Scotland v South Africa: Stuart Hogg warns of ‘big angry men’ but Scots weigh in heavier
The sides have met 27 times with the Springboks winning 22 against Scotland’s five.
The rivalry is renewed on Saturday at BT Murrayfield where a buoyant home side will look to build on last weekend’s fine win over Australia, the team ranked third in the world. South Africa are one place higher and will return to the top of the tree if they beat Scotland and New Zealand don’t win in Dublin.
But it is a measure of the strides being made by Gregor Townsend’s team that a new high of fourth in the world ranking is possible for Scotland if they win and Ireland and England lose, the latter to Australia.
Hogg insists his team will not change their game-plan to cope with their opponents’ physical prowess but Townsend has added muscle to his starting XV in anticipation of a robust encounter. The pack is believed to be the heaviest selected in Townsend’s time as head coach, with an average weight of 113.6kg (17st 12lb) compared to their opponents’ average of 112.1kg (17st 9lb).
Hogg and Townsend spent the summer in South Africa with the Lions trying, and ultimately failing, to get the better of the Springboks and the Scotland captain feels he didn’t learn a huge amount that he didn’t know already.
“They’ve got a gameplan unique to themselves,” said Hogg. “And they’ve had it forever, it works incredibly well for them.
“As a back three and defending the backfield we’re going to find ourselves under high balls, and that’s something we’ve worked hard on all week and I’m looking forward to.
“They’ve got jackal threats throughout the whole team and our attacking breakdown has to be squeaky clean. We make sure we source that, blast past that contact and keep the ball safe. If we can do that for multi-phase then that’s the time we’ll challenge them. We’re fully aware of what we can do and we have to execute it to the best of our ability.”
Hogg was one of eight Scottish players on the Lions tour, while Townsend was joined by his defence coach, Steve Tandy, and analyst, Gavin Vaughan. Familiarity will not be a problem.
“We have all played against South Africans at some stage in our careers,” added Hogg. “They are big angry men that want to try and dominate you physically. It is a game plan that works for them and they are world champions for a reason. They have talked a lot about their physicality this week, a lot about it, and it is a massive strength of theirs but there will be massive opportunities within it as well. We have to stay calm and composed and make the most of the opportunities given.
“We are a team that prides ourselves on bringing a bit of speed into the game and bringing some tempo into our game and challenging our skills set. Being able to adapt to defences in front us. We have got a game plan that can go through teams or around teams and we want to play behind teams all at the same time. Why change when we have a game plan that works to our strengths?”
The inclusion of the elusive Rufus McLean certainly fits with playing at tempo but it is the Glasgow winger’s other attributes that Townsend has been espousing of late, most notably his work off the ball, his kick chase, his aerial ability and his contact work.
Hogg reports that McLean has been “full of beans” following his try double against Tonga a fortnight ago.
“He is more than capable of playing international rugby,” said the full-back. “He gets his opportunity and has been buzzing in training all week and I am looking forward to seeing what he can do.
“He is here for a reason. He is here because he is good enough. He is a terrific runner with the ball. He will be challenged at times but he is fully aware of that but he is excited. I just want him to get some ball in space and show the world what he is about.”
Scotland have not beaten South Africa for 11 years and have just two wins in 19 against them since 1994 following their readmission to Test rugby. But this group of players have shown themselves to be no respecters of records. Long-awaited wins in Wales, England and France were all achieved by Townsend’s squad last season and the bookmakers have Scotland at even money to take down the world champions.
Siya Kolisi, the South African captain, has played Scotland twice before - on his debut in 2013 and at Murrayfield in 2018. He rates the current side as better than both of those teams and is wary in particular of the threats posed by Hogg and Finn Russell.
“I definitely do think they are the strongest Scotland side,” he said. “I haven’t played a lot of games against them but you can see that in the way they are playing. They have players who were with the British and Irish Lions which tell you how good their team has been.
“They have a very good running game and a very good kicking game. You could see last week that their set piece was very good. We are going to be challenged all around in the game. Their breakdown is pretty good and we saw some crucial steals close to the line.
“They have a very attacking fly-half. They have a lot of experience too with Hogg at the back. But our main focus has been on what we can do to make our plan work. We can’t control what they throw at us. They might try something new, but what we can control is what we do to them.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt); Rufus McLean, Chris Harris, Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Nick Haining, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson.
Substitutes: Ewan Ashman, Jamie Bhatti, Oli Kebble, Jamie Hodgson, Hamish Watson, George Horne, Adam Hastings, Blair Kinghorn.
South Africa: Willie le Roux; Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies; Ox Nché, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (capt), Kwagga Smith, Duane Vermeulen.
Substitutes: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Lood de Jager, Jasper Wiese, Cobus Reinach, Handré Pollard, Frans Steyn.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia).
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