Cheika’s hard stance after drought-busting win

Argentina celebrated its first home rugby Test in 1057 days with a win after Scotland was beaten 26-18 at Estadio 23 de Agosto.

The Pumas tore up the first half to lead 18-6 but Scotland tied the score in the third quarter. Argentina, however, responded with a try by scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou.

And Edinburgh-based Emiliano Boffelli, kicking at goal after Nicolas Sanchez was injured, sealed the result with a 70th minute penalty.

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The win marked Argentina’s first at home against Scotland since 2008, and first anywhere against the Scots since the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

It was also a winning start for new coach Michael Cheika, the former Wallabies mentor. Cheika stressed simplicity when his first squad gathered 10 days ago from all over the world, after Super Rugby side the Jaguares were disbanded in the pandemic.

Despite the drought-busting win, Cheika wasn’t doing cartwheels.

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“We must improve discipline and stop looking at the scoreboard and focus on playing,” Cheika said.

“At times we stopped taking risks and I want the team to be encouraged to play, without thinking so much about the result. As I said before the game, we have to focus on long-term work but also improve in the short-term . I think we played a good game and the foundations were good. The scrum responded and the maul also went well for us, against a team like Scotland that is very strong in that facet of the game.”

Coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021 meant the Pumas had to leave Argentina to play, and the pent-up desperation of their fans to see them at home for the first time since August 2019, a month before the last Rugby World Cup, drew a sell -out crowd of 23,000.

“I am very happy to play again in Argentina after three years and win. But we have a lot of things to correct,” captain Julian Montoya said.

“It’s a first step. Today we enjoy and tomorrow we analyse.”

The Pumas were better than expected in their first Test in eight months.

Sanchez kicked two early penalties before leaving with a right leg injury. Sanchez was supposed to partner in the halves with Tomas Cubelli, with whom he shared 177 caps. But Cubelli injured a calf in the warmup and halfway through the first half the Pumas were being directed by Bertranou and Santiago Carreras, who shared 59 caps.

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Argentina was still in good hands. Soon after Blair Kinghorn leveled for Scotland with his second penalty, Pumas prop Francisco Gomez Kodela’s brilliant pass launched the move which finished with Jeronimo de la Fuente scoring the opening try.

Five minutes later, Carreras dive across after a counterattack from deep by fullback Juan Cruz Mallia. Scotland didn’t touch the Argentina 22 in the first half, but roared back after the interval with tries to center Mark Bennett, making his first start in six years, and fullback Rory Hutchinson in his first start in two years.

At 18-18 after 54 minutes, Scotland had all the momentum.

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But Boffelli caught the restart and the Pumas swiftly gave center Matias Orlando an overlap. He was stopped at the line and Bertranou scored from the ruck.

Argentina got an extra lift when Montoya was replaced by Agustin Creevy, the former skipper whose last cap was at the 2019 World Cup.

With 10 minutes left, Boffelli nailed a penalty for an eight point lead and scoreboard pressure that Scotland couldn’t break.

“I’m disappointed,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said.

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“We didn’t get going until the second half, and then we got into a position from which we should have kicked on, and didn’t. Sometimes you have to create your own momentum, and you do that through accuracy.”

The Pumas completed a good day for the southern hemisphere powers. They and the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks swept their matches against the four British and Irish sides.

The second of three Tests between the Pumas and Scots is next weekend in Salta.

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