Scotland V South Africa
Scotland withstood a brutal South African onslaught for much of tonight’s contest, drawing level on three occasions, but in a second-half where opportunities were precious, it was the visitors who emerged victorious before a capacity BT Murrayfield crowd.
The loss of their talisman Stuart Hogg just inside the final quarter did not help matters, and despite a heroic effort from the home pack, it was South Africa’s forwards who stood tall and big - especially when the arm wrestle was at its most intense towards the closing stages.
Despite the score line boasting two tries apiece, it was ultimately the points harvested by South Africa’s stand-off Handre Pollard - alongside a late penalty from Elton Janties - which won the contest for Rassie Erasmus’ side.
Evening kick-offs at BT Murrayfield of course mean spectacular lights and pyrotechnics before the entry of the gladiators for the 27th meeting between Scotland and South Africa.
Scotland kicked off towards the railway line and from South African receipt, the hosts had a lineout just outside the South African 22. Tommy Seymour found space and Stuart McInally had a dunt, but WP Nel was pinged in contact and South Africa cleared.
It was a solid first scrum for Scotland, but the initial score came from South Africa. A searing break from Pollard, with support running and choice offloading from Papier, Snyman, Kitshoff and Nkosi helped Jesse Kriel thunder over from the breakdown. Pollard converted (0-7, 6 mins).
Much had been made in the build-up to today’s match about the power and physical nature of the South African pack, but we had another glimpse of the firepower at their disposal behind the scrum as Scotland were forced to scramble frantically in defence. A penalty against the Springboks’ tight-head for side entry brought Scotland welcome breathing space.
An early Finn Russell cross-field kick had mis-fired but the Racing 92 star soon got his backs moving for Peter Horne then Huw Jones – with the sweetest of passes – to set free Sean Maitland. The winger powered through one tackle and then Jones hit his return pass at pace, before another glorious off-load sent Horne in for his fifth try for Scotland. There was a slight delay while the TMO got involved to check the first Jones pass but once verified it was over to Greig Laidlaw to convert (7-7, 17 mins).
Scotland sought to build audaciously from their own 22, but Hogg’s wide pass - delayed momentarily - led to a turnover on Jones, which was exploited mercilessly by South Africa for Pollard to muscle over for their second try on the opposite flank, which he converted (7-14, 21 mins).
A scrum penalty saw Pollard extend the visitors’ lead (7-17, 23 mins) but South Africa’s failure to retire when the ball went aerial enabled Laidlaw to pull back three points with his first penalty (10-17, 26 mins).
South Africa’s all-embracing defensive engagement rocked Scotland who conceded some 15 metres from a winning lineout before conceding a penalty of their own.
That was a cue for Stuart Hogg to spark a blistering counter-attack, sprinting in open space up the left touchline then kicking ahead, still pursuing furiously, forcing Willie le Roux to hoof the ball into touch five metres out.
From the lineout – training ground ingenuity to emulate that Alex Dunbar lineout try against Ireland from 2017 – as Scotland saw Hamish Watson explode on to the ball in the middle to notch his third try for his country. Laidlaw levelled with the conversion (17-17, 33 mins).
A breathless first-half and the visitors headed in with a slender advantage when Pollard notched his second penalty, WP Nel adjudged to have infringed. (17-20, 38 mins).
Half-time: Scotland 17 - 20 South Africa
Five minutes from the resumption of play, and from Peter Horne’s wide pass off turnover possession to Scotland, Willie le Roux knocked on. Referee Poite studied the replays and ruled it was deliberate. The full-back was yellow-carded, with Seymour lurking as the intended target, and Laidlaw levelled with a huge kick from the 10 metre line on the right (20-20, 46 mins).
From the restart, Jonny Gray could not gather and Sbu Nkosi scampered into space. South Africa went through pulverising phase after pulverising phase until Stuart McInally was penalised. Pollard raised his tally to 18 points with a successful goal (20-23, 48 mins).
South Africa were controlling the play, with Scotland unable to get possession or do anything about the tempo - a frustration given Le Roux’s presence in the sin-bin. However, a penalty against Peter Horne for not rolling away, saw Pollard’s kick sclaff the upright and then Huw Jones set off on an exhilarating break which took him into South African territory.
Scotland then marched South Africa back 25 metres in a driving maul and, though Le Roux was back, it was Scotland that now had the momentum. A maul penalty saw Hogg go for the touchline but though Scotland shaped promisingly on the drive, South Africa thwarted it and kept Scotland from getting the ball to deck and the chance seemed to be lost.
Hogg, again, was almost the orchestrator from Maitland’s pop pass, going back up the touchline and haring at some lick in the shadow of the West Stand, when ball came back Russell was just off target with a drop-goal attempt. Hogg then departed with what looked like an ankle injury.
Pollard miscued with a 66th minute penalty – his second miss. Could Scotland somehow engineer another turnaround?
Maitland found space but a penalty against Adam Hastings for failing to release at breakdown saw Janties edge South Africa a further three points ahead (20-26, 72 mins).
Into the closing five minutes and South Africa were pressing hard deep inside Scotland’s 22. A clear-out beyond the ball by Du Toit was picked up by the TMO. Only a penalty was awarded, and Scotland through Russell took play 15 metres into Springbok territory.
Another penalty for taking the lineout jumper in the air, saw Scotland into the visitors’ 22 but there was no change in the attempted driving maul and South Africa won the scrum turnover.
And then a spot of muscular zig-zag from the visitors to see out the game.
Full-time: Scotland 20-26 South Africa
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Peter Horne (all Glasgow Warriors), Sean Maitland (Saracens); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne) CAPTAIN; Gordon Reid (London Irish), Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis (all Edinburgh Rugby), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors). Subs: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) for McInally (55 mins), Allan Dell (Edinburgh Rugby) for Reid (44 mins), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby) for Nel (55 mins), Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks) for Wilson (55 mins), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh Rugby) for Skinner (73 mins), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) for Laidlaw (63 mins), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors) for Horne (69 mins), Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons) for Hogg (63 mins)
South Africa: Willie Le Roux; Sbu Knosi, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi; Handre Pollard, Embrose Papier; Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Mark, Frans Malherbe, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi CAPTAIN, Pieter Steph Du-Toit, Duane Vermeulen. Subs: Bongi Mbonambi for Mark (64 mins), Thomas Du Toit for Kitshoff (57 mins), Vincent Koch for Malherbe (57 mins), Lood de Jager for Snyman (59 mins), Francois Louw for Kolisi (64 mins), Ivan Van Zyl for Papier (77 mins) Elton Janties for De Allende (55 mins), Cheslin Kolbe for Knosi (66 mins).
Referee: Romain Poite (France). Assistant referees: Ben O’Keefe (New Zealand), Frank Murphy (Ireland). TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Tennent’s Man of the Match: Handre Pollard (South Africa)
live commentary 5:20 PM Saturday 17 Nov 2018
Greig Laidlaw9. Scrum half
Blair Kinghorn10. Flyhalf
Adam Hastings11. Left Wing
Alex Dunbar12. Inside Centre
Tommy Seymour13. Outside Centre
Dougie Fife14. Right Wing
Finn Russell15. Full Back
Darryl Marfo1. Loosehead
Blade Thomson2. Hooker
Gordon Reid3. Tighthead
Damien Hoyland4. Lock
George Horne5. Lock
Jamie Bhatti6. Blindside Flanker
Willem Nel7. Openside Flanker
Ali Price8. Number 8