Video: Scotland braced for Springboks battle

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SCOTLAND may never have headed into a Test match on foreign soil with less expectation of them claiming victory than is the case in South Africa’s Kruger town of Nelspruit, but there remains a defiant spirit in this inexperienced squad – in spite of the fact they may find themselves turning to their sixth or seventh-choice hooker in the shape of Fraser Brown.

Battered and bruised by the Samoans after what was for most players their first match in nearly two months, there has been a regrouping this week and a steeling of the determination to make this tour count for something. Gone are skipper Kelly Brown and front rows Geoff Cross and Pat MacArthur, hooker Stevie Lawrie’s back is still too painful to play and tighthead prop Euan Murray is 50-50 to make it after a fitness test this morning.

Jannie du Plessis prepares with the Springboks at Mbombela Stadium. Picture: Getty

Jannie du Plessis prepares with the Springboks at Mbombela Stadium. Picture: Getty

This is, in many areas, a second-string Scotland team and as joyous an occasion as it will be for his family, if Brown is called on to replace Scott Lawson in the front row it will be some ask to expect a player who has played a mere 44 minutes of professional rugby to help Scotland claim an historic first win over South Africa in this country 53 years since the nations first met in Port Elizabeth.

Scotland’s interim head coach Scott Johnson was up front in admitting that they will try to get Lawson to play the full 80 minutes, but if Brown does get on it would be a remarkable turnaround for the former under-20 captain whose career looked over two years ago when he was axed from the Edinburgh club academy at 22 after a neck operation. He has managed to get his career back on track and had just signed a full-time contract with Glasgow. Still, it shows the severity of Scotland’s front-row injury problems that he has come into the reckoning today, but Johnson has no doubts about his qualities.

“You talk about his life, a farming boy, a tough boy,” said Johnson. “Tell you what, he is an impressive kid. It is a big ask, let’s not kid ourselves, but there is something there, there is no doubt about that.”

As far out as the odds may be on an away win, the players have to believe. Beating Italy in the final Test match, if they are to be the opposition, would not register on the career-lines of most of them, but surprising the Boks on their own patch would and that is what has been talked about this week.

“A shot to nothing” was how one player described it yesterday and one of the squad members closest in size and shape to a typical Springbok forward, Jim Hamilton, insisted that there was a collective desire in the squad to atone for last week’s dismal opening quarter by coming out of the tunnel in the impressive Mbombela Stadium like greyhounds from traps. At least metaphorically speaking. “That is not quite the way I play the game,” said Hamilton, with a wry smile, “but that is the intention across the squad in many ways.”

Now a Montpellier player, the lock will not be here next week whatever happens as his wife Rebecca is at home in Cheltenham awaiting the delivery of their second child, due on Thursday, before they, with son Jack, have to pack up and head for France at the end of the month.

All the more reason, then, to leave an impression. “Playing for Scotland means a lot to me,” he added. “I don’t have many years left at the top end so I’m going to give it everything.”

Hamilton is a key figure in providing hope to the Scottish cause because much will hinge on Scotland’s ability to meet the Boks’ physical assault. Having watched the way Samoa beat them up, battering into bodies at the breakdown, knocking runners back and charging through defenders like demented wildebeest, the South African players will take it as an affront if they cannot leave more marks on more bodies, and post a superior winning margin. For all the changes experienced in this country over the past 20 years, when apartheid was lifted and the green and gold returned to the world stage, that ingrained machismo remains part of the Springbok genetic make-up.

So, the selection of Hamilton, at 6ft 8in and just under 20 stones, is a fundamental part of Scotland’s battle plan. He will be the biggest player on the field, and with Glasgow’s Tim Swinson for company, will carry a great responsibility not only to keep the Boks guessing at the lineout, securing decent set-piece ball and lending his weighty presence to the right-hand side of Scotland’s scrum, but also in igniting momentum with ball in hand around the fringes.

