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Scotland 52 Argentina 29: Finn Russell’s masterclass and other points from a wild and entertaining finale to 2022 at Murrayfield

Finn Russell tormented Argentina all afternoon at Murrayfield.
Finn Russell tormented Argentina all afternoon at Murrayfield.

Scotland saved maybe their best for last in 2022, with Finn Russell inspiring them to a half-century romp against Argentina.

The 22nd minute red card to Pumas flanker Marcos Kremer was a massive factor in the game. But the Scots had looked in the mood and Argentina’s indiscipline had them down to 12 men at one point.

At the end of the the two-yellow card period the Scots had overdone it, conceded a length of the field try and still hadn’t put Argentina away. They did so in the final 15 minutes though, with three quick strikes.

Five yellow cards and the red meant this was the game that never ended. 81 points and 12 tries was all you could want for entertainment. But the welcome spark of momentum for the Scots going into a tough-looking 2023 may be most valuable.

And they finally learned without question who the stand-off is going to be…

Scotland’s ‘fourth-best stand-off’ makes a statement

Finn Russell gave an absolute masterclass, was directly responsible for six of Scotland’s tries and involved in all eight. He kicked superbly from the tee and from hand. Not bad for the man who was supposedly Scotland’s fourth choice 10 at the start of November.

That was always preposterous. We can puzzle at Gregor Townsend’s motivation for the original decision, but credit that he’s clearly put it entirely aside in the space of just two weeks.

Russell’s greatest strength is his distribution, and that was on full display with entire repertoire of off-loads and delayed passes to put men into space. But he also managed the game pretty well as well. It’s been illuminating to see him animated at on-field discussions in the last two weeks.

And the level of entertainment Scotland produce with him at the helm is well worth the admission. The electric back three of Hogg, Graham and van der Merwe played unleashed when they were largely shackled in the first two games this November. All eight tries were scored by backs.

Next year’s World Cup pool is a brutal one and it’s a gruelling schedule for the year, for sure. But we’re clearly not doing anything in 2023 without Russell at 10.

Discipline is more than just penalties

Scotland’s discipline has been awful in November – 49 penalties over the four games. A lot this week were packaged right at the end as Argentina sought their consolation score with the game on.

But it was a different kind of discipline that needed sorting this week. When Argentina were reduced to 12 men, the Scots over-egged everything, players were trying to be heroes when simple numbers would have been enough to create space.

There was the glaring embarrassment of the fumble by Jack Dempsey, turned into Emiliano Boffelli scoring at the other end. The score was 7-7 when the Scots were three men to the good.

Credit to the Pumas for their never say die and fighting – sometimes literally so – spirit. But it should never have taken until the final 15 and the tries from Cam Redpath, Stuart Hogg and Darcy Graham’s hat-trick to finally put them away.

On Saturday, it was just about forgivable given the end-of-term feel to it all, and the fact that this was all great fun. But although the 61,811 spectators loved it, there’s a little room for more control next year.

Finally pulling in the same direction?

The 2022 international season has ended with the Scots having five wins and seven defeats. A long way from a vintage year, and much worse than we’d hoped for and even expected after a promising 2021.

Four of those losses have come when Scotland have had at least a handy lead. All of them were glaring opportunities missed, none more so than last week against New Zealand.

There’s also been more unwelcome and utterly unnecessary distractions internally. #AsOne is a complete myth, not just between coaches and players but you feel within different cliques in the squad itself.

But there signs in the last fortnight that everyone is finally pulling in the same direction. The predilection for self-harm by Scotland should never be under-estimated, and there’s always the chance that personalities will grate again.

2023 is a gruelling international year – Scotland will play at least 13 matches, including four World Cup warm-ups. The World Cup pool with South Africa and Ireland is a formidable one.

But I still believe this is the best group of players of any Scotland era since they were winning Grand Slams last century. There is definitely the potential there to continue the growth that was shown in 2021.