According to Thomas Castaignède, Scotland's only hope of escaping the World Cup guillotine in the north of the French capital tomorrow night would be "with Juan Martin Hernandez in jail". Unfortunately for the Scots, the stand-out stand-off of the quadrennial global gathering was enjoying the freedom of the Argentine team hotel west of the Eiffel Tower yesterday, not under lock and key in some Parisian dungeon. Felipe Contepomi, the Pumas' points-kicking machine, was also up and about, released from the confines of his sick bed having patently recovered from flu.
Still, for all of the Argentine big guns that will be ranged against the Scots in the quarter-final in the Stade de France, it is not so much a mission impossible for Frank Hadden's team as a mission improbable. And they have successfully completed those before. Only in the last calendar year, in the Six Nations' Championship season before last, they overcame the odds and the supposed might of England and France. Unsurprisingly, Hadden chose to touch upon the two notable triumphs of his two-year Murrayfield tenure yesterday as he named an unchanged team and outlined the case for what would be another famous Caledonian victory.
"Over the last couple of years I have been happy with the different styles that this side has been capable of playing," the Scotland coach said. "Initially we played with a lot of width, especially against sliding defences, and in so doing we managed to pick up the scalps of England and France. More recently, in beating Wales and Ireland, we have taken a much more direct style. And last weekend [in beating Italy 18-16 and securing a quarter-final place] we used a kicking game in very difficult conditions. So as far as I'm concerned we've got plenty of tools in the box. It's just a case now of waiting for the players to produce the right tool in the right place at the right time for this extremely important match."
There is one spanner in particular that is capable of doing some serious damage in the workings of an Argentine machine which has functioned with supreme efficiency thus far in the tournament. As Marcelo Loffreda, Argentina's coach, observed after naming an unchanged team himself yesterday: "We will have to keep our discipline, because Chris Paterson is 100 per cent efficient with his kicking. He is infallible. Against the Irish we gave away eight penalties, and against the French too. That is too much. On Sunday we can have no more than five penalties against us. That is our aim."
The Scots are not exactly a one-kick pony, even if they did require six penalties from Paterson to see off the Italians in Saint-Etienne a week ago. Indeed, they would have beaten a very similar Argentine XV on the occasion the two countries last met, at Murrayfield in November 2005, had they not conceded a contentious penalty try and let themselves down on the discipline front, Simon Taylor being yellow-carded midway through the second-half. Nonetheless, that 23-19 defeat was a turning point for Scotland. It was their first match with Hadden as permanent coach and with the totemic Jason White as captain, and the start of the emergence of White, Taylor and Ally Hogg as a formidable back-row driving force.
One year and 11 months on, Hadden's team have what is undoubtedly Scotland's best chance of making it to the last four since the 1991 World Cup, when they brushed aside Western Samoa 28-6 at Murrayfield en route to a semi-final against England. In the last three tournaments their quarter-final opponents have been the All Blacks (twice) and Australia.
"Last week for us was all about respectability," Hadden reflected. "It was all about gaining the respect of the public at home and also the world at large. We are incredibly proud that we are one of only five countries who have made the quarter-finals of every World Cup.
"But this week it is different. This week it's about finding a place in the history books – and there's no doubt in my mind that we're prepared for that."
Scotland: R Lamont (Sale); S Lamont (Northampton), S Webster (Edinburgh), R Dewey (Ulster), C Paterson (Gloucester); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); G Kerr (Edinburgh), R Ford (Glasgow), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), J Hamilton (Leicester), J White (Sale, capt), A Hogg (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Stade Francais). Replacements: S Lawson (Sale), C Smith (Edinburgh), S MacLeod (Llanelli), K Brown (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Perpignan), A Henderson (Glasgow), H Southwell (Edinburgh).
Argentina: I Corletto (Stade Francais); L Borges (Stade Francais), M Contepomi (Newman), F Contepomi (Leinster), H Agulla (Hindu); J M Hernandez (Stade Francais), A Pichot (Racing Metro, capt); R Roncero (Stade Francais), M Ledesma (Clermont Auvergne), M Scelzo (Clermont Auvergne), I Fernandez Lobbe (Sale), D Albacete (Toulouse), L Ostiglia (Agen), J M Fernandez Lobbe (Sale), G Longo (Clermont Auvergne). Replacements: R Alvarez Kairelis (Perpignan), M Durand (Champagnat), M Senillosa (Hindu), O Hassan (Toulouse), A Basualdo (Asociacion Alumni).
Referee: J Jutge (France).Reuse content