Scotland's scrum dominance against Georgia a good sign for South Africa test

Twenty minutes into the match against Georgia and one was a bit worried. Reasonably enough – Georgia had dominated the first quarter and one wondered how things would be if we were to start like that against South Africa.
A general view of a scrum during Scotland's win over Georgia last weekend.A general view of a scrum during Scotland's win over Georgia last weekend.
A general view of a scrum during Scotland's win over Georgia last weekend.

Even at the time one reflected that this was an awkward sort of match. The players didn’t seem quite switched on, quite understandably really. The second quarter was better . We were in control of the game even though we failed to score, and then of course the second half saw us score five tries and win comfortably. On reflection the first quarter had given the defence a good work-out.

These warm-up games are difficult, the more so the closer you are to the Cup itself. On the whole we’ve come through them satisfactorily with apparently no serious injuries., and only Zander Fagerson’s suspension to darken the picture. In comparison France have suffered two blows, losing Romain Ntamack for the whole tournament and Jonathan Danty – probably – for at least the opening match against New Zealand.

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It has always been obvious that we would have to beat either Ireland or South Africa to reach the knock-out stage. After the Springboks crushing defeat of New Zealand, , some of us will be thinking that the “or” no longer applies: we’ll have to beat Ireland. This may be the case of course – South Africa were always favourites to defeat us . It’s worth remembering however that only a few weeks ago New Zealand beat South Africa by a comfortable margin. . Players are not machines; form fluctuates. (Actually, of course, machines also break down.) If the All Blacks were to play the Springboks against this weekend they might well win, even by a fair margin. The racecourse tipster who yells “I got a horse” is not always, not often indeed, to be believed.

One of the most satisfying features of our match again Georgia was our dominance of the set scrum. Georgia isn’t South Africa of course, but the set scrum has been one area of the game where Georgia has almost always held its own, the one world class feature of their game. South Africa of course have a mighty scrum – two mighty scrums indeed since they had seven forwards on the bench last week-end and brought all seven on with more than half-an-hour of the match to go. Moving one heavy pack around is one thing; moving a second one with its fourteen fresh legs something else.

This is the tenth World Cup. Only four countries have ever won it. Two of these – England and Australia - seem to have little chance this year, even though both are fortunate enough to be in what appears to be the weaker half of the draw. England indeed have been lamentable this year, but one good victory and they might look very different, considerably more formidable.

The late Tory MP Allan Clark had a favourite saying ACHIB “Anything Can Happen In Backgammon”. He applied it to politics. II holds good for Sport too. Consider the 2011 World Cup, played in New Zealand. France were a mess throughout their pool matches, the players at odds with their coach, his selection wayward. They scraped into the Final, luckily, by beating a 14-man Wales. deprived of their captain Sam Warburton, red-carded some ten minutes in. The All Blacks in rampant form were expected to demolish France. They did indeed win, but only by one or two points, hanging on doggedly at the end. They might not have done so if their captain, the great Richie McCaw, hadn’t been wearing the invisible cloak which so often blinded referees to his misdemeanors at the break-down, Even so France might have won if their coach hadn’t changed his scrum-halves a few minutes from the end. As it was, France spent these last minutes in the New Zealand 22 on the French right-wing side of the field. A drop goal would have won the Cup. But left-footed Dimitri Yachvili, coolest of customers, and frequent dropper of goals, was no longer on the field to kick it. Talking of such things, I hope Gregor Townsend reminds Finn that a drop-goal still counts 3 points. Maybe he will. He used to be rather good at kicking drop goals himself..