Match Report: South Africa 18-3 Scotland
South Africa opened the defence of their World Cup title with a second-half physical bombardment that Scotland simply could not withstand in their Pool B opener in Marseille tonight.
Trailing 3-6 at the break, Scotland’s scrum and lineout creaked under the weight of the Springbok onslaught and although Gregor Townsend’s team continued to seek ways to unlock the South African defence, they were invariably doing so very much on the back foot.
In his post-match TV interview, Townsend acknowledged Scotland had lacked accuracy and that South Africa’s third quarter performance had been pivotal.
Scotland now have a fortnight to regroup before they face Tonga in Nice, while South Africa’s next opponents are Romania in Bordeaux next weekend.
In the tenth iteration of Rugby World Cup, it was the third occasion that Scotland had faced South Africa, having been in the same pools in the 1999 and 2015 tournaments.
There was one survivor in the Scotland starting XV from their last victory against the Springboks – at Murrayfield back in 2010 – lock forward Richie Gray.
Six of the starting Scotland XV were experiencing a World Cup for the first time, while South Africa had the core of the squad that had won the William Webb Ellis trophy in Japan four years ago.
The shadow boxing was almost over as Siya Kolisi made his way into the tunnel… singing melodiously, before Faf de Klerk was given the honour of leading out the teams to mark his 50th cap.
South Africa kicked off at the Stade Marseille through Manie Libbok and a knock-on from Blair Kinghorn gave the Springboks earlier territorial advantage, doused by Ben White’s clearance.
A head contact by Jesse Kriel on Jack Dempsey went unpunished and it seemed undetected by the TMO in the early stages, as Kolisi threatened on the South Arican right and Rory Darge had to look sharp to nail Cheslin Kolbe, before Scotland looked solid at the first scrum and Stephen Kitshoff, was penalised for offside.
Scotland mis-fired at the lineout from Finn Russell’s penalty to touch and Kinghorn spilled the aerial ball.
From the scrum, Zander Fagerson was penalised, but Libbok pushed the kick at goal wide.
Two minutes later, he had another chance, as Russell was deemed guilty of a deliberate knock-on, and this time he did not err (3-0, 12 mins).
Kinghorn rescued Scotland with a fine clearance kick after George Turner had failed to find Jamie Ritchie at a lineout, set up by Russell’s penalty.
After the water break, Damian de Allende was bundled into touch by Ben White, Darcy Graham and Turner to trigger some handbags, to which referee Angus Gardner chastised both captains but took no further action.
Scotland fell further behind when Sione Tuipulotu held-on on the deck and Libbok landed his second penalty (6-0, 23 mins).
We held our breath as Russell took a dunt to the ribs. Happily, he was able to continue as Scotland resumed stout defence.
Nearing the half hour and we had our first glimpse of Graham in attack when he was released by Russell but with Kinghorn and Duhan van der Merwe outside him, you felt the ball had to go. Sadly it didn’t, an opportunity going abegging.
Thereafter, Scotland’s scrum was waxing strong and two successive penalties – one in their own 22 and the second just beyond the half-way line in Springbok territory – had the Scotland coaching box purring.
When Russell thumped over that penalty – awarded against Frans Malherbe, the noise in the stadium was off the scale (6-3, 40 mins).
Half-time: South Africa 6 Scotland 3
First scrum after the restart saw Scotland penalised, but Libbok endured his second miss from long-range.
South Africa, however, were not denied for long. From a knock-on from Kinghorn as Scotland scrambled on their left, South Africa attacked from the scrum. They recycled from under the Scotland posts and in spite of Tuipulotu’s tackle, Pieter Steph Du Toit crashed over for the opening try. Libbok missed the conversion (11-3, 47 mins).
South Africa struck again three minutes later. Off a turnover and a penalty advantage for offside, Libbok fired a delicious cross-field kick, which was gathered by Kurt-Lee Arendse for a fine try. Faf de Klerk converted (18-3, 50 mins).
Scotland, in spite of going to their bench, and introducing a new front-row, were now on the receiving end of the penalty count at scrummage, but de Klerk was off target with another penalty just shy of the hour.
The penalty count at scrum continued to mount against Scotland as the clock ticked into the final ten minutes, while the South African defence continued to look unbreachable.
Russell had to make two try saving tackles, the first on Kolbe, the second on sub scrum-half Grant Williams, while an Ali Price grubber-kick trickled agonisingly into touch as Kinghorn galloped in pursuit.
Full-time: South Africa 18 Scotland 3
South Africa: Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse; Jesse Kriel; Damian de Allende; Cheslin Kolbe; Manie Libbok; Faf de Klerk; Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe; Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi CAPTAIN, Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Jasper Wiese.
Subs: Mbongeni Mbonambi for Marx (45-52 mins and 56 mins), Ox Nche for Malherbe (52 mins), Trevor Nyakane for Kitshoff (52 mins), RG Snyman for Etzebeth (25 mins), Marco van Staden for Kolisi (63 mins), Duane Vermeulen for Wiese (59 mins), Grant Williams for De Klerk (74 mins), Willie Le Roux for Libbok (68 mins),
Scotland: Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham (both Edinburgh Rugby), Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu (both Glasgow Warriors), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby); Finn Russell (Bath Rugby), Ben White (Toulon); Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh Rugby), George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray (all Glasgow Warriors), Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie CAPTAIN (both Edinburgh Rugby), Rory Darge and Jack Dempsey (both Glasgow Warriors).
Subs: Dave Cherry (Edinburgh Rugby) for Turner (55 mins), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors) for Schoeman (55 mins), W P Nel (Edinburgh Rugby) for Zander Fagerson (55 mins) , Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors) for Gilchrist (55 mins), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) for Darge (64 mins), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) for White (66 mins) Cameron Redpath (Bath Rugby) for Tuipulotu (66 mins) Ollie Smith (Glasgow Warriors) for Graham (64 mins).
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia). Assistant referees: Nika Amushakeli (Georgia) and Jordan Way (Australia). TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales).
Player of the match: Manie Libbok (South Africa)