Back rows Ryan Wilson, Johnnie Beattie and Alasdair Strokosch need to exert themselves across the pitch, but Hamilton knows he is in the team to bring an edge to the close-quarter rugby upon which Scottish hopes of hanging in there will depend. He said: “I know why I’m here and I have to hang my hat on the stuff I’m good at. I’ve got to take away the stuff people think I’m not good at and I’ve learned that. Am I a quick man? No, I’m not. Am I a big man? Yes, I am. Mauling, scrummaging, contact, that’s my thing. If they want to pick people to go running around, off-loading and looking good then they can wait for Richie [Gray] to get back.”

Opportunities to play the Springboks may not come along often in the next decade with Scotland having opted out of three-Test tours to the southern hemisphere’s ‘big three’, and with South Africa in their pool at the next World Cup – along with Samoa – this game may provide the best lesson players aiming to be part of that campaign can receive.

It will be brutally physical, and maybe a harsh one, but nothing will be learned if the Scots stand off and let this South Africa side come at them as they did Samoa. Alasdair Dickinson, Lawson and Murray/Moray Low need to take what’s coming in the scrum and show that they can give something back; that is where they will earn respect. The back five have to match up and leave their own indentations on Boks bodies and match power with technique at the breakdown, while Scotland need Greig Laidlaw and Ruaridh Jackson to vary the game accurately to bring their team-mates into it and find areas in the Bok half to exert pressure.

Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar have a second chance to make their pairing work against the guile and skill of Jean de Villiers and JJ Engelbrecht, while Sean Lamont versus Bryan Habana and Tommy Seymour opposite Bjorn Basson are both intriguing wing match-ups. And then there’s Willie le Roux, a creative full-back with a licence to roam but a penchant for the inexplicable too.

We can analyse the game and prod for potential weaknesses, but this is as tough as it gets in international rugby. And yet if Scotland put their bodies on the line from the start, execute everything with conviction and keep the brains on high alert they may take something tangible from a Test match few expect them to win.

South Africa v Scotland at Mbombela Stadium, today, kick-off 4.15pm BST

Live on Sky Sports 3

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

South Africa

15 W le Roux (Griquas)

14 B Habana (Western Province)

13 JJ Engelbrecht (Blue Bulls)

12 J de Villiers (W Province, capt)

11 B Basson (Blue Bulls)

10 M Steyn (Blue Bulls)

9 R Pienaar (Ulster)

1 T Mtawarira (Sharks)

2 A Strauss (Cheetahs)

3 J du Plessis (Sharks)

4 E Etzebeth (Western Province)

5 J Kruger (Blue Bulls)

6 M Coetzee (Sharks)

7 A Botha (Blue Bulls)

8 P Spies (Blue Bulls)

Subs

16 B du Plessis (Sharks)

17 T Nyakane (Cheetahs)

18 C Oosthuizen (Cheetahs)

19 F van der Merwe (Blue Bulls)

20 S Kolisi (Western Province)

21 P van Zyl (Cheetahs)

22 P Lambie (Sharks)

23 J Serfontein (Blue Bulls)

Scotland

15 P Murchie (Glasgow)

14 T Seymour (Glasgow)

13 A Dunbar (Glasgow)

12 M Scott (Edinburgh)

11 S Lamont (Glasgow)

10 R Jackson (Glasgow)

9 G Laidlaw (Edinburgh, capt)

1 A Dickinson (Edinburgh)

2 S Lawson (Newcastle)

3 E Murray (Worcester)

4 T Swinson (Glasgow)

5 J Hamilton (Gloucester)

6 A Strokosch (Perpignan)

7 R Wilson (Glasgow)

8 J Beattie (Montpellier)

Subs

16 F Brown (Glasgow)

17 J Welsh (Glasgow)

18 M Low (Glasgow)

19 A Kellock (Glasgow)

20 D Denton (Edinburgh)

21 H Pyrgos (Glasgow)

22 P Horne (Glasgow)

23 D Taylor (Saracens)

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