AMIDST the general disappointment of last week’s defeat in the first Test against Argentina, it is perhaps too easily forgotten that, for a significant if all too brief stretch of play, Scotland played rather well.

When they fought back from 18-6 down to 18-18 in the third quarter, they at least offered a glimpse of what might have been but for the subsequent loss of concentration and lapse in discipline which in the end produced a 26-18 defeat.

The key question in tomorrow’s second Test in Salta is whether the tourists can maintain their best form for longer while lowering the error count, or whether the failings they displayed last weekend are as intrinsic a part of their game as their more positive characteristics. In short: can we dare to hope for more from this Scotland team, or do we always need to take the rough with the smooth?

Gregor Townsend, for one, remains a member of the hopeful camp. Although the head coach has made five changes to his starting line-up, he has on the whole delivered a vote of confidence in the team’s ability to fight back in this three-Test series. 

Three of those five changes are straight positional swaps: Ben White for Ali Price at scrum-half, Dave Cherry for George Turner at hooker, and Sam Skinner for Jonny Gray in the second row. The other two are what Townsend might have done last week but for injury: playing twin opensides Hamish Watson and Rory Darge in the back row with the aim of gaining the upper hand in the battle of the breakdown.

Shoulder damage picked up in training ruled Watson out last week, while Darge made his comeback from injury off the bench. Now they are back instead of Magnus Bradbury and Luke Crosbie respectively, Watson to win his 50th cap, Darge his sixth. The partnership is still in its infancy, but there is every sign that it will grow into a long-term option. 

“That was our starting back row in the last two games of the Six Nations and we want to see them build on those performances,” Townsend said yesterday after announcing his team. “In terms of the breakdown, there were times we won penalties there, when we got the ball. The goal this week is to make sure we do that more often. At the end of the game, Argentina were very aggressive at the breakdown and we’ve got to be better for 80 minutes there.

“We believe that there’s going to be a fiercely contested breakdown area this week. Mathieu Raynal is a brilliant referee and he views each breakdown on its own merits - and he will allow contest for the ball there, so having Hamish and Rory in the team gives us a real presence around the breakdown.”

While those two players will have a crucial role in the match, another potentially key decision in selection by Townsend is not a change but a constant: the choice of Blair Kinghorn at 10. Not for the first time, the Edinburgh stand-off was the focus of a lot of frustrated criticism from supporters last week, but his coach continues to have faith in him.

“We’re massive believers in Blair, in terms of what he can do individually and also how he can lead our team,” Townsend continued. “There’s going to be times you make errors and that’s fine. It’s how you learn from them and respond. 

“Blair did that really well in the second half. We felt we were very unlucky not to get a third try from Blair’s reading of the situation and the defence, putting a pass in like he had done in the two previous tries.

“Blair has been very consistent for Edinburgh this year. While he would have wanted to play better last week, it’s all part of the learning and growing experience.”

Yet even if Kinghorn comes good and the two sevens get the upper hand, Townsend knows that all-round improvement is required if his team are to win what they are billing as a cup semi-final and keep the series alive going into the final game. Above all, they must be sharper, more proactive, when dealing with kick-offs.

“The area we’ve got to improve most is around our restarts,” the coach added. “That was a disappointing aspect of the game - a big turning point of the game was [Emiliano] Boffelli winning that restart after we had brought it to 18-18. Restarts is an area we’ve been working hard on this week to improve.” 

Scotland (v Argentina at the Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta, Saturday 8.10pm BST): R Hutchinson; D Graham, M Bennett, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, B White; P Schoeman, D Cherry, Z Fagerson, S Skinner, G Gilchrist (captain), R Darge, H Watson, M Fagerson. Substitutes: G Turner, J Bhatti, J Sebastian, S Cummings, A Christie, A Price, R Thompson, K Rowe.