THE South African side, whom Scotland beat by a goal and a dropped goal to a goal, were of uneven talent, tactically suspect and patently short of match practice – but, as PG Wodehouse used to say, slice it where you will, they were still Springboks.
There are degrees as well as margins of victory and, though one was not around when Scotland defeated South Africa in the wet by 6-0 in November 1906, one rather doubts if that victory was as conclusive and convincing as that returned by Stewart Wilson and his men on Saturday.
Mr Markotter, the celebrated South African coach and selector, once defined the role of a forward thus: “Pushing is his first duty. His second is pushing and his third is pushing!”
In the past, South African packs have always generated so massive a shove in the tight that not only was the opposition put-in constantly threatened, but the enemy forwards were softened up for subsequent demolition elsewhere. Frank Laidlaw took three tight heads to two and, even in the unusual circumstances, his was a creditable performance.
The Scottish forwards were neither better nor worse than the Springboks in the broken play but, mirbile dictu, Scotland claimed the majority of the rucks.
At the line-out, where Peter Stagg, as against England, did much to reward selectorial faith, Scotland gained possession in the ratio of two to one and, strangely but significantly, were relatively more successful on the South African throw.
It was a major feat of arms on the part of the Scottish pack – a unit rather than so many individuals – to beat the Springboks so comprehensively for the ball, but it was disappointing that they were almost always content to pass – rather than fire – the ammunition. They could and should have done much more on their own account.
It was as well, too, that Dirkie De Vos saw comparatively little of the ball; for this was a Scotland back row of alarming fragility. Indeed, though Peter Brown revealed much of his curiously disjointed ball-playing brilliance and did much for the Scottish cause, his jersey alone suggested that he was, for international purposes, a No 8.
Alex Hastie had a first-class game, kicking less than of yore and sending out a fine service. Particularly under the new laws, the left and right wing forward formation favoured by South Africa demands a tackling stand-off. The inexperienced Jannie Barnard’s defence was simply not equal to the occasion and David Chisholm broke almost at will.
Save twice, Chisholm jinked inwards leaving his centres marooned. Yet some, at least, of the Scottish back row should have been up with Chisholm to finish what the little Melrose stand-off had so splendidly begun. Chisholm was at the heart of both Scotland’s scores and his cover defence filled many a menacing void.
James Shackleton, though he kicked too much latterly, was the better Scottish centre and, especially in the first half, was encouragingly active and assertive.
None of the four centres beat his man from a set piece, but Wynand Mans and John Gainsford not only defended heroically but, from the broken play, swung back against the Scottish host with a gallantry, pace and skill that earned roars of appreciation even from the apprehensive ranks of Tuscany.
William Jackson had his moments both in attack and in defence, and David Whyte had two useful runs. Yet, though Jackson and, to a lesser extent, Whyte are more accomplished footballers than Sandy Hinshelwood, neither has that young man’s enviable speed and strength.
Jannie Engelbrecht was everything a great wing should be and once, when a Chisholm thrust gave Scotland an overlap, he appeared on the opposite wing to devour Whyte almost in a stride. Scotland could have used an Engelbrecht on the left wing, when Andy Hancock began his run to immortality.
Stewart Wilson looked a good player at war with himself. He has not had a particularly happy season, a reaction neither surprising nor unnatural after last year’s instant international fame.
Scotland, with the slight but difficult wind, scored after ten minutes, when Laidlaw won the strike against the head and Lionel Wilson fumbled Chisholm’s slanting kick. Shackleton picked up and dived over at the posts for Stewart Wilson to convert.
Not long after half time, de Vos shot away from a ruck and gave to Gainsford who fed Engelbrecht. With an ease at once disarming and deceptive, Engelbrecht beat Stewart Wilson and Mans kicked a good goal.
Torrential Scottish pressure followed. Almost at the last, Shackleton found touch, Corra Dirksen threw in and Derrick Grant heeled from the ensuing ruck. Chisholm took Hastie’s perfect pass and, right-footed from the right of the posts, dropped a goal. South Africa were not quite done. From a line-out, de Vos again beat the Scottish back row and sent Engelbrecht away.
Stewart Wilson tackled and Engelbrecht’s inside pass was gratefully received by Shackleton, who ended the game by putting the ball out of play. Which was perhaps symbolic of Scotland’s road to victory for, at the 92 line-outs, South Africa threw in 62 times.
Scotland: S Wilson (captain, London Scottish); DJ Whyte (Edinburgh Wanderers), JAP Shackleton (London Scottish), IHP Laughland (London Scottish), DW Jackson (Hawick); DH Chisholm (Melrose), AJ Hastie (Melrose); N Suddon (Hawick), FAL Laidlaw (Melrose), DMD Rollo (Howe of Fife), PK Stagg (Sale), MJ Campbell-Lamerton (London Scottish), JP Fisher (London Scottish), PC Brown (West of Scotland) and D Grant (Hawick).
South Africa: LG Wilson; JP Engelbrecht, WJ Mans, JL Gainsford, CW Dirksen; JH Barnard, DJ de Vos; SP Kuhn, DC Walton, JFK Marais, AS Malan (captain), G Carelse, J Schoeman, MR Suter and DJ Hopwood.
Referee: DG Walters (Wales)