Scotland v South Africa: Streetwise Springboks squeeze out spirited Scotland

Match Report: South Africa stick to their strength to bully their way to narrow victory

Springboks Scotland
South African power trumped Scotland in whirlwind match at Murrayfield. Image: Craig Watson

Scotland 20

South Africa 26


AN enthralling game was in the balance until the final seconds, but in the end Scotland’s hopes of a first win against the Springboks in eight years were dashed. The match was as close as the scoreline suggests, but the fact that South Africa were never behind was an indication that the visitors deserved their victory.

The teams scored two tries apiece in a frenzied first half, but while they were level in that respect, the Springboks shaded it in a couple of other areas. First, stand-off Handre Pollard added 13 points with the boot in addition to his try, and, crucially,  the South Africans as a whole had the edge at the breakdown.

In a fiercely fought but relatively clean Test match, an apparent head-on-head contact by Siya Kolisi on Peter Horne after half an hour went unnoticed by Romain Poite, but if that decision went in South Africa’s behaviour, it was offset by the second-half sin-binning of Willie le Roux after what appeared to be a genuine interception attempt rather than the deliberate knock-on that the referee deemed it to be.

The Springboks led by only three points at half-time, but Scotland had expended a phenomenal amount of energy merely to stay in touch, and that told after the break as Pollard calmly orchestrated the game.

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Scotland have made no secret of their stated aim of playing the most high-tempo rugby in the world, but in the opening exchanges the South Africans were both faster and more accurate, as they proved when a break by Pollard produced the opening score of the game after six minutes. The fly-half offloaded to Embrose Papier, then RG Snyman and Steven Kitshoff carried the attack on. The prop was able to recycle quickly, allowing Jesse Kriel to power over for a try which Pollard himself converted.

The Scots were fortunate to avoid conceding another try after quarter of an hour when a Finn Russell grubber from inside his own 22 gave away possession all too cheaply. South Africa were if anything too hasty in their attempt to capitalise, in the end giving away a penalty for holding on after Greig Laidlaw had produced a try-saving tackle.

If that was an instance of the home team playing too much rugby deep in their own half, they soon displayed their creative powers at the right end of the pitch, as two excellent backhanded offloads in quick succession by Huw Jones led to Horne opening their account.

Laidlaw’s conversion levelled the score, but not for long. That try had showcased Jones’ value in attack, but minutes later his susceptibility was evident when he was turned over, allowing Kolisi to spark a move which ended with Pollard gliding between Ryan Wilson and Sean Maitland to score his team’s second try.

The stand-off converted, and soon added a penalty after WP Nel had offended to stretch the lead to 10 points. Laidlaw then reduced that to seven with a penalty after the defence had strayed offside.

A Stuart Hogg break down the left wing was ended when the full-back had to kick ahead and his opposite number Willie Le Roux booted the ball into touch, but if that looked like an opportunity missed, Scotland had other ideas. At the resultant lineout, lock Ben Toolis jumped as usual, but Stuart McInally threw in low to Hamish Watson, and the openside collected and dived over.

Again, Laidlaw converted to draw the teams level, but a Pollard penalty restored what was a deserved lead for the Springboks a couple of minutes before the break.

Second half

Five minutes into the second half, Le Roux was yellow-carded as he stretched in what looked like a legitimate attempt to gather the ball, and Laidlaw was once more on target with the penalty. Pollard replied within minutes, however, and although he sent a subsequent penalty attempt off a post, the Springboks had held their own for the rest of the time they were a man down.

With play becoming more broken by the minute, Finn Russell was wide with a long-range drop-goal attempt as the game entered its final quarter.  Pollard, too, was off target – badly so – with a penalty 15 minutes from time, but five minutes further on, substitute Elton Jantjies was on target.

Scotland had a late chance to set up a try-scoring position, but the Springboks forwards stood firm.


Teams –

Scotland: S Hogg (C Harris, 63); T Seymour, H Jones, P Horne ( Hastings, 68), S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw (captain; A Price, 63); G Reid (A Dell, 45), S McInally (F Brown, 55), WP Nel (S Berghan, 55), B Toolis, J Gray, S Skinner (J Ritchie, 72), H Watson, R Wilson (J Strauss, 55).

South Africa: W Le Roux; S Nkosi (C Kolbe, 63), J Kriel, D De Allende (E Jantjies, 57), 1A Dyantyi; H Pollard, E Papier (I Van Zyl, 78); S Kitshoff (T Du Toit, 58), M Marx (B Mbonambi, 66), F Malherbe (V Koch, 58), R Snyman (L De Jaeger, 60), F Mostert, S Kolisi (captain; F Louw, 66), P-S Du Toit, D Vermeulen.

Referee: R Poite (France)

Scorers –

Scotland: Tries: Horne, Watson. Cons: Laidlaw 2. Pens: Laidlaw 2.

South Africa: Tries: Kriel, Pollard. Cons: Pollard 2. Pens: Pollard 3, Jantjies.

Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5, 0-7, 5-7, 7-7, 7-12, 7-14, 7-17, 10-17, 15-17, 17-17, 17-20 half-time,  20-20, 20-23, 20-26.

Yellow card – 

South Africa: Le Roux

Attendance: 67,144

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Stuart Bathgate
About Stuart Bathgate 587 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.