November 2018 Test Matches

Scotland vs South Africa

Saturday, November 17

Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 17h20 GMT, 19h20 SA Time
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

This end-of-year tour has been interesting in many strange ways. One point of interest is exactly that, one point. South Africa lost a game by a point, and then New Zealand won a game by a point, both those one point games involved England. On consecutive weekends. That is a coincidence in anyone’s world. Modern rugby, with 7 points for a converted try and 3 points for a penalty or drop kick does not often see scores that are close as that, yet this 2018 Silly Season as produced more than its fair share of such close results. Wales beat the Wallabies by just 3 points, 9 – 6. South Africa beat France by just 3 points, 29 – 26.

The closeness of the games suggests one of two things – either the Northern Hemisphereans are catching up with their Southern counterparts, or the long and arduous southern season has taken its toll and the teams from the bottom half of the word are tired and ripe for the plucking by their northern neighbours. Perhaps it is a combination of both factors?

Whichever influences are brought to bear on this end-of-year tour, we can say that no team goes into a game as an overwhelming favourite anymore. New Zealand will be very wary of Ireland’s challenge this weekend, France and Argentina will offer up a scrap, and the Springbok visit to the land of bagpipes, heather, whiskey and kilts offers yet another intriguing contest. Perhaps just the Wallabies will start this weekend’s game against Italy as outright favourites to win, and I would suggest that they should still be a little nervous…..

I was interested to learn that the match between Scotland and South Africa this Saturday will be the 27th between the two countries. They first met in 1906 in a Test that was the first of Paul Roos’s South African team’s tour of that year. That made it the very first Test that South Africa had played against a single nation, and the first Test they had ever played outside of South Africa.

Lest we forget, it was the same Paul Roos that gave the “Springboks” their name during this very tour. There is some confusion as to the springbok symbol actually being worn before the name was invented, but this may be down to the fact the tour manager, J.C. Carden, spoke of having no “uniforms or blazers” with the springbok icon, though he did not appear to mean the jerseys. It was reported in the Daily Mail on 20 September 1906, seven days before the first match, that “the team’s colours will be myrtle green with gold collar… and will have embroidered in mouse-coloured silk on the left breast a Springbok”.

Carden later stated: .”..No uniforms or blazers had been provided… That night I spoke to Roos and Carolin and pointed out that the witty London Press would invent some funny name for us if we did not invent one ourselves. We thereupon agreed to call ourselves Springboks and to tell Pressmen that we desired to be so named. I remember this distinctly, for Paul (Roos) reminded us that “Springbokken” was the correct plural. However, the Daily Mail, after our first practice, called us the Springboks and the name stuck. I at once ordered the dark green, gold-edged blazers….”

Scotland, of course, wear the thistle on their badges.The thistle is their national flower. According to legend the “guardian thistle” played its part in the defence of Scotland against a night attack by Norwegian Vikings, one of whom let out a yell of pain when he stepped barefoot on a thistle, alerting the Scottish defenders.

This weekend all Scotland fans are urged to join a walk along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile before Saturday’s Test against South Africa, all in the name of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, set up by former Scotland player Doddie Weir to raise funds for research into a cure for MND and to provide grants to people living with the condition. In June 2017 Doddie, who had played 61 Tests for Scotland, revealed that he had been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, the same disease that took the life of South Africa’s iconic scrumhalf, Joost van der Westhuizen.

The walk is dubbed the “Gathering of 10,000 Headbands” and has been organised following the success of a similar event involving 1,000 fans in Rome before Scotland’s Six Nations game there in March.

They plan to sell 101,000 tartan headbands, raising funds for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation and the battle against MND.

Before the main event, fans are encouraged to take in the “Big Edinburgh Doddie Pint Night” tomorrow (Friday) evening, at which Doddie himself is expected to make a guest appearance alongside “a select few former players”.

Eleven bars across the city of Edinburgh are taking part and running various promotions, with all the money raised going foundation.

I would encourage any South African spectator who has travelled to Edinburgh to watch the Test to go and join in the walk. It is certainly a worthy cause.

We can look forward to a real Test between two countries that have a long history of rivalry, and real friendship.

Selection News:

Scotland:

Gregor Townsend has made six personnel changes to Scotland’s starting line-up to face South Africa at Murrayfield.

The return of Huw Jones at centre is the only change to the back division, with Scotland’s pack featuring the remaining five.

London Irish prop Gordon Reid is set for his first involvement in this autumn campaign as the starting loosehead, with the remaining four are those rotated or rested for last weekend’s game against Fiji.

