After both sides got off to winning starts this Autumn Nations tour, a lot of anticipation was put into this weekends clash between Scotland and South Africa. Two sides bang in form (from a results point of view), Scotland were looking to continue their winning streak whilst South Africa look to maintain that top spot on the World Rugby rankings. Although both sides didn’t have vintage days at the office last weekend, they did both grind out impressive wins against spirited opposition. How did they get on this time around?
Impressive Set Piece
Look, we know South Africa’s scrummaging is next to no-one in it’s level of dominance; it’s the most powerful in scrum in world rugby history. But Scotland are also famed for hitting well above their weight once both sides pack down. However, South Africa absolutely mullered this Scottish front row, and even when reinforcements were brought on, the bomb squad quickly took them apart. It loomed over the whole performance and every time you saw a knock on given against the men in blue, you knew that this South African team would send them marching back.
It wasn’t just the scrum that crippled Scottish ball, the lineout absolutely fell to pieces once McInally went off. Three misplaced lineouts in a row led to this Scottish side losing grip of any momentum they had in the game, eventually costing them the entire encounter. As bad as the Scots were at the lineout, South Africa were ever-formidable, stealing ball at will and causing real disruption to any driving mauls.
Seeing the best (and worst) of Russell
Russell continues to be an absolute marmite player (if the Facebook Rugby community is to be believed) putting in a cliché game of two halves this time around. At his best, he split this South African back line apart with deft kick passes, gutsy distribution and some excellent, if surprising, carries.
However, in the second half he completely capitulated. Every miracle ball he was throwing from the first half, was hitting the deck in the second, and he made a couple of howling mistakes. Scotland desperately needed some consistency in the final quarter, but they were trying way too hard to attack from anywhere, rather than playing in the right areas of the field. I don’t think he was necessarily helped by the wider attacking shape, especially when Scott departed the pitch.
Another Heroic Effort
We talk a lot about the scintillating speed of Mapimpi, the devastating power of Etzebeth and the sheer match intelligence of Am, but we often forget the mammoth output of captain Kolisi. He cracked through the full 80 minutes and made a bunch of cracking contributions around the pitch. He didn’t have the turnovers ticking over like Smith, but he hits like a train around the fringes and always makes the right choice when he carries. He takes contact well, never throws flimsy offloads, makes ground with every carry and the South African strategy was the difference between both sides. I think he was thoroughly deserving of this quick shout out!
How can Scotland react?
Scotland play Japan next in an interesting encounter that promises to be expansive, electric and enthralling. One of the best, if not the best, game of the World Cup saw Japan run out victors against a solid Scottish outfit – times have changed a lot since then. Scotland do match nicely with their frenetic play style, and to be honest, it’s difficult to see where either side will dominate. If Scotland are going to resume winning ways, they will need to eliminate the quick ball generated by that Japanese back row by using Ritchie and Watson as destroyers. They will also want to keep it tight and channel driven, as Japan’s spread defence is excellent; their close quarters defence, far less so. I think Scotland should be able to put at least 20 points between both sides, especially as they will be hurting after this result, but never count out the Brave Blossoms!
Photo credit: BBC Sports 2021