Scotland endured late heartbreak in Argentina with the narrowest of series defeats against Los Pumas this summer.
Gregor Townsend’s side were at times unplayable, but after leaving the likes of Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris behind, it was always going to be a challenge and they found themselves tasting defeat in the first Test.
Like all of the summer Test series, Scotland responded well and took the series to a decider, but they were unable to replicate their 2010 series win and found themselves on the wrong side of a last gasp try.
It was a summer that showed the strength in depth that Scotland have, but in the end, Los Pumas just found an extra gear when it mattered.
How did they come in?
Scotland’s Guinness Six Nations campaign rather reflected their run of form over the past few years, there was plenty of promise but ultimately not enough consistency, which saw them stumble to two wins from five.
Victory over England at Murrayfield had Townsend’s current crop as potential title challengers at one point, but consecutive losses to Wales and France quickly squished any possible title chances.
They finished the campaign with victory over Italy in Rome before a defeat to Ireland on Super Saturday.
Los Pumas had not featured since a 37-16 win over Italy in Treviso in November.
Scotland had not lost to Argentina since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but it was an emotional affair at the Estadio 23 de Agosto, with plenty of tears flowing during the anthem for Los Pumas, who were back in front of their home supporters for the first time in almost three years.
Scotland found themselves 18-6 down at the break, with Jeronimo de la Fuente and Santiago Carreras crossing for tries, while Nicolas Sanchez and Blair Kinghorn trading two penalties each.
But after half time, Scotland came back firing, with Mark Bennett and Rory Hutchinson scoring two tries in five minutes to level the scores at 18-18.
Gonzalo Bertranou put the home side back into the lead just three minutes after Scotland levelled the scores, and Emiliano Boffelli put the game to bed with a penalty ten minutes from time as Argentina finished 26-18 winners, ending their 11-year wait for victory over Scotland and in the process taking a 1-0 series lead.
Scotland headed to the Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena needing victory to level the series.
Hamish Watson was called into the side to make his 50th cap for Scotland, while Kyle Rowe made his debut on the wing.
Kinghorn and Boffelli traded early penalties, but the key moment of the first half was Watson’s try, which saw Argentina lead 8-6 at the break.
The second half was close to perfection from Scotland, with Bennett crossing for his second try of the series, Matt Fagerson scoring ten minutes later, and Sam Johnson finishing proceedings off with Scotland’s fourth try with fifteen minutes to go.
Perhaps most pleasingly for Townsend, Argentina did not score a single point in the second half, as Scotland levelled the series with a 29-6 win.
Scotland’s win in Salta meant it all came down to the third Test at the Estadio Único Made de Ciudades, which had a capacity crowd of 30,000 in for the series decider.
Duhan van der Merwe put Scotland into the lead before Carreras again hit back, but Ewan Ashman’s try after 25 minutes and Blair Kinghorn’s conversions saw Scotland lead 14-13 at half-time.
Ashman and van der Merwe both scored again to complete their braces inside the first ten minutes of the second half, with both tries converted to see Scotland lead 28-13 with half an hour to go.
But Argentinian rugby teams have traditionally always been fighters, and this squad proved to be exactly that, with Francisco Chaparro scoring quickly after van der Merwe’s second, before Bertranou’s second try of the series set up an enthralling finale.
Kinghorn’s penalty gave Scotland a four-point buffer, but in the most dramatic of scenes, the Santiago del Estero crowd erupted as Boffelli scored with the clock in the red and converted it too for good measure to seal a 34-31 victory and steal the series out of Scotland’s grasp.
Incredibly it was Argentina’s first home test-series win since 2007, and a first series win against Scotland since 1994.
Best Moment – Watson marks 50th cap with try
Hamish Watson has been a servant to Scottish rugby over the years, and after missing out on the opportunity to make his 50th cap during the Guinness Six Nations, the moment finally came in the second Test in this series.
It was certainly not the prettiest, picking up from about two yards out from the line, but it was a critical moment in the second Test match of the series, and a huge moment for one of Scotland’s great players.
Who put their hand up – Ewan Ashman
Ashman scored a match-winning try against Australia in the Autumn Nations Series and he was his usual dynamic self in this series.
Ashman was a replacement in the first Test and missed the second altogether, but his presence in the third in a position that Scotland are not entirely settled on may well see him selected for Autumn Nations Series and Guinness Six Nations action in future.
Verdict – A positive tour with lessons learnt
It was certainly a positive tour for Scotland, who, despite eventually falling to a score right at the death in the third Test, had a deliberately depleted squad after a long season for some of their star names.
That gave important opportunities to the likes of Kinghorn, Hutchinson and Bennett, while players like Fagerson and Rory Darge continued to prove their ability in the Scottish jersey.
They may not have got the win, but with the Autumn Nations Series and Guinness Six Nations fast approaching, before the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, for Scotland to keep finding more depth is incredibly important.
Overall that alone must be considered a positive, but they will certainly have been disappointed not to come out with victory having led for so long in the third Test.