Stuart McInally and  Jonny Gray return from the bench at hooker and lock respectively, while second-row Ben Toolis and back-row Hamish Watson come back into the matchday squad to start.

The final change to the pack is a positional switch for Sam Skinner, who starts in the blind-side flank position where he finished last week, having started at lock.

Tighthead prop WP Nel, back-row Ryan Wilson and wing Tommy Seymour – who scored a hat-trick against Fiji – are the only three players named to start a third consecutive Test match this autumn.

Seymour joins full-back Start Hogg and wing Sean Maitland – who scored his fourth consecutive try in a Murrayfield Test – in the back-three, at centre Pete Horne is named alongside returning clubmate Jones, while half-backs Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell feature once more.

Scrum-half Ali Price returns to the Scotland squad for the first time since starting against Wales, on the bench.

Back-row Matt Fagerson has not recovered sufficiently from the dead leg he sustained against Fiji to feature against South Africa.

South Africa:

Rassie Erasmus has made six changes to his Springbok Match-Day 23 to face Scotland.

Amongst the forwards, the injured Warren Whiteley is replaced by Duane Vermeulen making a positional shift to his more usual position at no 8, Pieter-Steph du Toit moves to blindside flanker and RG Snyman is promoted to the starting XV at lock.

Scrum-half Faf de Klerk misses out, with the Springboks having announced the unusual decision to send him back to his club, Sale Sharks, on Monday. As a result, Embrose Papier earns his first Test start.

Snyman and Papier are replaced on the bench by Lood de Jager and Ivan van Zyl respectively, while Eben Etzebeth remains sidelined by the foot injury he picked up against England.

Thoughts:

Scotland are fielding a much-changed side this weekend, with the changes sending out a signal about how Gregor Townsend wants his men to play against the Springboks. The majority of the six changes made by the coach are in the pack, with five new players introduced and two positional switches as Scotland look to beef up their forwards to combat the expected power of the Springboks, while still hoping to play their fast-paced “organised chaos” style of rugby.

Gordon Reid has been introduced to the starting XV having not featured since the Six Nations. He started each of Scotland’s fixtures in the recent Six Nations and has been brought back to combat the Springboks’ scrummaging power up front.

The second row combination reverts to that of Ben Toolis and Jonny Gray, both of whom are fresh after minimal involvement last week. Only Gray had some 20 minutes in the Test against Fiji, coming on for a run when the game was all but over.  Both  second rowers are lineout specialists with a reputation for good defence close in and in the midfield.  They will need to be on top of their lineout game facing Snyman, Mostert, Du Toit, Vermeulen, and with De Jager to come off the bench.

The biggest changes come in the back-row, where Hamish Watson takes over from Jamie Ritchie in the number seven jersey and Ryan Wilson moves back to number eight, having started there in Cardiff but was pushed to the blindside flank a week ago. His move accommodates the inclusion of Sam Skinner in the number six jersey. Skinner usually plays lock, so his inclusion on the flank is another obvious attempt to beef up the pack and add some height at the lineouts.

Behind the scrum, Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Huw Jones will be looking to take the game to the Springboks.

The Springboks have developed a game that revolves around a powerful pack of forwards that seek to establish domination in the set-pieces and in the midfield collisions. They play an up-tempo game which reflects high levels of fitness amongst the bigger men, but are just starting to show the inevitable signs of end-of-season fatigue. The forwards are the platform off which the back division look to strike, with some superb finishers in the wider channels and a solid midfield, all controlled by the cool calm focus of Handré Pollard at flyhalf. They are creating plenty of opportunities, but are struggling to find the finishing touches.

The pack of forwards might be missing the power and presence of Eben Etzebeth for another week, but the core of the Springbok tight five remains a formidable challenge for anyone.

The selection of a loose trio with Duane Vermeulen at 8, and Pieter-Steph du Toit on the blindside, with Siya Kolisi listed to play the breakaway role is perhaps the best that South African can field at any time. Their presence over the ball at breakdowns is enhanced by the presence of Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff. RG Snyman deserves to start a Test after his disciplined showing in the last two weeks, indications that he is maturing as a lock forward and is starting to put the off-the-ball moments and posturing behind him. The considerable presence of Lood de Jager waits to make an impact off the bench if required.

South Africa’s tight five are a world class combination, enhanced by some great depth on the bench where the likes of  Bongi Mbonambi,

Thomas du Toit, Vincent Koch, and the previously mentioned Lood de Jager are easily as good as any starting forwards in Test rugby.

