The Scotland squad trained yesterday at Hyde Park High School, in the wealthy Sandton suburb of Johannesburg, but there was little interest with schoolchildren milling around the playgrounds unaware of their presence. Nationally, the South Africa media have turned their spotlight firmly on the Castle Lager Test Series final between the hosts and Samoa, with Scotland’s game against Italy now merely the curtain raiser in Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday.
However, in an exclusive interview with The Scotsman, former Springbok captain Skinstad insisted that Scotland had turned heads with their rugby in the Mbombela Stadium last weekend.
“They surprised South Africa, particularly after the way they played in the first game against Samoa [lost 27-17],” he said. “The Scottish side showed a lion-hearted approach on Saturday. They were like ‘this is not beyond us, this isn’t too big for us, we’re good enough and will compete in every area’. It was good to see them prove that they could still compete at this level. They stood up across the field to a man, in every ruck, and every tackle, and I think it was a shock to the Boks boys.”
Skinstad made his South Africa debut off the bench against England in 2007 and started for the first time the following week at Murrayfield, where he enjoyed one of his best games in a record 68-10 thrashing of Scotland. He never suffered defeat to the Scots and, now a commentator for South African TV, he says that he always expected the Springboks to overhaul the Scots on Saturday.
“Personally, I think the Scots played out of their skins and the Springboks were poor. I looked at the stats at half-time and Scotland gave the Springboks 15 turnover balls, eight knock-ons and seven unforced errors, which meant the Springboks had 15 opportunities and did nothing with them. So, I always felt that the Springboks had enough to turn it around but, when Scotland went 17-6 up early in the second half, I started to worry that the Boks didn’t realise that it was them that were making the mistakes as opposed to Scotland running away with great attack. Scotland were capitalising on the Boks mistakes and they deserve credit for that and their defence.
“It is always harder for northern hemisphere sides to tour here than for us to go north because their seasons are much longer. I don’t remember any Scotland team coming close to beating any Boks side I played with, but this was a good Boks side against a Scotland team without their best players away with the Lions, and others injured, which shows you that these guys played several stations above themselves.”
Skinstad has been impressed by a number of this tour’s performers. “Euan Murray is very good,” he said. “As well as the scrum, I like his counter-drive in the lineout, he carries ball well and he cleans very well. If Sean Lamont was playing for the Boks he would have scored a lot more tries because he would have received a lot more ball in space. The centres [Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar] are very good and Greig Laidlaw is a jack of all trades and master of most of them.
“I love Jim Hamilton as well. He doesn’t always play the game to the letter of the law, like the best second rows I played with.
“The yellow card was tough. It’s a physical game and it was a clash between two big men, and I wouldn’t blame Jim for costing Scotland the game. That wasn’t the turning point for me.
“South Africa had picked up the momentum before that and were cutting out the errors.”