The Springboks showed greater accuracy and composure to beat a fiery Scotland side 26-20 at Murrayfield on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result is an important one in the context of the Boks’ tour and season. Rassie Erasmus’ side came to Edinburgh needing a win to guarantee a 50% win record in 2018. They arrived at Murrayfield knowing that a resurgent Scotland had won nine of their last 10 home games.
While it was not the most polished showing, the Boks were the better side across the 80 minutes. This was evident in the closing stages, where they repelled Scotland time and again.
It was clear from the outset that they had come to Murrayfield to make a statement. The Boks were under pressure to produce a more accurate performance at the breakdowns and on attack in general. Damian de Allende and Siya Kolisi combined to win a breakdown penalty deep in their own territory early on.
The Boks got off the line quickly to smash the Scotland ball-carriers back and deny the hosts the opportunity to build momentum. They didn’t always get this right – with individuals in the wider channels found wanting on several occasions – but it was clear that they had come into the game with the intent to slow and stifle the free-running Scots.
Surprisingly, it was the Boks rather than the Scots that scored the try of the game. Handré Pollard snaked his way through the defence and then found Embrose Papier, who had run an excellent supporting line. The No 9 shifted through the gears to take play up to the Scotland 22, and made a sharp decision to move the ball right.
RG Snyman, Steven Kitshoff and S’bu Nkosi all combined to keep the ball alive in spectacular fashion. The Boks showed some patience and composure thereafter, with Jesse Kriel taking a direct line to breach the defence and ensure the side received due reward for its endeavour.
The Boks produced some sublime touches on attack and their defence was gladiatorial at times. They failed to maintain the pressure, though, and attacking mistakes and defensive lapses allowed Scotland to keep in touch on the scoreboard.
The hosts attacked from deep within their own half and found some space down the left flank after the Bok rush defence missed its mark. Huw Jones threw a couple of audacious passes in the movement while centre partner Peter Horne was on hand to finish.
The Boks responded by making another significant turnover – this time in the Scotland half. De Allende and Kolisi proved a potent breakdown combo once more, and after shifting it wide the Boks scored through Pollard.
From there, the Scots came up with a special play to breach the defence. Hamish Watson rushed forward as the Scotland lineout parted. The Boks looked on in disbelief as the try was awarded, and Greig Laidlaw added the extras.
Steven Kitshoff troubled his opposite number WP Nel at the scrums. The loosehead won yet another scrum penalty at the end of the half to give his side an important scoring chance.
Pollard made no mistake, slotting the kick to give the Boks a 20-17 lead at half-time.
The game didn’t need the drama that unfolded shortly after the break. Not for the first time this November, the officials made a bad mistake that threatened to mar a good contest.
Willie le Roux rushed forward to intercept a pass, and was adjudged to have committed a deliberate knock-on. Referee Romain Poite brandished a yellow card, and Laidlaw levelled the scores.
The Boks took the call in their stride. After fighting their way into a favourable position, they had another opportunity in front of the posts. Pollard made it count, and the yellow card expired with the Boks conceding no further points.
Scotland turned down a shot on goal on the hour in favour of a lineout. The Boks managed to stall the hosts’ maul, and win the turnover.
Scotland had their chances in the last quarter. Desperate Bok defence kept the hosts in check. Finn Russell lined up a long-range drop goal, but it shaved the upright.
The Boks made another big play when Duane Vermeulen won a breakdown penalty inside Scotland’s half. Pollard had pushed his previous attempt wide, and hooked his next kick badly.
Fortunately for the Boks, their defence continued to frustrate and stifle the Scotland attack. Thomas du Toit won a breakdown penalty in the 72nd minute, and this time Elton Jantjies stepped up to take the kick. A good strike took the ball over the posts and propelled South Africa into a six-point lead.
The game changed in the second stanza, with both sides looking to play more tactically. In the end, the Boks made fewer errors during this period and ultimately showed more composure to claim a much-needed win.
Scotland – Tries: Peter Horne, Hamish Watson. Conversions: Greig Laidlaw (2). Penalties: Laidlaw (2).
Springboks – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard. Conversions: Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (3), Elton Jantjies.
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: Andy Buchanan/AFP