RWC23: South Africa defeat disappoints but doesn’t devastate Scotland

Head coach Gregor Townsend is not concerned about his team's habit of conceding back-to-back tries

Jamie Ritchie and Eben Etzebeth exchange pleasantries during Sunday's World Cup pool clash. Image: © Craig Watson -
Jamie Ritchie and Eben Etzebeth exchange pleasantries during Sunday's World Cup pool clash. Image: © Craig Watson -

COMPARED to the 27-3 defeat Scotland suffered against Ireland on the opening weekend of the last World Cup in Japan four years ago, Sunday night’s 18-3 loss against South Africa doesn’t sting nearly as badly.

That match in 2019 devastated the players, leaving deep scars from which some never really recovered. The following eight days in Kobe, while the team waited for their chance to get back on the horse against Samoa, were tortuous. And even though they won that game [34-0] then the following pool match against Russia [61-0], their shattered confidence was evident when Scotland were next properly tested in their final pool match against Japan [losing 28-21 to tumble out of the tournament before reaching the knock-out stages].

In contrast, while Scotland didn’t ever really look like beating the world champions on Sunday, they remained competitive throughout, which means they can head into this bye-week, followed by their clash against Tonga on Sunday 24th September, with morale mostly intact. They then face Romania the following weekend before taking on Ireland, in what they hope will be a do-or-die clash in Paris, on 7th October.

RWC23: TOL’s World Cup team-of-the-Week – first round of pool matches

RWC23: Scotland v South Africa: Scotland player ratings

RWC23: South Africa v Scotland reaction: Gregor Townsend frustrated by lack of consistency

“Of course,” replied head coach Gregor Townsend, when asked if he is feeling more positive now than he did at this stage of the last World Cup. “We didn’t start all that great [against South Africa]. We were in our 22 and our half for the first 10 to 15 minutes, lost our first line-out and put ourselves under pressure a couple of times with ball in hand, but we ended up coming through that period with a real strong scrum, dealing with their kicks and putting some attack plays together.

“It would have been great to have more points on the board than just three [from a Finn Russell penalty on the stroke of half-time], but having gone through that first half, it was there for us, and disappointingly South Africa grabbed the game at the start of the third quarter and it was hard to bring back.

“The reason we lost was that we weren’t accurate enough. We didn’t play well enough in the third quarter when we had got ourselves in a position where we normally kick on.

“It was definitely harder to attack with the ball being that little bit slippery,” he added. “If you’re behind on the scoreboard, it’s that little bit tougher to be accurate but we know we have to be more accurate than we were on Sunday.”

The Scotland squad have now returned to the Golden Tulip Hotel, their World Cup base near Nice, and the players will take a two-and-a-half day break from rugby before starting work on preparing for the Tonga game.

“It’s definitely a good thing [to have a fortnight off],” said Townsend. “South Africa is probably going to be our most bruising game, although Tonga, Ireland and Romania will probably say they will be as physically challenging.

“But given the heat, the fact it was our first game and guys were cramping up, we could do with some recovery time. Also, we have a lot of families coming out to take the players’ minds off rugby for two or three days. We now know what’s going to be in front of us – three games we must win.

“It was a big ask for Darcy Graham [who missed the final warm-up match with a quad injury] in that heat to play 80 minutes at top pace,” he said, when asked for a medical update. “It was a very stop-start game which wouldn’t have suited the wingers. It was great that him and Blair Kinghorn got through because they were the two guys who had niggles. I don’t think there are any issues with anyone else.”

Ultimately, Sunday’s game got away from Scotland when they lost two tries inside the space of three minutes early in the second half, with flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit bundling over on 47 minutes and winger Kurt-Lee Arendse sprinting home off Manie Libbok’s sensational no-look cross-kick on 50 minutes.

A very similar thing happened during Scotland’s only defeat in their warm-up schedule, when Damian Penaud and Charles Ollivon scored in the 42nd and 44th minutes of a 30-27 victory for France in Saint-Etienne.

Townsend’s team also conceded quick-fire tries in the fourth and seventh minutes of their loss in France during the last Six Nations, and in the 56th and 61st minutes of their defeat at home to Ireland in the final game of that championship a fortnight later – but the coach rejected the suggestion that this is a pattern he should be concerned about.

“It happens in games,” he retorted. “I wouldn’t say it was a theme. If you’re talking about themes, previously it would have been us being behind at half-time.

“We obviously had possession then we had a fumble, they got a scrum penalty, got through a few phases then got another scrum penalty. They were putting us under pressure, so you have to credit them for making the most of their opportunities

“They were more dominant in the second half around the scrum. We put a really good scrum performance in in that first half, but fresh legs helped them.”

Townsend concluded by indicating that he is minded to look for consistency in selection when he gets round to naming his team for the Tonga match.

“We’ll review the South Africa game in more detail. There are a few areas we have to improve, but I believe the team that played on Sunday is more likely to get that second opportunity,” he said.

RWC23: TOL’s World Cup team-of-the-Week – first round of pool matches

About David Barnes 3816 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. I beleive we will go out in true Scotland fashion! SA beat Ireland but it’s close so Ireland get a bonus point which would leave us needing to beat ireland by more than 7 which we wont do or if we do they will still get 4 tries. But then who knows a red card here or there at the minute can make a huge difference.

    • Completely agree Garry on every point. Turner had a bit of a meltdown for me, but calmer & more experienced heads should have simplified what was happening.

      With the amount of lineouts we had in good areas for attack, it really was a major weakness if ours, more so than defence, which for the main part was ok

      I still think McInally should have gone, as his rugby intelligence might have better suited the pressure situation

  2. For whatever reason at the Kick Off or at Restarts Scotland for years have been vulnerable, surely at International level it can’t be a lack of concentration, yet what else can it be. It is an absolute certainty that all of our next opponents will focus on that.
    Next is the Lines-out memory fails to recall if it was 2 or 3 to the back but whatever, they were botched. It is against the grain to say safety first in all circumstances but when the first to the back went pear shaped I really think safety first is the call, and then at least a couple of charge downs that could well have cost us dearly. We have the players and the ability, is it the pressure that produces the lack of concentration and relatively simple mistakes?
    We can’t no matter what take the Tongan team as a ‘gimme’, and do we have to put more points on Rumania than Ireland in case points differential is vital?
    That apart the big game is Ireland and every player needs to be at 100% concentration from the First to the last Whistle.

  3. The bottom line here is that we lost lineout after lineout, not through SA pressure but because of our inability to execute. Most of the ones we lost, SA were not even competing.

    The lineout is the one platform where you can pretty much guarantee decent ball for the 10 if you execute well because the back lines begin so far apart. Had we won the 6 (?) attacking lineouts we gave away, the territory balance would have been very different and would therefore have completely changed the dynamic of the game.

    I thought our defence and physicality were more than good enough to win if we had given ourselves a chance. But, sadly, it was always Scotland under territory pressure and never SA and that was largely a situation of our own making.

    I thought Finn was almost as good as he could have been in the circumstances and his defensive effort was outstanding, culminating in the tap-tackle on Williams to save a certain try.

    • Well said Garry. I tried to post something to exactly that effect yesterday. Even if we’d won four out of those six lineouts, think of the time that involves on the attack and SA under the pump by the time mauls, rucks, pick n’ drives unfold. As it was, we lost these through our own making and if there’s any team who can clear their lines it’s SA. In fact, they go one further because they either hoof it miles up the park into touch or come tearing up the field with their superb kick-chase if it lands infield which makes even winning the ruck a battle because they obliterate the breakdown. So the pressure turns rapidly from being on SA to being on the opponent.

      • Exactly.Remember every lineout lost is an extra possession to the opposition so its a !twom possession” swing if you get my drift.So lets say we lost six lineouts (it was more) we could easily have won with better drills then that’s a 12 possession swing.
        Then add in all the lost high balls and dropped passes and you can easily see the enormous change in dynamics .Ok we then had to do something with the possession but hopefully our backs would have created at least two or three good chances if they’d had so much more ball.
        Ireland will play us the same way -great kick chase and attack the line much more than SA did. So -over to the coaches to sort out how we can counter all that!

    • Would add to what I said as well, and to back up what Garry is saying, SA did not have to battle hard at the lineout for it to become a mess from our perspective. It did not look as though they had our calls sussed. Ireland by contrast will fight like hell to disrupt our lineout and have had a load of success in recent years doing so. The Irish back-row, O’Mahoney in particular, we have not come up with an answer for – they’ve had an absolute field-day vs Scotland in recent years.
      When Richie Gray is talking about drills being wrong that sets alarm bells going for me. No-one has mentioned it thus far but our forwards coach, Dalziel – correct me if i’m wrong – is responsible for overseeing the lineout. And it’s been a shambles for years. None of this is news, then, and we’ve known what was coming down the track our way for three years now.

