Scotland v South Africa: Boks bully brittle hosts

Two tries from skipper Stuart Hogg not enough to inspire a famous win against world champions

Makazole Mapimpi scored twice for South Africa. Image: © Craig Watson -
Makazole Mapimpi scored twice for South Africa. Image: © Craig Watson -

Scotland 15

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.

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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.


Teams –

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)


Scorers –

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.


Attendance: 67,144.

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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The 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. While this is a reality check we were playing the World Champions who slaughtered England to win the World Cup.
    Regarding strength in depth this might be the case except for props. When we have Batty on who could not make the Bath first team regularly this shows the lack of international quality props.
    It is harsh to criticise Russel when he was playing behind a losing pack and the quality of ball was dreadful.
    I hope GT has not ruined McLean since it was foolish to expose him to this at such an early stage. Steyn should have been playing

    • Interesting how we see things different (Inc. Toony it seems). Some saw Scott as being as success. I don’t see it. Finn’s kicks were not the differnce. I agree with Oscaig that knocking over the pens when offered increases the pressure on the opposition. Do we truly believe SA didn’t get a lift from those misses – we would have. Agree with the comments that McLean is not ready and how Toony thinks he is a good defender especially under the high ball evades me tbh. On Harris…he is a great defensive organiser and he may have felt left out of the pen count so gave away a daft one. ZF needs a lot of work before he is ever in the same conversation as Taidgh Furlong (oh if only). Ashman was handed a hospital pass on throwing tail on his first lineout and to lose 3 on the bounce in their 22 is like a try to the opposition. Game is about building pressure and momentum at this level. How really top teams play the last 10 minutes is what we need to aspire to. SA and Ireland are the template to close out games through good decisions on territory and accuracy. Rant over:)

  2. We were always going to be up against it without our first choice locks, a bench hooker having his second cap and a converted loose head getting about his fifth game of pro rugby on the right side of the scrum.
    However, when you add the unbalanced selections in the back row it was clearly not going to end well.
    Ritchie doesn’t have the pace. power or technique to play 7 and Haining is an 8. He doesn’t have the engine to play at 6.
    If Watson is carrying an injury he shouldn’t have even been in the squad, if not injured he should have started.
    A fit Watson is crucial to a good Scotland campaign in the 6 nations
    Plus, Blair Kinghorn needs to be nowhere near a Scotland squad until he shows the form that merits his inclusion. The “pass” he threw to the invisible Man was risible for a so called international winger, or stand-off or full-back or indeed centre as Townsend recently mused.

  3. If we have aspirations to sit at top table of rugby we absolutely require a top class goal kicker – it’s a non negotiable. I’m a fan of Finn’s but goal kicking yesterday was simply not good enough. Obviously doesn’t help if he’s not regularly kicking at club level but it’s a serious ‘work on’ for him. I’m not sure it’s clear who can step up to provide the level of certainty we enjoyed from Laidlaw?

    • His goal kicking was worse than usual on Saturday but lets be honest, this is not where the game was lost. Had we lost by 5 points and really fronted up and matched S.Africa from start to finish id agree. But unfortunately we were physically dominated for large spells of the match, huge inaccuracies and penalty count too high. Scrum creaked, line out was terrible and we just got smothered by the Boks pack especially when the bomb squad came on. Finn’s missed kicks were only of secondary concern in comparison to all of the above, you are not going to beat the Boks when so many of these areas malfunction.

  4. I thought when Hastings came on, his little chip and chase (he clobbered the SA fullback) was great. Him instead of Scott for me (he and Finn play well together). Agree that MacLean isn’t ready for the international stage – later he’ll be fine. Jury’s out on Ashman – it was a nerve-wracking moment to bring him on. As usual I’d say George Horne deserves a start. But none of the foregoing matters until the scrum is sorted. Another thing – does pre-match prep include referee analysis? Scotland seemed shocked by some of his decisions and part of the game plan must surely be to take the ref’s idiosyncrasies into account?

  5. First scrum in every game ZF goes down and it’s a penalty against Scotland! McLean has great speed but couldn’t tackle a fish supper. Harris has the acceleration of a snail (bit harsh – more tortoise). These were our first choices – do we really have such great strength in depth?

