Scotland v South Africa: everything you need to know about this weekend’s big match

There is a lot of confidence in and around the Scotland camp but they are up against a South African side which is on the rise under Rassie Erasmus

Scotland South Africa
Scotland lost 34-16 to South Africa the last time the two sides met, in the group stage of the 2015 World Cup in Newcastle. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson


Kick-off 5.20pm. Watch live on BT Sport and BBC. 

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (VC); Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Peter Horne, Sean Maitland; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw ©; Gordon Reid, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Jonny Gray, Sam Skinner, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson (VC). Substitutes: Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Josh Strauss, Jamie Ritchie, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Chris Harris.

South Africa: Willie le Roux; Sbu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi; Handré Pollard, Embrose Papier; Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi©, Pieter du Toit, Duane Vermeulen. Subs: Bongi Mbonambi, Thomas du Toit, Vincent Koch, Lood de Jager, Francois Louw, Ivan van Zyl, Elton Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe.

Referee: Romain Poite(France)

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IT was a pretty efficient dismissal of Fiji in the end for Scotland last weekend, after a minor wobble in the first half when they conceded two fairly soft tries to briefly fall behind. The home team responded excellently by squeezing the fight out of the visitors with a punishing spell of tight play for ten minutes before the break, before Finn Russell opened things up with a sumptuous flat pass which sent Tommy Seymour over for the first of his three scores on a highly gratifying afternoon for the winger.

Scotland helped themselves to 33 unanswered points after the break on their way to a 54-17 victory, but they know they will face a much sterner test this weekend against the team ranked one place ahead of them in the official World Rugby seedings (5th v 6th), who became the first individual country (i.e. not the Lions) to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009 (54 matches) back in September. South Africa were pretty unlucky not to back that win up in the return leg in Pretoria the following month, then lost narrowly to England in a pulsating contest at Twickenham a fortnight ago, and most recently came from 23-9 down to snatch a dramatic 26-29 injury-time win over France last Saturday.

Gregor Townsend has made six changes to the team which started against Fiji. Gordon Reid gets a chance to carry on his decent form for Scotland during the Six Nations with his first appearance of this Autumn series at loose-head ahead of South African native Allan Dell. Ben Toolis and Jonny Gray return to the second-row with Grant Gilchrist dropping out of the squad altogether and Sam Skinner (man of the match on his debut) shifting to the blindside flanker role where he finished last week’s game. Also in the back row, Ryan Wilson shifts across to fill the No 8 slot vacated by Matt Fagerson, who has not been able to shake off a dead-leg, and Hamish Watson comes in at openside for Jamie Ritchie, who drops to the bench.

There is only one change in the home back line, with Huw Jones – who made his name as a top rugby player playing for Western Province in South Africa – replacing his Glasgow Warriors team-mate Alex Dunbar at outside centre. Jones was the fall guy for two fairly soft tries conceded to Wales at the start of the series, and will be desperate to put things right here.

South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus has made one forced change and one optional alteration to his starting XV. RG Snyman comes into the second row and Pieter du Toit shifts to flanker in a back row which has been reshuffled to accommodate the loss through a calf injury of Warren Whitely, while exciting scrum-half prospect Emborse Papier is handed an opportunity to make his first start at Test level.

The failure of world-class second-row Eben Etzebeth to pass a fitness test on his injured foot during the week is a blow to the Springboks and a big bonus for Scotland.


South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus on coming up against players such as WP Nel, Allan Dell and Josh Strauss, who were born, raised and learned the game in South Africa but now represent other countries –

“We’ve got a lot of players playing abroad, I think it’s 500 or 450 or something, so I just think that’s the way the modern game goes. If a guy like that doesn’t get the opportunity in South Africa, it’s wonderful for him to play for another country. We’re pleased for them.

I was the guy who signed WP Nel for Western Province when he was a club player, so I know his talent. Huw Jones, I don’t know him well, but the players do and then Dell …

We play Ireland it’s CJ Stander and also Josh van der Flier, so we know most of them and they’re good chaps and they deserve a chance and they deserve to play international rugby. Good for them.”

Scotland assistant coach Danny Wilson on South Africa’s game plan –

“To be honest, when you look at them in detail, they’re actually playing a fair bit less front-line rugby, going out the back a bit more and trying to play with more width. I think they’ve developed their game under Rassie Erasmus, adding another dimension to their power-based game. So we’ve got to be aware of both challenges, the traditional that they can bring – and that ability to chance their arm a bit wider. Maybe in the past they haven’t done that very often. But they’re doing it now.”

