THE SPRINGBOKS flew from the traps at Murrayfield to set up one of their most comfortable victories over Scotland in recent times and then put up the barriers to consign the hosts to their first pointless display in this fixture since the 44-0 humiliation in 1951.
South Africa: Tries - Alberts, Le Roux, Pietersen, Oosthuizen; Cons - Lambie 4.
Scotland: S Maitland; T Seymour, N de Luca, D Taylor, S Lamont; R Jackson, G Laidlaw; A Dickinson, R Ford, M Low, R Gray, J Hamilton, A Strokosch, J Barclay, D Denton.
Subs: S Lawson for Ford, R Grant for Dickinson, D Weir for Jackson, all 54, J Gray for R Gray 60, M Evans for Seymour, J Beattie for Barclay, both 64, C Cusiter for Laidlaw 69.
South Africa: W Le Roux; JP Pietersen, J Fourie, J de Villiers (capt), B Habana; P Lambie, F du Preez; G Steenkamp, A Strauss, F Malherbe, B Botha, F van der Merwe, F Louw, W Alberts, D Vermeulen.
Subs: C Ooosthuizen for Malherbe 37mins, M Coetzee for Alberts 40, T Mtawarira for Steenkamp 54, E Etzebeth for Botha, B du Plessis for Strauss, both 60, R Pienaar for du Preez 64, JJ Englebrecht for de Villiers 71, M Steyn for Louw 75.
Having revealed a clinical finish against Wales the previous week, the Boks dominated the breakdown battle to follow suit here with three first half tries and one early in the second that ensured they cruised to victory.
Scotland have beaten the Boks twice in the professional era, in 2002 and 2010, both at Murrayfield, and came close to registering a first win on African soil in the summer, before letting a 17-6 lead slip in the final half-hour.
But, those triumphs rested largely on a brilliant defensive performance and an inability by South Africa to alter their game-plan from running into Scotland’s navy wall of resistence. As we wrote in these columns last week, there is a different Springbok side emerging under Heyneke Meyer, one pushing a more expansive game in a fresh attempt to challenge New Zealand’s world no1 status.
So, not only can they still smash sides up front with big forwards rampaging in the tight and loose, but they are now showing an ability when confronted to move the point and style of attack.
Scotland played with great heart, epitomised by the tireless David Denton, the no8 who grew up in Durban, and wings Sean Lamont and Tommy Seymour, but the Scots still played into Springbok hands with a disastrous start to the lineout contest in which they lost five inside the first quarter, and, when they did secure ball, too often took the wrong option or coughed up possession with poor basic skills.
There is nothing to compare to Murrayfield on international day and even though there were still around 17,000 empty seats the atmosphere at kick-off was uplifting, and the Scottish support stirring throughout, but they could do nothing to bridge the gap between a newish side playing their second Test of the year and one playing its 13th in five months.
The Springboks showed their intent in the opening minutes by shunning a kick at goal to go for touch and a driven lineout. Scotland opted not to contest to instead defend the maul, but the Boks anticipated that and revealed a clever move Leinster have used where lock Bakkies Botha played the illegal role of peeling back into the maul from the side, to create space for Willem Alberts to burst through with props Frans Malherbe and Gurthro Steenkamp his wing-men.
Struggling to secure ball and retain it through phases, back-foot rugby led to frantic errors from the home side and while the scrums were not helped by the soft Murrayfield pitch, the Bok half-backs enjoyed far better ball than their counterparts.
Patrick Lambie was not perfect with his goal-kicking, pushing one effort across the posts, but he is developing well, taking ball flat and varying play astutely, while scrum-half Fourie du Preez has made a big difference to their attack around the fringes.
But the work of head coach Heyneke Meyer and his ‘breakdown consultant’ Richie Gray, the Scottish coach from Galashiels, was the key. Meyer spoke of this being a weakness in their game in the past, but under Gray they are now attacking rucks with a lower body position and in greater numbers, and as a result battered Scottish bodies back off the ball with monotonous, bone-jarring regularity.
Scotland’s pressure in defence was the big plus point for the home side, Sean Lamont producing a superb tackle to deny Willie le Roux and Nick de Luca following up with another on Botha to stem the green-and-gold tide and rouse the Scottish support in examples of the tireless effort across the team.
The Scottish support acclaimed thumping tackles by Denton, De Luca and Duncan Taylor, and superb work by John Barclay at the breakdown that halted a powerful Boks attack. Denton toiled manfully in attack, and as they began to find their off-loading game the Murrayfield stands heaved to roars of ‘Scotland, Scotland’. But as momentum started to build, Scotland attacking the Springbok 22 promisingly, disaster struck, twice.
Jackson went for a pop-pass to Sean Maitland, but the full-back was too close and it hit his side and fell loose. Le Roux was first onto it and the speedy South African full-back picked up and raced clear on a 60-metre run to the line.
Scottish fans were just regaining their breath when, from the restart, Le Roux dummied De Luca to exploit a mismatch, beating Dickinson and bursting away from Laidlaw’s arms to streak into Scotland’s barren half. With great awareness Le Roux kicked wide to the right where JP Pietersen was in support and the winger gathered the ball to mark his 50th Test by diving over the line.
Lambie converted both and in the space of three minutes Scotland went from hunting an equalising try to 21-0 down and, with 32 minutes played, it was effectively game over.
During the interval, the Murrayfield support rose to applaud Joost van der Westhuizen, the legendary South Africa scrum-half now fighting Motor Neurone Disease, and among them were rows and rows of army, navy and air force personnel from across Scotland raising money for Armed Forces charities.
It was impossible to escape the feeling that it would require more than the courage wrapped up in those many individuals to bring Scotland back into this game, as the rain poured down. Alberts, a doubt before kick-off with a shoulder injury, was replaced, which also suggested that the South African management had one eye on their final game with France next week.
The try that robbed the last vestiges of Scots’ hope came 12 minutes into the second half when another Jackson pass fell to ground and was seized upon by the South Africans, and led to an attack that ended with Coenie Oosthuizen, a replacement for Frans Malherbe, being driven over the Scottish line.
Scotland sent on Ryan Grant, Scott Lawson and Duncan Weir, while the Boks released Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtwarira, Eben Etzebeth and Bismarck du Plessis. Richie Gray was then replaced by his debutant brother Jonny, who became Scotland’s youngest forward since Hamish Inglis, who, strangely, played in the last nil to the Boks in 1951.
Scotland refused to go quietly, however, improving their lineout and phases to dominate possession and territory, Weir enlivening the Scots attack but also coming close to being intercepted as he did so.
The Boks’ ruck-slowing tactics finally cost flanker Marcell Coetzee a yellow card, but the Springboks were not for giving up their line either and superb tackling halted Denton, Francois Louw was stretchered off after colliding with Hamilton’s head, Habana denied Max Evans a try after Weir’s fine crossfield kick and ‘Man of the Match’ Le Roux just beat several chasing Scots to a Weir grubber into the dead-ball area.
That told the story of a South Africa moving to another plane of consistency and a Scotland one still trying to find its feet.