  6. If we kept the try line sacred n never conceeded tried I could perhaps accept Harris….but we still ship tries with him there and he destroys any attacking intent since he’s slower than most of our front five and has hands like tree stumps ..we have much better options than him. SA would have been delighted to see him on team sheet

  7. Well Mr Townsend gambled by rotating the squad, rather than going for his clear strongest team against the world champions, and it didn’t really pay off. But it’s obvious that his main focus is on the next 6N and beyond – so today’s bruising encounter may yet prove useful for the likes of Ashman and McLean if they can bounce back. Could have been a different match though if Finn had hit his kicks and increased the points pressure, who knows. Basically, lots of ‘what ifs’ remain from this one.

  8. I left Murrayfield a bit deflated after this one. We did manage a couple of good tries but in reality we were chasing the game and our inability to do the basics simply lets us down. You need to be close to faultless to beat SA and we were nowhere near it. We started the game with a knock on after 2 phases then conceded a scrum penalty and then a line out penalty in succession losing about 60m instead of building some pressure in their half. That really set the tone for the day and after some resolute defending we somehow took the lead. Our scrum was dreadful and the line out barely better and so how we hope to beat the Boks without any platform just aint going to happen.

    How many times do we lose key lineoutsj near their line – I think we lost 3 in succession at one point – 2 straight after Ashman came on – he scored a wingers try last week but a hookers bread and butter is line out throws and scrum and close contact work. Don’t want to pick on the young guy but we need to do better here and I think Cherry is better at the basics right now. Not sure how we fix the scrum as it was good last week and Aus beat the Boks twice recently when I think they did OK in the scrum. ZF continues to struggle and must have one of the worst penalty counts around.

    The backs had a mixed day and I suppose when your starved of good ball you end up playing harum scrum rugby which didn’t quite come off and played a bit into the hands of the Boks but its the only way to try and beat them – you just need a bit more parity up front so you can play in the right parts of the field.

    Positives – some good defence – particularly first 20 min and good maul defence and a couple of good tries.

    We just need to get the basics right and less mistakes. Having since watched Ireland beat NZ they showed an incredible accuracy, ball retention and handling skills with very few mistakes. They look way ahead of us right now so lets hope we get a few back for the 6 Nations.

  9. Normal service resumes for Scotland ……….. so frustrating to watch
    No accuracy or consistency and the penalty count is too high again
    Zander Ferguson went up in the air quicker than a space shuttle
    Line outs at times was a shambles
    All in all two major steps forward against Tonga and Australia – 4 steps back today

  10. There was a clear knock-on and clear forward pass for SA’s second try. Not that it would likely have affected the overall outcome, and I’m writing this comment purely out of frustration, but both calls were obvious. Annoying.

    • Yes, just re-watched that and I think both are clear, so no idea what the TMO was thinking – a bit poor. But we didn’t really do enough to deserve the win. Finn not kicking the goals really allowed the SAs to kick to extend their lead rather than going for tries

  11. I was surprised to hear we had the heavier pack at the start. To then see the scrum shunted backwards the way it was suggests technique was lacking, but they fared ok against the Aussies, so maybe that’s unfair.
    The defensive effort in the first half was immense and the interplay for the try was fantastic to see. Unfortunately, as the article says, our accuracy and execution in possession wasn’t good enough and it descended into farce in the final quarter.
    I don’t think Scott was a great success, but maybe we’re not blessed with enough fit inside centres at the moment. Let’s hope Redpath is fit in time for the 6 Nations.
    Selection for the next game will be interesting.

  12. ‘OK Ewan, well done last week, hopefully the pressure will be off a bit when you go on against the Bok’s, what’s the best time for you’?
    ‘Well, Gregor, it would be good to go on when there is a really pivotal lines-out when we have been under pressure and have just got back into the game and I need to get it spot on and avoid the extra pressure of getting my second throw in on the button’.
    ‘Fine let’s see how that goes’.
    That is harsh but, why on earth not hold the changes till a potentially pivotal point in the game has been executed by the Team members that have got the team to that point, but it was a bit much to put that pressure on the Hooker, mind you I seem to recall Ford being put in a similar position.
    Well there were good points but far many of the contrary type, I mean from the lines out when Ashman came on we went back almost 60m in a matter of minutes, but, don’t loose sight of the pressures South Africa put on the opposition, were the Lions for instance significantly better at the end of the day? We can argue that over a beer or two till next weeks game, but some of the penalties offered up were beyond stupid, Harris for instance being probably the worst of the game.
    BUT it isn’t doom and gloom, they can [and will] collectively play better, and let’s not loose sight of the SA game management, some would say, a cynical game management it’s designed to break up any continuity from developing. It is hard to avoid set piece against them and run them round the park when it is their primary style of play is to slow the game down, apart from having their Coach as the Water Boy and other cynical ploys.
    A couple of seasons back a win against Australia and holding the World Champions to within 7 points [if Finn had been on form with the boot] in the space of 6 days would have been a dream.