South Africa’s strange decision to release Faf de Klerk back to his Premiership club must be considered in a wider context. The lack of depth at scrumhalf is a serious issue for the Springbok team, and they need to grow, nurture and develop their depth as quickly as possible before next year’s World Cup.  This end-of-year tour is an ideal proving ground for the youngsters in the squad, and this Test against Scotland provides an opportunity to grow those resources, with Embrose Papier getting his first start, with Ivan van Zyl on the bench as an impact player.

Papier is an exciting talent with plenty of rough edges that need to be sanded down and smoothed before he is the real deal, but you cannot gain experience simply by sitting on the bench or running at a practice. He needs experience in the cauldron of Test rugby, and Rassie Erasmus has chosen to give him that opportunity. He plays alongside Handré Pollard with whom he has often played Super Rugby, which will give Pollard an opportunity to guide him. Having Duane Vermeulen at the base  of the scrum will further enhance his experience.

The Springbok backline is unchanged, reflecting some great continuity as this young team slowly continues to build for the future.

The match up at halfback is perhaps tilted in Scotland’s favour as Greig Laidlaw is an established Test player with 64 caps for his country up against the rookie in his first start.

At flyhalf the match-up is more even, perhaps even titling South Africa’s way. Both the 26-year old Finn Russell and Handré Pollard have 37 Test caps, but Pollard is just 24 years old and already has some 46 Super Rugby caps to go with his 14 for SA U/20 and his 3 for SA Schools. Pollard has already matured into a cool, calm game manager that is happy to take the ball flat on attack and into contact without hesitation. Pollard’s form with the boot has been magical of late.

In the midfield the maturing partnership of De Allende and Kriel for the Springboks faces the less regular pairing of Huw Jones and Peter Horne. Jones is well known to the South Africans having been a long time midfield partner of De Allende at the Stormers, and will bring no surprises to the contest. Peter Horne has a reputation as a steady journeyman with a solid defence. Again, the scale seems to tilt slightly in favour of the Springboks.

At the back the Springboks have the rapidly developing partnership of Willie le Roux and two of the better strike runners in the world today. Aphiwe Dyantyi is a twinkle-toed runner with a remarkable turn of pace, while Sbu Nkosi has shown a remarkable ability to finish in the tightest of spaces. Both wings have a propensity to drift in off their wings on defence, which the South African midfield has earned to cover with well timed outward shifting to close potential gaps. This tactic allows both wings to go for intercepts that are sometimes more than audacious. Both wings are hungry for work and happily go looking for the ball.

Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, and Sean Maitland are a solid back three for the home team, but they do not seem to have the same level of enterprise as do the South Africans. They will certainly be tested by the Springbok kicking game and their speedy kick-chasers.

If Scotland want to win this game they have to do a couple of important things.

First and foremost, they must at least match the Springbok tight five. Then they have to overcome the massive physicality of the Springbok 8 in the midfield carries as well as the lineout drives. If the Scots can achieve some sort of parity with the Springbok forwards, then they have to stretch the game as wide as possible, taking the ball away from the big Springbok forwards and playing to test the rumoured defensive frailty of the Springbok wings. I expect Scotland to try and play at a very high tempo and to try to move the ball around as much as possible, to see if they can tire the much bigger South African forwards.

The Springboks will know this and will focus on gaining control of the game up front, working to slow the Scots, suck them in and prevent them from running wide. They will look to work the lighter Scottish pack over and tire them in the physical collisions. We are told that it will be cold, but dry at Murrayfield, which gives the Springboks the chance to unleash their strike runners out wide once they have gained control in the forward collisions.

The Springboks bring a huge physical test for Scotland. If the Scots can match the physicality of the Springboks, they will have a chance at beating them, but if the Springboks gain control in their forwards, it could be a very long night for the Scots.

Prediction:

The biggest factor counting in the favour of Scotland is the fatigue that is evident amongst the South Africans. This end-of-season tour has been a bridge too far for many a touring team from down south, and the Springboks are coming off two massive games in the last two weeks. The Scots will have to rely on their fitness and pace to stretch the game and try and take it away from the visitors.

In contrast, the South Africans will be looking to play their usual direct physical game, with the forwards to gain control before the backs are unleashed to strike.

I do think that the Scots will have an edge in their mental acuity, a freshness that will be missing from the Springboks, but whether this freshness is enough to subdue the power of the Springboks? I have my doubts.

The Springboks, by some 15 points.

The Teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Sam Skinner, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Josh Strauss, 20 Jamie Ritchie, 21 Ali Price, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Chris Harris

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe