THE Scots lost their 100 per cent record in Pool B as they fell to a South African side that was bokke at its best, scoring three tries to one. The Springboks were accurate, committed and hugely physical, brushing the blue challenge aside. If they continue in this vein they will be there at the business end of this tournament.
The Scots were well beaten but they did at least find their feet in the second half after using the first 40 to “acclimatise”. They scored a good try, prevented the Boks from earning a bonus point and they now know what is needed to compete at this level.
The intensity of this game took the breath away and that was just in the stands – goodness only knows what the players were feeling. The press box was just yards from the touchline and some of the tackles came with an audible “smack” as bodies horsed into bodies.
It was also a bad-tempered affair, with players squaring up each other almost from the off. Richie Gray found himself in the unusual position of being eye-to-eye with the South African lock Eben Etzebeth with no height advantage. A little later the big Scot spotted his nemesis in the defensive line and barrelled into him with malice aforethought.
The Boks were just a little too good in almost all areas but their physicality at the breakdown was just brutal.
Time and again the Scots would charge into the white line and stop dead, like a train hitting the buffers. Josh Strauss was one of the few who made the odd dent in the South African defence. Not once did the Boks allow the boys in blue quick or easy breakdown ball and endless heavy lifting on top of numerous tackles took its toll.
The Scots’ lack of accuracy in their set piece play in the first quarter hindered their efforts to get a toe hold in this game. They lost three of their first four lineouts and suffered the indignity of losing a scrum put in as well. Vern Cotter’s team struggled to defend the maul and never once got their own driving game into second gear.
When the Scots did get the ball they were under so much pressure that they inevitably kicked the ball away and not always very well. Duncan Weir seemed to find Springboks’ full-back Willie Le Roux with almost telepathic understanding.
The first try of the match came after just 12 minutes of play and it came after umpteen waves of white shirts had been repelled but only just. Tim Visser missed a tackle on JP Pieterson and the scramble saved his blushes. But the Bokke big boys had only just started and a few plays later Schalk Burger muscled the ball over the line and Bismark Du Plessis got the ball down. Pollard converted and added two further penalties inside the first half hour.
The Boks extended their lead just before the break and they did so with Jannie Du Plessis in the sin bin for a shoulder charge on Blair Cowan. Laidlaw was caught at the base of a breakdown and the forwards made good ground before the ball was eventually bounced into touch around the Scots 22.
The South African maul is the closest thing to an unstoppable force and it duly ground its inexorable way towards the Scottish line and when it was five metres short Fourie du Preez sent JP Pieterson through a huge hole in the Scotland defence.
The Scots’ only points of the first half came from Laidlaw’s boot but the Scotland skipper had a mixed day off the tee and in open play. He fluffed another penalty in the first half, kicked a second early in the second half and took a yellow card when he cynically tackled Bryan Habana without the ball to stop a probable try.
The Scots’ only try of the match came eight minutes into the second half and it came completely against the run of play. Facing another South African onslaught, Weir intercepted and set off with with 70 metres between him and the Springboks’ line.
He did well, evading several tackles as he headed in a mazy route to the opposite corner. He was eventually hunted down by Pieterson, popped the ball to Tim Visser who found Tommy Seymour who found the try line from short range.
The match suddenly opened up. Pollard kicked a drop goal and Stuart Hogg, who had previously been warned by referee Nigel Owens for his amateur dramatics, almost made amends when running the ball out of defence only to throw a forward pass. Visser was inches away from collecting Weir’s high ball for a try but the Scots had to make do with their third penalty, this from the boot of Weir with Laidlaw in the bin.
Hogg limped off just after to be replaced by Sean Lamont who earned his 99th cap, but Pollard’s third and fourth penalties were followed by Bryan Habana’s try in the corner seven minutes from time and the Scots were left to lick their wounds, physical and psychological.
South Africa: Le Roux; Pieterson (Lambie 69), Kriel, de Allende, Habana; Pollard, du Preez; Mtawarira (Nyakane 60), B Du Plessis, J Du Plessis (Malherbe 50), Etzebeth, De Jager, Louw, Burger, Vermeulen.
Scotland: Hogg (Lamont 62); Seymour, Vernon, Scott, Visser; Weir, Laidlaw (Hidalgo-Clyne 69); Reid (Dickinson 50), Brown (Ford 60), Nel (Welsh 63), R Gray, J Gray (Swinson 67), Strauss (Wilson 55), Cowan, Denton.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU). Attendance: 50,900.