South Africa 30
DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
FOR Scotland to win this one, they were going to have to get an awful lot right, and – to be brutally honest – they were a long way off the level required.
There was some uplifting moments, such as skipper Stuart Hogg‘s two well-taken tries, but their attack generally lacked bite, their discipline was poor, their scrum cracked, and they couldn’t work out how to batten down the hatches when the tide was against them. In the end, they were throwing passes in hope rather than expectation, and South Africa gobbled it up to kick their way to a convincing win.
The Springboks made plenty of respectful noises this week about the challenge they expected to face at Murrayfield, and explained that the plan was to trust in what they do best by playing with their usual intensity, so there was no surprises here. But knowing what is coming and being able to do something about it are two entirely different things.
No great shame in this performance, or in this result, against the world champions – just a sobering reminder of how tough it really is to front-up against the top teams in the world on consecutive weekends.
A team’s chances of winning a rugby match are greatly enhanced by having possession of the ball at some point, but apart from one successful line-out which came to nothing when Finn Russell knocked-on in contact, the Scots hardly touched the ball during the first 12 minutes, with the penalty count 5-0 against during that period. It was a portent of how the game would play out over the full 80.
Unflustered, Russell decided to feed Duhan van der Merwe from behind his own try-line, and the big winger stepped back inside then set off on a 50-yard diagonal rampage all the way to halfway, before being brought down by Jessie Kriel‘s desperate tap-tackle. Willie Le Roux was penalised when he came round the side to stop the quick recycle, and Russell kicked the points to give his team an unlikely lead.
Buoyed by this, the Scots swamped South Africa straight from the restart and Jamie Ritchie won a penalty when he got over the isolated le Roux, but this time Russell made a poor connection and his effort sailed harmlessly wide.
South Africa squared it when Elton Jantjies kicked the points from right in front of the posts after Ritchie was called for going off his feet, with referee Angus Gardner having a word with Hogg about the volume of infringements.
South Africa then cruised into the lead when Scotland got caught narrow on the left, and Siya Kolisi hooked Rufus McLean before giving Makazole Mapimpi a clear run at the line. Jantjies was nowhere near with the conversion.
To their credit, Scotland bounced right back in sensational style. The initial sweep from right to left and back again appeared to lack focus, but the hosts kept hold of possession, and then Russell sent out a cross-field kick, which was a much better effort than the one he had tried a few moments earlier and was collected by van der Merwe, who flipped the ball back inside to Hogg.
Sam Skinner was on hand to take on the running before being bringing van der Merwe back into the move. Chris Harris was next up, and although his pass was knocked down by Herschel Jantjies, it bounced kindly for Hogg to re-appear on the scene and finish off.
Russell nailed the conversion to edge his team ahead, although he missed another opportunity off the tee to stretch that advantage when Vincent Koch was penalised for not rolling away.
That penalty conceded by Koch was his first contribution to the match after coming off the bench as part of the Springbok’s fabled ‘bomb squad’ in injury time of the first half. It is not unheard of to see this deployment early in the match, but the timing was curious given that there was less than 30 seconds to go before the break. It did suggest that head coach Jacques Nienaber and his management team wanted to make a statement about how they felt things were going.
Certainly, it will have been the home camp who were the happier at half-time, having managed to get their noses ahead despite hardly being in the game during the opening quarter of an hour. A second half response from the Springboks was almost inevitable, but the Scots will have felt that they also had more to give, and if they could get the penalty count under control then there was reason to believe that they could really stress their opponents.
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The first 10 minutes of the second half were going to be crucial and South Africa wasted no time in setting out their stall, overrunning Scotland to win the ball back from the restart, and they claimed try number two after just three minutes, when Mapimpi once again did the damage.
Elton Jantjies added the conversion, then kicked a penalty following a seatbelt tackle by Ritchie on Siya Kolisi.
Chris Harris then conceded a penalty straight from the restart by obstructing a South African player from going up to challenge van der Merwe for the ball meaning Scotland found themselves right back under pressure inside their own 22.
Hands in the ruck from Ritchie gave the Springboks three more points, so the visitors had gone from two points behind to 11 points ahead inside the space of 15 minutes, without really breaking sweat.
It looked ominous from the home team. But this Scotland side does have character, and when a seatbelt tackle from Lukhanyo Am allowed Russell to kick to the corner, the Scots took full advantage, initially sucking their opponents in with a driven line-out, then sending it out via a neat exchange of passes by Ali Price, Russell and Chris Harris led to van der Merwe running across the park, sucking in the midfield defence to open up the space for Hogg to streak home.
Not only was it the Scottish skipper’s second try of the match, it was his 24th in total for Scotland, bringing him level with Ian Smith and Tony Stanger‘s all-time records. It was also the day when he overtook Irishman Rob Kearney to become the player who has started the most international games at full-back in world rugby history.
Most importantly, he had pulled Scotland right back into the contest … but they couldn’t build on it.
Frans Steyn was off target as he tried to punish a scrum penalty conceded by Jamie Bhatti, but Handré Pollard was bang on the money three minutes later when Zander Fagerson was penalised for holding onto the ball on the deck.
Then Steyn made some amends for that earlier miss when nailing a ruck penalty from halfway, which made 15-27 with just under 10 minutes to play.
Totally overwhelmed up front, Scotland started playing crazy rugby, throwing loose passes and giving away ground like it had a bad odour, with Pollard stepping up to kick another three points before the end following another scrum penalty.
Scotland: S Hogg; R McLean (B Kinghorn 52), C Harris, M Scott (A Hastings 70), D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price (G Horne 70); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 62), S McInally (E Ashman 62), Z Fagerson (O Kebble 65), S Skinner (J Hodgson 71), G Gilchrist, N Haining (H Watson 52), J Ritchie, M Fagerson.
South Africa: W le Roux (F Steyn 65); J Kriel, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; E Jantjies (H Pollard 61), H Jantjies (C Reinach 41); O Nché (S Kitshoff 40), B Mbonambi (M Marx 40), T Nyakane (V Koch 40), E Etzebeth, F Mostert (L de Jager 62), S Kolisi, K Smith, D Vermeulen (J Wiese, 75).
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Scotland: Tries: Hogg 2; Con: Russell; Pen: Russell.
South Africa: Tries: Mapimpi 2; Con: E Jantjies; Pens: E Jantjies 3, Pollard 2, Steyn.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 3-0; 3-3; 3-8; 8-8; 10-8 (h-t) 10-13; 10-15; 10-18; 10-21; 15-21; 15-24; 15-27; 15-30.