Hourcade seeks winning farewell, Townsend a tour de force

Daniel Hourcade, the head coach of Argentinian national rugby union team Los Pumas, watches their Test match against Wales, in San Juan, on June 9, 2018

Resistencia (Argentina) (AFP) – Coaches Daniel Hourcade of Argentina and Gregor Townsend of Scotland are equally desperate to win a one-off Test in Resistencia Saturday, but for contrasting reasons.

The match at the 25,000-seat Estadio Centenario in the northeastern city is the last in charge for 60-year-old Hourcade after a mixed-results reign.

Townsend wants to complete a three-Test Americas tour on a winning note to banish memories of a shock defeat by the United States in Houston last weekend.

Hourcade succeeded Santiago Phelan in 2013 and exceeded expectations by guiding the Pumas to the 2015 World Cup semi-finals in England.

But since then he has endured many disappointments with Argentina losing 21 of 27 Tests, including two heavy beatings from an experimental Welsh side this month.

After the second loss to Wales, Hourcade announced he was quitting just over a year before the next World Cup in Japan. 

“We (with his assistants) think that the message is no longer getting through to the team, we have reached the end of a cycle,” Hourcade told the Argentine Rugby Union website.

“We assume the responsibility of making this decision, having already mentioned the possibility before the June Tests.”

Overconfidence could have been a factor as Hourcade had spoken of the “unbeatable condition” of his players before the Wales Tests.

His optimism was based on the Jaguares, who dominate the national squad, winning six Super Rugby matches in a row before the June international window, including two in New Zealand. 

Hourcade assumed stars like full-back Emiliano Boffelli, fly-half Nicolas Sanchez, hooker Agustin Creevy and flanker Pablo Matera would take the Super Rugby form into the Tests arena.

But it has not happened and the Scots hope to emulate Wales, who controlled matches in the hostile environments of San Juan and Santa Fe despite leaving many stars at home to rest.

Argentina could not control the set pieces nor loose exchanges and there was a lack of backline imagination and successful tactical kicking.

Hourcade has made six changes for his final match, giving a first cap to centre Bautista Ezcurra and a first start to winger Sebastian Cancelliere. 

Former Scotland star Townsend must hope that the Argentines do not suddenly rediscover that Super Rugby form as he strives to get back on the winning trail. 

He certainly is not underestimating the Pumas as the Scots chase a fifth consecutive win in Argentina having lost their first three Tests there.

Despite that confidence-boosting statistic, they are the only top-tier rugby nation that have lost more Tests than they have won against Argentina. 

“Argentina will bring their passion and physicality where they have traditionally been strong — set pieces, ball carrying and in the contact area,” said Townsend.

“They also have a host of excellent attacking players, and the last few seasons have seen a much more expansive brand of rugby from them since joining the Rugby Championship.”

Scotland have changed eight of the side that started in the United States, with versatile Tim Swinson the only forward to survive. 

Swinson will have a new role, though, moving from tighthead prop to lock, where he partners Grant Gilchrist in a side with seven players each from Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh.

Fly-half Adam Hastings, who earns his second cap, is a son of former Scotland and British and Irish Lions skipper Gavin Hastings.