson is not fit for today’s game and of course Jamie Ritchie hasn’t played since his injury in the first round of the Six Nations. We missed him a lot. Indeed, if twelve months ago you said that Scotland could beat any of the top ten countries in the world without Hogg, Russell, Ritchie and Watson, you might have had to look for someone ready to agree with you.

In Watson’s absence, Gregor Townsend has opted for the toughest and most combative back line available: Matt Fagerson, Magnus Bradbury and Luke Crosbie. It means Glasgow’s bright young star Rory Darge won’t be on the pitch until sometime in the second half when the game may have started – something more often said to happen in these days multiple replacements.

The other most interesting selection is Rory Hutchinson, but at the back rather than his club position inside the centre. For years, English rugby writers including Stuart Barnes were surprised by Hutchinson’s omission from the Scottish side, his creative ability evident to them even in an often struggling Northampton side. Gregor talked about using Hutchinson as a second receiver (as he often used Stuart Hogg). It is also true that he has always been loyal to Sam Johnson, underestimated, perhaps unfairly, by many.

The worrying question is about goal kicks. It can be assumed that Blair Kinghorn will be given the job, although from the start he is more powerful than precise. On the other hand, in my memory, there has never been an Argentine team without a top scorer. Guess we better score a few tries.

Charles P. Patton