South Africa 18
DAVID BARNES @ Stade de Marseilles
THIS is what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object … in the same team. Try as they might, Scotland couldn’t get the sort of foothold in this game that they needed to cause a World Cup opening weekend shock against the reigning champions.
Scotland punched hard, fighting up a weight division at both scrum and breakdown, and made some headway. But they will be frustrated that their line-out which wasn’t under the same sort of pressure didn’t function as cleanly as they would have hoped.
Against South Africa’s ferocious rush defence, Finn Russell struggled to find ways to bring the dangerous strike-runners outside him into the game, and he wasn’t helped by the scarcity of front foot ball from his under-pressure forwards.
It was a brave performance, but Scotland needed everything to go right, then hope for a Springboks off day, and that’s not the way it panned out. They must refocus now on getting past Tonga on 25th September then Romania seven days later without a slip-up, before facing Ireland – the number one team in the world – in a must-win final pool match in Paris on 7th October.
Four years ago, Scotland were blown away by Ireland in their opening match of the World Cup and never recovered. They will, at least, feel they have something to build on here.
A twitchy start by Scotland featured Blair Kinghorn failing to gather the kick-off, a charged down clearance on Finn Russell, Kinghorn and Richie Gray allowing a South African kick to bounce dangerously and Finn Russell throwing a hospital pass to Jack Dempsey, who was clattered by Jesse Kriel (with subsequent replays showing that there was head-on-head contact, prompting head coach Gregor Townsend to express frustration afterwards that the incident wasn’t reviewed by the TMO).
A solid first scrum steadied nerves, but an overthrown line-out handed the initiative back to South Africa and at the next scrum Scotland went down on Zander Fagerson’s side, which should have allowed Manie Libbok to open the scoring with a 10th minute penalty, but the Springbok stand-off pulled is shot at goal to the left of the posts.
It proved to be a temporary reprieve because South Africa came again, and although Scotland initially did a good job of disrupting the breakdown, Russell was penalised for a deliberate knock-on, and this time Libbok made no mistake from directly in front of the posts.
Scotland were being starved of possession and harassed by South Africa’s rush defence whenever they did manage to get their hands on the ball. They didn’t help themselves with two overthrown line-outs and line-out penalty against Jamie Ritchie for pulling down an opposition jumper during the first 20 minutes.
Tempers flared on 21-minutes but no punches landed, and Australian referee Angus Gardner wisely chose to take no further action after having a word with Scots skipper Ritchie and South African centre Damian de Allende.
South Africa were really attacking the breakdown and when Sione Tuipuloti got stuck under a pile of bodies he ended up conceding a holding-on penalty which allowed Libbok to double his team’s lead.
A collision between Russell and Kurt-Lee Arendse – which elicited a review on the big screen from Gardner but no sanction against Russell – left the Scotsman with sore ribs, but he battled on, and a few minutes later he finally managed to prise open a gap in the South African defensive line, which Darcy Graham streaked through. However, after one elegant dummy, the winger held on when he had men outside and a rare opportunity evaporated.
There was a big – potentially massive – moment just before half-time when Scotland, having survived a series of punishing South African mauls, got a nudge on at a scrum on halfway, and Fagerson made it count with a powerful surge which forced penalty out of Steven Kitshoff, which Russell coolly fired home to make it an improbable three-point game at the turnaround.
We didn’t have to wait long to find out if Scotland were going to be able to build on that score when the game restarted because Pierre Schoeman was almost immediately penalised for wheeling, and although Libbok’s long-range shot at goal fell well short, the tone had been set.
With 46 minutes played, South Africa claimed the first try of the contest through back-rower Pieter Steph Du Toit, who powered over after a period of pressure, and the Springboks followed that up with their second try – which decisively took the game away from Scotland – just three minutes later.
Richie Gray was turned over in midfield and Libbok sent over an inch-perfect kick to the unmarked Arendse on the right touchline. The winger gathered the ball without breaking stride and cantered home. Faf de Klerk – celebrating his 50th cap – took over kicking duties to add the touchline conversion.
Scotland kept fighting and their supporters had a moment of excitement when an excellent 50-22 from Russell led to a quick line-out throw which sent Darcy Graham over in the corner, but the try was never going to stand given that a different ball had been thrown in from in front of the mark.
Arendse and replacement Springbok scrum-half Grant Williams both threatened during the final stages of this match, but Scotland managed to hold out, with a brilliant tap-tackle by Russell halting the second of those attacks.
South Africa: D Willemse; K Arendse, J Kriel, D de Allende, C Kolbe; M Libbok (W Le Roux 69) F de Klerk (G Williams 74); S Kitshoff (O Nche 53), M Marx (B Mbonambi 47), F Malherbe (T Nyakane 53), E Etzbeth (R Snyman 29), F Mosert, S Kolisi (M van Staden 64), P du Toit, J Weise (D Vermeulen 59).
Scotland: B Kinghorn; D Graham (O Smith 64), H Jones, S Tuipulotu (C Redpath, 66), D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White (A Price 66); P Schoeman (J Bhatti, 55), G Turner (D Cherry 55), Z Fagerson (W Nel 55), R Gray, G Gilchrist (S Cummings 55), J Ritchie, R Darge (M Fagerson 64), J Dempsey.
Referee: Angus Gardner
South Africa: Tries: du Toit, Arendse; Con: de Klerk; Pen: Libbok 2.
Scotland: Pen: Russell.
Scoring sequence (South Africa first): 3-0; 6-0; 6-3 (h-t) 11-3; 16-3; 18-3.