South Africa v Scotland: Five takeaways from Rugby World Cup clash as Springboks show title credentials

Jared Wright
South Africa's Kurt-Lee Arendse, left, is congratulated by South Africa's Kurt-Lee Arendse after he scores a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between South Africa and Scotland at the Stade de Marseille in Marseille, France

Springboks Kurt-Lee Arendse and RG Snyman celebrate the former's try against Scotland during the Rugby World Cup Pool B clash.

Following South Africa’s 18-3 victory over Scotland in the second match of Pool B at the Rugby World Cup, here are our takeaways from the clash in Marseille.

Scotland hold on in a frantic start

It was a frantic start at Stade de Marseille as Scotland were rattled and the defending champions looked to capitalise.

Scotland struggled to deal with the Springboks’ kicks as the Bok chasers applied pressure and forced errors.

The South Africans were relentless in their approach as Finn Russell was charged down, and the likes of Blair Kinghorn failed to deal with the high bombs.

That pressure translated to the Scottish lineout as George Turner could not find his jumpers.

Sandwiched in between all this was a nasty head clash between Jesse Kriel and Scotland number eight Jack Dempsey.

The Springboks were fortunate that the TMO and officiating team missed the incident entirely, as the Springbok centre could well have spent the rest of the match on the sidelines.

Kriel was upright in his tackle attempt and clearly made head-on-head contact with Dempsey. Pundits and fans were left puzzled by the decision, and so were we; it should have been picked up and was quite possibly worse than Tom Curry’s challenge at the same venue less than 24 hours ago. This one might well end in a disciplinary.

Nonetheless, despite the pressure that South Africa applied in the Scottish half of the pitch, they failed to make the most of it.

Manie Libbok missed his first shot at goal and nailed his next two to lead 6-0 after 24 minutes, but the Boks will know that they need to be far more ruthless throughout the tournament.

Set-piece battle

Much was made of Scotland’s need to front up in the set-pieces in the build-up to the game, and rightly so. If you allow this Springboks team to get the upper hand in the scrums and lineouts, the game quickly slips from your control – just ask the All Blacks.

To their credit, the Scottish pack fronted up at times, particularly during stints in the first half when Zander Fagerson and Pierre Schoeman got the better of Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe.

So much so that they produced a statement scrum just before the break, giving Russell the chance to open their World Cup account.

However, these moments were few and far between for the Scots to really get a stronghold in the match, with the Springboks turning the screw in the second half and comfortably gaining the upper hand – and once they did, they never let up.

The other set-piece, the lineout, was the area of the game that really let Scotland down.

During the Six Nations, the set-piece was a rich source of tries for Scotland, with 76 per cent of scores coming from a scrum or lineout.

While they didn’t have the best of opportunities, when they did their lineout failed to claim clean attacking ball and that meant the Boks could stifle attacks with relative ease.

Springboks defence

The 2019 victors built their title run on incredible defence as the Jacques Nienaber system suffocated opposition teams.

The 2023 Springbok team is from the same vintage, even if they did not look it in the awful turquoise jersey, as even the brilliant Duhan van der Merwe was chopped down and failed to fire a shot.

Darcy Graham had possibly the best opportunity of the game for Scotland, but he simply had to get it to his man outside and didn’t as he couldn’t free up his arms in the tackle, killing the opportunity.

Nienaber’s defence remained resolute throughout and kept some of the best-attacking talents quiet throughout.

As mentioned already, Van der Merwe had little impact on the game, with his stats ahead of the tournament showing just how lethal he can be. In 2023, no player had beaten more defenders than the Scotland winger, who had racked up 61 tackles evaded – 25 more than any other player – but today, he managed three.

Defence wins you titles, and today, the Springboks showed their title-winning credentials – especially when they flex their depth with the replacements coming on to see the side to victory.

Manie Libbok’s kicking

Libbok was named man of the match as he was able to outshine the brilliant Russell in the encounter, but there will be fresh concerns over his place-kicking again.

He quietened his critics in their final game before the tournament with a flawless display off the tee, but in Marseille, he struggled again.

He missed three shots at goal, equating to eight points. In this game, it mattered little as the Springboks powered to victory, but that may not be the case later in the tournament.

However, while he was off the mark from the tee, his brilliance around the park was paramount to the Springboks’ win.

He sold the Scottish defence with a gorgeous no-look cross kick to Kurt-Lee Arendse while his kicking touch was pinpoint once again.

His high bombs kept the Scots on the backfoot and dictated play well with the likes of Cheslin Kolbe and Arendse given space to terrorise the Scottish defence.

Pool B heats up

Both sides will rue that they could not claim bonus points in the clash.

Scotland were wasteful for large periods of the match, but so were the victors.

The Boks will feel that they left at least two tries out there, which would have served them well in what is bound to be a hotly contested pool.

Meanwhile, the Scots were better than their three-point tally suggests.

Table points is the first decider for the pool stages, and after, Ireland shot into the lead with a resounding 82-8 victory over Romania; both sides would have liked to have got as many points as possible.

South Africa will have the chance to play some catch-up against Romania in their next game, while Scotland will do the same after their bye week. However, both sides would have liked to get that extra point, at least.

Townsend’s charges will also be confident that they can play much better and perhaps cause an upset by beating Ireland later in the tournament.

Ireland and South Africa have taken the lead but make no mistake, this pool is far from decided.

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