15. Stuart Hogg – 9 out of 10
If anyone was in any doubt as to whether Exeter Chiefs have secured themselves an absolute bargain in signing the Scotland full-back for a reported cool half million per year from next season, then they are surely convinced now. The 26-year-old had looked slightly tentative last week on his comeback after two months out with an ankle injury (five weeks ahead of schedule) but was back to his devastating best here. Launched a series of exocet missiles from his right boot during the first half, which put Scotland back on the front foot when they were in danger of being swamped. South Africa pushed hard up the middle of the park to nullify his counter-attacking threat so he punished them down the touchlines with a couple of frighteningly venomous carries. On the deficit pass, a reckless pass put Huw Jones in trouble from the restart after the first try so he must share blame for South Africa striking straight back through Hendre Pollard. Head coach Gregor Townsend insisted afterwards that the ankle issue which preceded his 62nd minute retrial from this game was not related to the injury which he has just come back from and the decision to take Scotland’s brightest star off was precautionary – let’s hope so!
Scotland v South Africa:
14. Tommy Seymour– 6
Couldn’t quite get into the game like he did last week. Came off his wing looking for action on a few set-moves but South Africa’s suffocating defence had it covered. Tidied up a fair bit of scrappy ball, but generally a frustrating 80-minutes.
13. Huw Jones – 8
Two sumptuous offloads were key to Horne’s magnificent opening Scottish try. His nose for a gap, and brilliant balance of pace and power, makes him one of the most dangerous runners in world rugby. Was turned over straight from the restart which let South Africa straight back in, but Hogg’s long pass out did the centre no favours. A scintillating break from his own line which took the game into the South African half in 54th minute gave Scotland some much needed impetus after a disappointing spell when they were outplayed during le Roux’s time in the sin-bin. Scotland’s top carrier with 77 metres made. The jury remains out on his defensive solidity, but it is surely relevant that his opposite number, Jesse Kriel, only managed to make eight metres off eight carries during the course of this game.
12. Peter Horne – 7
Another busy afternoon both making hard yards in heavy traffic and as a second distributor. Seems to have one brain-fart in every game. On this occasion, he was very lucky that his overly bold flat pass at start of second half was not picked off by Willie le Roux. The yellow-card delivered to the South African full-back for a ‘deliberate knock-on’ was an absolute shocker given that he had ‘a reasonable expectation’ of catching the ball. If we decide to penalise players for backing themselves like this then we are going to end up with a pretty dull game. The morons in the crowd howling in mock outrage to suggest that they had just witnessed the crime of the century need to take a look at themselves.
11. Sean Maitland – 6
Great pace and power to make the crucial yards up the left in lead-up to Scotland’s opening try, plus a pretty slick offload. Lost his feet to make Pollard’s run-in for South Africa’s second try easier than it might have been, but, realistically, he was up against it there. Scotland’s second top carrier with 55 yards and one clean break.
10. Finn Russell – 5
Chat of a new – more consistent and reliable – player seems to have been premature. Came in for some particularly close attention from South Africa’s back-row, especially Pieter-Steph Du Toit, who clattered him after the ball had gone a few times, but more likely it was desperation to make a big impact in a big game which got the better of him. A really slack cross-field kick gifted Willie le Roux the possession from which South Africa scored their first try. He gifted the opposition full-back possession twice more in the next ten minutes with poor kicks. Needs to learn that if something is not working then it is not compulsory to persist until it does come good. Giant drop-goal attempt just after the hour mark, which only missed by a matter of inches, showed his admirable resilience. Maybe we just have to accept that his gung-ho approach will not work all the time.
