DESPITE falling to tenth in the IRB world rankings in the fresh list out today, Scotland have the ability to compete with the top four nations in the world, according to South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer.
He watched his defence hold out against an onslaught from Scotland in the last quarter at Murrayfield on Saturday and afterwards admitted a sense of relief as well as pride in the character of his players as they tackled Scotland to a standstill through countless phases
But he also insisted that, while the Scots would drop a place in the world list after Samoa defeated Wales on Friday night to leapfrog Andy Robinson’s team, there was not a gulf of eight places between the two teams on Saturday.
“It’s not for me to say what other coaches have to work on,” said Meyer when asked for his views on where Scotland rank alongside South Africa’s Rugby Championship opponents, Australia and Argentina. “What I would say is that, over the last few years, there hasn’t been a lot to choose between the top sides. New Zealand are way ahead because of the way that they manage their players but, in the rest of the world, any team can beat any team, as you saw with France beating Australia last week. I believe Scotland is a quality side that offer a lot in attack. We really looked at their attack a lot before this game and what we saw was that they are a dangerous side if they get momentum, so there is no reason why they can’t move up into the top four with a bit of luck – we all need lucky breaks – and some self-belief.
“They play positive rugby, put you under pressure and try to play to their strengths, which is a really good rucking game, and their backs run good angles. Had we not worked hard in defence there were probably another two or three tries that they would have scored against us. That is a team that can go forward, but there is not much to choose between the teams. Any team can beat any team.”
Meyer’s responses, and suggestion particularly that Scotland could be top-four material, have to be taken in the context of a touring coach who will always tend to be diplomatic and praise his hosts.
But, when he spoke about how the game deteriorated for his team and almost became a thriller for Scotland supporters towards the end, there was clearly a real concern for the coach about how the Scots had managed to take a grip of the game and ensure an edgy finale for the Springbok management. Shaking his head, he added: “I was very disappointed with the second half.
“We really played tactically well in the first half. That was our plan, to put them under pressure, build up our innings and I thought at 14-3 at half-time we could move on from there. They then had to chase the game.
“But, suddenly in the second half, there was a huge swing in the momentum of the game.
“We didn’t get any ball and we didn’t have territory, so it probably wasn’t the prettiest second-half [performance] but, at the same time, that’s how you win trophies and probably World Cups, so the guys will learn from this.
“We gave away far too many penalties – 17 is a lot of penalties, and seven at the scrum was too many – so we have to learn from that.
“But Scotland deserve a lot of credit for the way they played because they really came at us in the second half – we were under huge pressure and only great defence kept them out – so while I wasn’t happy I’ll take the win, ugly win or not.”
How today’s ranking list is expected to look when it is released:
New Zealand 92.91 points
South Africa 86.05