Erasmus on the importance the scrum is likely to have in deciding the outcome of this game –

‘The scrum will be very important. We’ve certainly improved since June. Against Argentina away, we didn’t scrum well – a few times in the past 12 games, we didn’t scrum well – but we started to build momentum against England, built some pressure and  got good decisions.

“There wasn’t much in it against France. But we’re getting into it. With all the northern-hemisphere teams, that facet of the game is really well coached.  So, sometimes we get here and struggle a little bit. But I feel we’ve done well on this tour.

“Hopefully we click on Saturday because that will be very important for us, with that back line Scotland have, to provide a good platform.”

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend on where a victory over South Africa would rank among his coaching achievements –

“Given what they have done recently, it would probably be our biggest win in the last couple of years. Obviously England stands out as such a memorable win. The fact they had won so many games in succession and that trophy we play for makes it even more special. But I just feel that South Africa are in the top two or three teams in the world with the way they play against the best teams in the world.

“Going to New Zealand and beating them, almost beating them a second time, showing what they were capable of last week against France as they came from behind to get a great win – that all shows they are going to be a tough team to beat.

“Results and performances go together and we’d take any result which is a win. If it combines, then seeing the players play at their best makes it even more special.

“We believe we can win. We come together at the beginning of the week to map out a strategy to win, to put a team together that we believe can best put us in that position. This is our job as coaches and players, to get a win for our country.”


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Gordon Reid v Frans Malherbe

Townsend says that Reid’s performances during the Six Nations have given the home coaching team belief that he is ready for the challenge which awaits against South Africa today at set-piece time, but since then his club side London Irish have been relegated out of England’s top flight meaning that the 31-year-old Ayrshire-man might come into this contest slightly undercooked.

“What Gordy has faced at London Irish is big packs every week,” reasoned Townsend at Wednesday’s team announcement. “What you get in the Championship is a real test in the scrum. London Irish play with a tempo and are obviously winning most of their games so he won’t get tested as much around the field by the opposition, but he will be getting tested in the set piece.”

The proof will be in the pudding against a South African tight-head who was being touted as the next big thing in South African power play when he made his debut against Wales back in 2013. Frans Malherbe’s second game was against Scotland the following week, but he picked up an injury just before half-time which ended his tour. Thereafter he struggled to command game time ahead of veteran tight-head Jannie du Plessis before making the No 3 jersey his own during the 2015 World Cup. He had a couple of injury-ravaged years in 2016 and 2017, but returned to action with the Stormers towards the end of the 2018 Super Rugby season and has now started each of the last ten games on the bounce for the Springboks,

Hamish Watson v Pieter du Toit

Watson was rested last week and in his absence Jamie Ritchie appeared to have an international coming-of-age game against Fiji, but there was never really any doubt about who would be in the No 7 jersey for this clash. He joked earlier this week that he is used to being the smallest man in the tunnel, apart from the scrum-halves, when the teams line-up before the game, but there is a huge heart and powerful engine in that compact frame, and over the last two seasons he has made himself a near-automatic pick when Townsend wants to field his strongest team.

Du Toit is cut from a very differ mould. He started his rugby career as a lock and the 6ft 5ins, 26-year-old has played there as recently as the first two games of this tour, but with Warren Whitely dropping out this week through injury, he has shifted to his preferred position of openside flanker for this match.

Du Toit’s speed and high work-rate are perfect attributes for a back-rower‚ but he also brings the power and lineout prowess of a world-class lock. He played three Tests on the flank during the most recent Rugby Championship‚ led the tackle stats with 86 in the tournament, made 270 metres from 53 carries‚ had five tackle breaks and was key man in the lineout.

And he has carried that form into this tour, having made 31 tackles‚ won eight lineouts and carried 18 times for 85 metres in the two matches played so far. Watson will be determined to make sure those numbers are not quite so impressive come Saturday evening.

Huw Jones v Jesse Kriel

Jones went to South Africa as a gap-year kid, to work in a local school and play a bit of club rugby, but rose through the ranks to become a prolific try-scorer – with 16 tries in 27 appearances – in the Western Province side which were beaten finalists in the Currie Cup in 2015 and champions in 2017. He also played for the Stormers in Super Rugby before turning home to take up a two-year deal with Glasgow at the start of last season.

