Pollard steers Boks to big win

Handré Pollard kicked 19 points to guide the Springboks to a 34-16 win against Scotland in the crunch Pool B clash on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI at St James’ Park.

The Boks have strengthened their claim for a place in the World Cup play-offs. The result has propelled them to the top of the pool after three games.

The 18-point winning margin is significant. South Africa denied Scotland a bonus point for losing by seven or less. If the Boks win well against the USA next Wednesday, they will finish the group stages at the top of Pool B.

Central Newcastle was abuzz the hours before kick-off. Thousands in green and gold jerseys crammed into the bars lining Grey and Mosley Streets. Many more kilted fans made the slow walk up the cobblestone roads to St James’ Park.

After the first line of ‘Flower of Scotland’, it was clear who enjoyed majority support. The Scotland fans gave it their all over the course of that anthem. Would the players channel that energy and record one of the biggest upsets of the tournament?

Scotland played well in patches, but never really threatened the Boks. Many first-choice players were missing from this clash, and it was suggested that coach Vern Cotter was saving his best combination for the final pool match against Samoa. The gap in quality between South Africa’s best and Scotland’s second-stringers was patent on this occasion.

The Boks were brutally effective in the first 20 minutes. Lood de Jager produced yet another Gladiator-type showing at the collisions. De Jager also managed the lineout well in the absence of Victor Matfield.

Pollard ensured that South Africa translated that forward dominance into points. The pressure started to build on the Scots, at the point of contact and on the scoreboard. The Boks extended their lead to 13-3 after 30 minutes.

Jannie du Plessis was yellow-carded for foul play in the 34th minute, but the Boks managed to escape the period of sanction without conceding a point. In fact, they scored a seven-pointer at the other end. The Boks set the maul, and JP Pietersen finished from close range.

The Boks should have finished the Scots off in the second stanza, and claimed a four-try bonus point. As it was they made too many mistakes and allowed the Bravehearts back into the game.

Pollard made his only mistake of the evening when he threw a flat pass straight into the hands of his opposite number Duncan Weir. Scotland managed to recycle the ball and score through Tommy Seymour in the right-hand corner.

But just when the Scots started to build some momentum, their captain was yellow-carded. Greig Laidlaw was sin-binned in the 53rd minute for taking out Bryan Habana without the ball.

The Boks didn’t capitalise on their one-man advantage, at least not on the scoreboard. Ten minutes later, Pollard struck a drop goal to restore the Boks’ 10-point lead. That was a big moment in the contest.

Pollard goaled another penalty to take his personal tally for the match to 19 points. The crowd was baying for him to miss that particular shot, but Pollard held his nerve to convert.

He eventually finished with a record of seven goals from eight attempts. The flyhalf certainly made a statement regarding his accuracy and big match temperament in this fixture.

A late try by Habana put the result beyond doubt. It was not pretty at times, but the Boks got the job done. They are one step closer to realising their ambition of qualifying for the play-offs.

Springboks – Tries: Schalk Burger, JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (4). Drop goal: Pollard.
Scotland – Try: Tommy Seymour. Conversion: Greig Laidlaw. Penalties: Laidlaw (2), Duncan Weir.

Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Dave Denton, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 WP Nel, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Lamont.

Photo: Matt Lewis/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli