Michael Cheika has made a winning start as Argentina coach as the Pumas defeated Scotland 26-18 in their first home rugby Test in 1057 days.
Former Wallabies coach Cheika stressed simplicity when his first squad gathered 10 days ago from all over the world, after the Super Rugby side the Jaguares were disbanded in the pandemic.
And the players responded by dominating to claim an 18-6 first-half lead before Scotland fought back to level the scores in the second half.
Argentina, however, scored from the restart with a try by halfback Gonzalo Bertranou. And Emiliano Boffelli, kicking at goal after Nicolas Sanchez was injured, sealed the result with a 70th-minute penalty.
Coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021 meant the Pumas had to leave home 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 in Jujuy.
“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 departing with a right leg injury. Sanchez was supposed to start with scrumhalf 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 Gonzalo Bertranou and Santiago Carreras, who share 59 caps.
Argentina were still in good hands. Soon after Blair Kinghorn levelled 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 dived 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 centre 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.
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. Boffelli couldn’t convert but he nailed a penalty for an eight-point lead and scoreboard pressure that Scotland couldn’t break.
The Pumas completed a good day for the southern hemisphere powers, who swept their matches against the four British and Irish sides.
The second of three Tests between the Pumas and Scots is next Saturday in Salta.