Scotland’s run of consecutive home defeats was stretched to four games with a 21-10 loss to South Africa at Murrayfield last Saturday.
Scotland found themselves 14-3 down at half-time after a slow start, and despite a far superior second half performance, were unable to reduce the deficit, although they did cross the line to threaten a comeback with half an hour to go.
After a sound beating at the hands of the All Blacks the previous week, Scotland welcomed back Euan Murray to the front row, while a reshuffled back row saw John Barclay and David Denton replace Ross Rennie and the injured Alasdair Strokosch.
South Africa made by far the brighter start, as Scotland struggled to cope with the physicality of the Springbok side. They ran good lines, and were prepared to run through tacklers when there wasn’t space, and encamped in Scotland’s 22, which resulted in a Patrick Lambie penalty.
Greg Laidlaw and Lambie then traded penalties, before Scotland gave away a needless penalty, which South Africa chose to put in the corner. The defence couldn’t resist the rolling maul of the South African pack, and the hooker Adriaan Strauss fell on the line to give South Africa an 11-3 lead after Lambie missed the conversion.
Scotland forced another penalty in the South African half, but this time Laidlaw hooked his effort wide, and the gap remained at 8 points. A further Lambie penalty, for which Scotland were lucky not receive a yellow card after referee George Clancy had warned both captains about the escalating penalty count, put South Africa 11 points clear at the break.
Things went from bad to worse for the home side after half-time, when Mike Blair threw a loose, looping pass, which was intercepted by Strauss, who streaked the 40 metres to touch down for his second try of the game, which Lambie duly converted.
As so often is the case with Scotland sides of late, they played their best rugby at their furthest behind. In the second half, Scotland were so dominant that they ended the game with more possession and territory. They spent much of the second half camped in the same 22 in which South Africa had pinned them earlier in the game. Their efforts were rewarded almost immediately after Strauss’ second try. Replacement Harry Pyrgos, making only his second international appearance, received the ball from a clean line-out move, and burst through the gap to convert from 8 metres out, and make it round under the posts to allow Laidlaw an easy conversion.
Scotland maintained the pressure throughout the second half, but once again, lacked the cutting edge required. Pyrgos added vigour and urgency to the attacking line with effectiveness that belied his young age, but to no avail. Time and again Scotland suffered “white line fever” knocking on or turning the ball over at the crucial moment. The final straw Pyrgos got isolated 2m short and was turned Boks number eight Vermeulen, and then conceded a penalty, which South Africa kicked out of play to end the game.
Andy Robinson can take many positives from Scotland’s performance, but their defeat sees them fall outside the top 8 in the world, which makes them a second seed for next month’s World Cup draw. They will certainly be desperate to thrash Tonga in Pittodrie, and bring to fruition some of the seeds which have been sown against the other two southern hemisphere nations.