9. Greig Laidlaw – 6
Brilliant goal-kicking performance but with the pack under serious pressure he couldn’t dictate the game in the same way as he did last week. Decision to go for the line-out drive and hopefully seven points, rather than three points which would have tied that match (23-23) with 20 minutes to go was bold, and ultimately wrong – but they had earned that opportunity when South Africa were penalised for illegally halting the Scotland maul, so there was cause to believe that this option might work. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
1. Gordon Reid – 6
Lacked sharpness and struggled for pace around the park, which is inevitable given he is playing in England’s second tier Championship this season. His inaccuracy when supporting Nel in contact in the third minute cost Scotland a penalty and provided an indication of why we need our frontline players operating at the top of the club game, which makes you wonder about the wisdom of letting him leave Glasgow Warriors without much of a fight during the summer of 2017.
2. Stuart McInally – 7
Huge tackle on Franco Mostert early in match set out his stall, although he will be disappointed with himself that he didn’t make a better job of stopping Jesse Kriel from close range for opening try. Battled hard, generally. Constantly offered himself to carry ball into South Africa’s big men, and his 15 tackles was the joint most in the match alongside Gray.
3. WP Nel – 5
Conceded a penalty for holding on in second minute which allowed South Africa to open the scoring, although lack of support was probably more of an issue there. More concerning is the two scrum penalties he conceded to Steven Kitshoff in the first half, which handed the Springboks six valuable points through a couple of penalties.
4. Ben Toolis – 7
Needs to get his hair sorted out. Battled bravely throughout but the gap in physicality between the best in the world and Scotland’s back five was badly exposed.
5. Jonny Gray – 7
What is it with Scotland and restarts? Twice yesterday their good work in scoring was immediately undone by immediately allowing South Africa to cancel out the score, and Scotland’s senior forward was responsible when they had got themselves back to 20-20 early in the second half after le Roux’s harsh yellow-carding but then misjudged the kick-off. Visiting winger Sbu Nkoski took advantage, and 30 seconds later the Springboks were re-establishing their lead through Pollard’s left boot when McInally was penalised for interfering with the ball on the deck. Work ethic is excellent as ever with 15 tackles.
6. Sam Skinner– 7
The problem is, he might not be quite big enough as an international second-row and not quite quick or dynamic enough for an international flanker. Failed to impose himself against high class opposition in the same way as he did against Fiji last week, although he let nobody down. Scotland’s search for a monster in the back-row continues.
7. Hamish Watson – 8
Worked a cunning ruse with McInally at a close range line-out for Scotland’s second try. Packs a hell of a lot of punch into that relatively small frame, and was still battling heroically in the 80th minute with the same energy as the in the first, but was fighting lone battle against South Africa’s marauding back-row for much of the match.
8. Ryan Wilson – 6
Seemed off the pace. Left exposed when Hendre Pollard stepped inside with indecent ease in the lead-up to the first try, and was then beaten on the outside by the South African stand-off for the second touch-down. South Africa won the turnover count 12-3 which encapsulates the story of this match.
16. Fraser Brown – 6
Carried on from where McInally left off during the last quarter.
17. Allan Dell– 6
Worked hard to add energy as a 45th minute replacement for Gordon Reid. Even bravely got involved in an off-the-ball scuffle with the gargantuan Duane Vermeulen, which predictably didn’t work out well. Scotland’s scrum continued to struggle after his introduction.
18. Simon Berghan – 6
Also struggled at scrum time after replacing Nel on 56 minutes.
19. Josh Strauss – 6
Worked hard to impose himself after 56 minutes but not much joy. Maybe needs to be given a start.
20. Jamie Ritchie – 6
Didn’t have much time after replacing Skinner with seven minutes to go.
21. Ali Price – 6
Had 17 minutes to make an impact but struggled behind an exhausted pack. Would George Horne have faired better?
22. Adam Hastings – 6
Got caught out badly soon after 68th minute introduction when he was turned the wrong way in the tackle and penalised for holding on, which allowed Elton Jantjies to kick the points which stretched South Africa six points clear.
23. Chris Harris – 6
In fairness, it was a hard game for the home subs to get into with South African line-speed and competitiveness at the breakdown forcing Scotland players to conjure moments of magic rather than build them.