He scored two tries in Scotland’s victory over England during the last Six Nations, and has crossed the whitewash 10 times in 17 matches so far, but question marks over his defence came to a head in Cardiff a fortnight ago, when he fell off George North for Wales’s first try and then found himself caught in two minds and was handed off by Jonathan Davies for the game’s crucial score just after the break.

Jones was ‘rested’ last week, but comes back in for club-mate Alex Dunbar here and will be desperate to make amends against an in-form Kriel, who is a powerful and elusive runner, quick enough to have played on the wing for South Africa in their win over New Zealand back in September.

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Played 25 – Won 5 – Drawn 0 – Lost 21

Best result

16 November 2002: Scotland 21 South Africa 6

Biggest defeat

6 December 1997: Scotland 10 South Africa 68

Six most recent matches

20 November 2009: Scotland 21 South Africa 17

17 November 2012: Scotland 10 South Africa 21

15 June 2013:  South Africa 30 Scotland 17

17 November 2013: Scotland 0 South Africa 28

28 June 2014: South Africa 55 Scotland 6

8 October 2015: Scotland 16 South Africa 34 (at Rugby World Cup, venue Newcastle)



Scotland played South Africa in the third of their four pool matches at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Newcastle and were given an object lesson in the fundamentals of what South African rugby at its best is really all about.

Greig Laidlaw’s men fought a heroic rearguard action, tackled everything that moved and even scored a breakaway try through Tommy Seymour to briefly get within seven points of the Springboks as the game entered its final quarter, yet ultimately they fell short against a ruthlessly clinical opposition.

Scotland were criticised in some quarters for throwing the towel in before the contest had started by fielding what was perceived to be an understrength side, but the players on the park certainly didn’t give the impression that this was anything other than a full-blooded Test match, while South Africa had a hell of a lot to prove after their shock defeat to Japan in the opening match of the campaign. All of which contributed to a ferocious encounter.

No matter how gamely Scotland competed, from one to fifteen, the South Africans displayed a dynamism in the tackle and a drive on the ball which meant that they consistently edged the contest.

Schalk Burger scored South Africa’s first try from a rolling maul,  the flanker being at the heart of a rolling maul and series of drives that ended with him being driven over the Scotland line, thanks to a contentious – at least to Scottish eyes – decision from the TMO. Handre Pollard added the extras and then added two penalties, before Scotland opened their account through the trusty boot of Greig Laidlaw on the half-hour mark.

Despite losing prop Jannie du Plessis for a needless shoulder charge on Gordon Reid from the side of a maul, South Africa’s dominance continued unabated, and they extended their lead whilst down to 14 men when they rolled a maul 20 metres into Scotland’s 22, before JP Pietersen ran a crash-ball line to score just before the break.

After a shaky start at the set piece where their opening scrum was skewed so that they lost the ball and their first three throw-ins resulted in the Springboks emerging with the ball, Scotland settled into a routine and began to pressure the Springboks after the break, and Laidlaw kicked his second penalty.

Then Duncan Weir read Pollard’s pass and picked off the interception, making it to the Springbok 22 before eventually being pulled down by Pietersen. However, the Scottish stand-off managed to get the ball away to the supporting Tim Visser, who in turn fed Seymour for the try.

Scotland clearly sensed that their opportunity had arrived and redoubled their efforts, but South Africa threw a blanket over their comeback. Pollard slotted another three penalties as the Boks went back to pressure rugby, and although Laidlaw responded when Burger crashed into the side of a maul, Bryan Habana applied the coup de grace with seven minutes left when he crashed through Sean Lamont’s attempted tackle for a try which finally settled this contest.

South Africa: W le Roux; J Pietersen, J Kriel, D de Allende, B Habana; H Pollard, F du Preez; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, E Etzebeth, L de Jager, R Louw, S Burger, D Vermeulen. Subs: A Strauss, T Nyakane, F Malherbe, P du Toit, W Alberts, R Pienaar, P Lambie, J  Serfontein

Sin bin: J. du Plessis (34).

Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, R Vernon, M Scott, T Visser; D Weir, G Laidlaw; G Reid, F Brown, W Nel, R Gray, J Gray, J Strauss, B Cowan, D Denton. Subs: R Ford, A Dickinson, J Welsh, T Swinson, R Wilson, S Hidalgo-Clyne, P Horne, S Lamont.

Scotland’s professional rugby players finally get their own union

About David Barnes 3666 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.