The Springbok forwards will hold the key to victory when the side fronts a dangerous Scotland outfit at Murrayfield on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
There was a time when a fixture in Edinburgh was marked by many South Africans as an opportunity to experiment. Whenever the Boks headed to the north at the end of the season, there was a call for the Bok coach to back his second-stringers against Scotland and save his first-choice stars for the likes of England, France, Ireland and Wales.
Heyneke Meyer came in for fierce criticism when he picked his strongest available team in 2013. The Boks scored four tries in torrential conditions at Murrayfield to emerge with a 28-0 victory. And yet, many felt that a win against the battling Scots was always on the cards, and that Meyer may have been better served by giving the fringe players a run.
Fast forward to the present. Much has transpired since the 2015 World Cup, with South Africa dropping down the world rankings and Scotland rising steadily. There is no clear favourite ahead of the Test on Saturday, and any victory will be hard-earned.
The Bok struggles over the past three years are well documented. They suffered record losses over the past two seasons. While they have shown some improvement in 2018, they are still in a rebuilding phase – a fact confirmed by their 50% record.
Scotland beat the Wallabies home and away in 2017. They carried that good form through to the 2018 Six Nations, where they beat England and France. They’ve won nine of their last 10 Tests at Murrayfield – they lost 22-17 against the All Blacks last year.
With all this in mind, it shouldn’t really surprise us to see Rassie Erasmus favouring a strong combination ahead of the next clash in Edinburgh. While a number of those stars – Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit in particular – have endured a concerning amount of game time in 2018, the Boks need this victory to ensure that they finish the tour and season with a win record of at least 50%.
Much will be made about the selection of Embrose Papier, who has been used sparingly by Erasmus since joining the Bok set-up in June. One needs to consider that the 21-year-old only made his debut for the Bulls earlier this year, and has a long way to go in terms of his development. Then again, the other scrumhalves in the mix – Faf de Klerk wasn’t considered due to club commitments with English club Sale – haven’t exactly done enough to push Papier to the back of the queue.
The good news for the Boks is that no rain is predicted for Saturday. The bad news is that Scotland have selected a pack with the ability to trouble the Boks at the breakdown, and in turn keep the likes of Papier and halfback partner Handré Pollard on the back foot.
The Boks will need to get stuck in at the collisions and rucks on Saturday. In 2013, the South Africans bemoaned the Scots’ breakdown tactics in the wake of a narrow win in Nelspruit. The truth of the matter was that the Boks weren’t physical and accurate enough over the 80 minutes, and the less-fancied side took advantage.
The Scotland side that takes to the field this Saturday will pose a greater threat than the one that featured across both fixtures in 2013. The Boks have highlighted the importance of the scrums and lineouts, and it’s in these areas where they may have the edge over the Scots. It’s at the tackle, however, where the Boks will need to be vigilant.
Erasmus has opted to start Kolisi, Du Toit and Duane Vermeulen in the back row this week. Francois Louw has been included on the bench. It’s a strong mix of players, and a group ideally suited to this sort of challenge.
Malcolm Marx will also be under pressure to deliver at the rucks. If the Boks can win the forward battles, the onus will fall to the backs to translate dominance into territory and points.
Perhaps the weather will assist in this respect. Papier and Pollard will not have to deal with the rain when kicking for territory or moving the ball to the wider channels.
Overall, Erasmus will be hoping for a sharper showing by his charges. The Boks are yet to produce an 80-minute performance in 2018. In the most recent matches against England and France, they have blown scoring chances and thus the opportunity to win both Tests by a comfortable margin.
The Boks could make a statement via a more polished showing in Edinburgh. Erasmus could tick a box by giving Papier – and perhaps others like Thomas du Toit in the second half – an extended run with a view to the World Cup.
But make no mistake, this is – as the form guide suggests – a game Scotland will feel they can win. The Boks may finish on the wrong side of the result if they take the Scots lightly at any stage of the contest on Saturday.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Sam Skinner 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Gordon Reid.
Subs: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Josh Strauss, 20 Jamie Ritchie, 21 Ali Price, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Chris Harris.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe.
Photo: Andrew Patron/Getty Images