      • Agree. And “saying the ball was slippy” as of it was a surprise seems pretty lame. Presumably we’ve trained in these conditions so how come something that should have been anticipated and addressed is trotted out as a reason.

  4. Richard

    Are you trolling?. It was a blatant head clash. it is irrelevant to some degree if or if not a ball had anything to do with this.

    It is poor tackle technique (incredibly poor), and supposedly the main thing that world rugby are trying to stamp out to avoid HI’s and ultimately issues for players in later life

    The fact the TMO did not alert the referee to this was appalling, and World Rugby’s silence even more so, and once again shows the obvious bias for Tier 1 nations

    Learn the current Laws of rugby before commenting

    • What wot wot? I said it was less red-worthy from another angle because the narrative has been that it was a red.

      Get off your high horse laddie. If it’s so blatantly obvious to rugby gods like yourself then it’ll be cited, surely?

      Learn to accept what someone’s saying without you going into your tiny wee domain of expertise.

  5. There’ll be a heck of a lot of penalties if whoever’s referees the South Africa v Ireland game picks up offside…

    There is no reason to be too disheartened by the South Africa game. We clearly felt Gray would be targeted at the lineout, but the execution of the longer throws was poor. Sweaty hands affected both teams with ball retention and that will become less of an issue as the tournament progresses. We had to capitalise on the few opportunities we had before the subs came on and strangled the life out of the game, but we didn’t. Such is life against South Africa just now.

    • With regard to offsides don’t you think the players might learn that a referee is hot on enforcing that law if he does so a few times and so make sure they remain onside?

  6. Completely off topic but nowhere else to post on the site. Is it time to completely re-look at the scrum laws. The scrum is supposed to be a means of re-distributing the ball. It has become a means of getting penalties and eating up huge amounts of time. I played hooker loved scrums but reset after reset is deadly dull and when we are trying to bring in new spectators frankly awful. Why not change the law so it is one scrum only (no resets) and the penalty is changed to a free kick. That would speed up the game and create faster ball distribution. For most attacking teams it would mean getting the ball out, as better to have the opposition pack tied up in the scrum than spread out for a free kick. And whilst I am at it can we please please invoke the law that says the ball is sent down the middle of the tunnel not straight to the second rows feet.

    • Totally agree.

      The scrum was intended to be a restart which provides space into which the team with the ball can attack. It was never meant to give a team who had just infringed an opportunity to win a penalty.

      Where is the jeopardy for a team with a dominant scrum when they choose to throw a forward pass attacking the line (or knock on because they try an offload that is never on) if they can just get the ball back at the resulting scrum?

      Effectively, Scotland lost that game in St Etienne because France knocked on. It’s a pretty ridiculous situation when you think about it.

      It has gone far too far and enabling teams to refresh their entire front row just pushes us further and further in that direction as it encourages bulk over speed and power over skill.

      So, I’d also advocate radically reducing the number of subs allowed in a game to one front rower, one other forward and one back. But in the professional era, I simply can’t see the long term good of the game ever being seen to be more important than the short term interests of the top teams.

    • This is furthering the Rassi narrative of erasing head to head contact, suggesting that “there may have been facial contact”
      For me, Kriel wasn’t going for the ball and any contact with it shouldn’t be used as mitigation

    • It certainly doesn’t look as bad but the point is that the defender has made no effort to go low and therefore has to take responsibility should any unwanted head contact occur. So it should have been a red card.

      You can bet your life that if that challenge had been made by a player from a Tier 2 team (which, sadly, in the eyes of many in the rugby world includes Scotland) that is what analysts like this chap would be telling us.

      • Not really getting why I have downvotes but cheers for your interpretation. He is high, but there’s no player contact with the head from what I can see.

    • Regardless of whether you believe there is no head contact after reviewing this clip, the fact remains it looked head on head for the rest of the world and the referee did not deem it even worthy of a review and waved all concerns away.

    • Richard
      It matters not a jot what the camera angles do or don’t show; what matters is no official properly checked.
      And the fact that the Scottish management merely behaved like nodding dogs is perhaps even more disturbing regarding their care for their players.

Comments are closed.