  13. Had a big chance at 15-21 down with a couple of attacking line-outs and momentum behind us. (I thought the Bok jumper hooked Gilchrist’s hand on the second of those and got away with it,) But SA were relentless and showed why they’re World champs. Progress for us, but still fell short.

    I thought Scott showed up well, important clean out for our first pen score, big hand in the second try. Hope he gets another shot.

  14. Scrum awful – ref might as well have done away with the Scrum and just given SA a penalty – did one complete without a penalty to SA? Lineout went to pot after Ashman came on, but why ask a newly brought on hooker to throw to the tail? Little chance of winning if you have no set piece. Backs maybe marginally better than SA Duhan and Hogg had blinders pack not in the same league. Scotland, sadly brought down to earth with a sizable bump.

  15. Agree that Finn had a poor day (especially kicking) but didn’t feel we got much value from the players brought in. Scott and Hainjngbiffered Littlemore what they were brought in for, McLean not quite ready for this level and McInally needs games but will.come again. Collectively too many errors today forced hy the pressure by SA.

  16. The likes of South Africa (regularly) and Ireland (today at least) tough out big games through a combination of accuracy and a horrible animal-like intensity in the forwards. It really feels like too many Scottish players don’t have the latter – the likes of Gilchrist, McInally and Haining are good players and do the donkey work but they aren’t intense enough.

  17. I thought we contained the Saffers’ power well in the first half but our backrow were overrun somewhat after the break. That said, Ritchie and Haining mixed it manfully and M Fagerson worked his socks off, though the last in particular struggled with the SA belligerence. There’s not much to be upset about imo, 3 hashed lineouts perhaps but there are so many variables at play around this (particularly against a side as good as SA at set-piece) with call, timings related to throw and jumping, manouvering and feints – it has to be spot on against a team probably the best in the world at lineout time. Couple of wee errors with positioning in defence led to tries but such are the fine margins…Good to see Price tackling low too, bounced last week for try and 2-3 times vs Leinster for Glasgow.

  18. Ouch and back down to earth with a bump. Not sure what the game plan was but surely Zander should have been off at 20 minutes. Also McLean’s day will come but that was too quick to start against the RWC champs. Really good game from Scott on his return, and Hogg , VDM, Price and Schoeman. Really poor game from Finn who has been rubbish all Autumn series. That said impressive from South Africa , especially the two front rows.

    • Agree…. Fagerson scrummaging is a constant weak point and should have improved by now. We were lucky last week that Poite guesses at scrums. Zander continually refuses to put his feet in the right place and it’s constantly costing us penalties and territory. It negates anthi he does in loose. Similarly hookers who can’t throw in are negating their prowess in loose. Finn was poor today, but he wasn’t the only one. Our basic handling skills were terrible and similarly we are shocking under the high ball. These are all issues which should have been addressed and dealt with by now. We knew exactly how SA would play and didn’t look like we had prepared for it. On another point, whilst it certainly works for them, SA are eye bleeding to watch. They play like they hate rugby. I get winning is the main thing but rugby like that deserves to be stuck behind a pay wall.

  19. Thrilling on occasion,far too many mistakes/penalties and scrum a real issue…..

    In hindsight (and from the comfort of my armchair) mistake to play McLean and have Ashman on the bench. Steyn and Cherry should’ve been selected Harris did fine and superb pass for the 1st Hogg try but you get little in an attacking sense from him overall.
    You many momentum killing mistakes. Still 2/3 going into Japan games would’ve been taken 3 weeks ago

  20. McLean is not a right winger hence his exposure with both tries.
    When will Z. Fagerson learn to present the ball properly in the tackle?
    Total lack on composure in the final quarter – if we throw those wild passes next week we’ll be in trouble.

  21. McLean is not a right winger hence his exposure with both tries.
    When will Z. Fagerson learn to present the ball properly in the tackle?
    Total lack on composure in the final quarter – if we throw those wild passes next week we’ll be in trouble.

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