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SALTA, Argentina (AP) — Scotland blew out Argentina after halftime to win their second test 29-6 on Saturday and send their rugby series to a decider.
The Scots were heavily criticized for yet another poor effort in losing the first test 26-18 in Jujuy. But, in Salta, after a sloppy first half they finished 8-6 ahead, their handling suddenly clicked and equalled the quality of their defense and intensity as they scored three tries to seal victory with nearly a quarter left at Estadio Padre Martearena.
“We came here to win a series so we won't get ahead of ourselves,” Scotland stand-in captain Grant Gilchrist said. “That was more like it today but there's loads more growth in this team and we'll need it next week. We're glad the series is on the line next week.”
The Pumas, playing on their Independence Day, did everything but score in the second half. They had two tries ruled out on review, and two more were prevented on the tryline by terrific defense.
Seeking their first home series win in 15 years, the Pumas have one more shot next weekend further south along the Andes foothills in Santiago del Estero.
“They scored too easy every time they got to our 22 and we couldn’t do the same,” Argentina captain Julian Montoya said. “We found spaces. We have to be faithful to our system and be disciplined.”
Scotland was inspired in sun-drenched Salta from a gamble just before halftime, while trailing 6-3, to kick a penalty in front of the posts to touch, instead. The lineout maul splintered but the ball was retained. Repeated pick and goes finished with flanker Hamish Watson diving over on the occasion of his 50th Scotland cap.
That try was followed in the new half by scores from center Mark Bennett in the 42nd minute, No. 8 Matt Fagerson in the 53rd and midfielder Sam Johnson in the 64th.
“We knew we had another gear to go up,” Gilchrist said. “It was hot and tough work but we felt, going deep, we were the fitter team and that showed in the second half.”
They kept an opponent tryless for the first time in 15 tests dating to a win at Twickenham in February 2021.
There was no sign by the Scots in a messy first half of the sizzle to come. They struggled to sustain an attack in a plague of dropped passes and catches, and lineouts squandered in the Argentina 22.
Still, they deserved to lead at halftime as Pumas threats were regularly blown up at breakdowns where Scotland flankers Watson and Rory Darge were pests.
The second half was a far better show.
Scrumhalf Ben White frequently put teammates in gaps and, just two minutes in, Bennett blew through to score with a Blair Kinghorn conversion.
Argentina appeared to reply with a Guido Petti try, but it was ruled out by a forward pass in the buildup.
After another so-so display, Kinghorn was replaced at flyhalf by the one-capped Ross Thompson, but brought back at fullback after replacement Kyle Rowe was taken off injured on debut.
While Pumas fullback Emiliano Boffelli was in the sin-bin, the energetic White broke from an attacking scrum to the line and Fagerson crossed beside the left post for 22-6.
Pumas flyhalf Santiago Carreras looked like scoring until Darge knocked the ball from his grasp, and the Scottish scrum relieved the pressure by crushing the Pumas for a penalty, the second of three it earned from the set-piece.
Scotland showed off its superb running lines again when Johnson ran into a gap off replacement scrumhalf Ali Price to make it 29-6.
The visitors’ defense then reigned. The Pumas were repelled, and Agustin Creevy was held up. A third Pumas scrum conceded a penalty, and Boffelli was stripped on the line by Bennett.
Scotland completed a Saturday sweep of victories by the touring British and Irish sides at their Rugby Championship hosts, a week after they all lost.
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