Two down, one to go. The Springboks’ tour through the UK is going according to plan after Scotland were brushed aside 30-15 at Murrayfield on Saturday.
England, and a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final, await at Twickenham on 20 November in what will be the fitting finale to a memorable season.
A bonus and incentive for the Boks is that victory over England will ensure the world champions also end the year as the top-ranked team in the world. That significant milestone is within their grasp because the All Blacks were beaten 29-20 by Ireland in Dublin.
After overcoming Wales 23-18 with a bruising second half performance the previous week, the Boks dished out more of the same to Scotland. Trailing 10-8 at the break at Murrayfield, the Bok Bomb Squad again detonated with brutal force to “win” the second period 22-5 and set the tone for the Twickenham showdown.
The starting pack softened Scotland up and, by the time the front row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane were withdrawn a minute before halftime (one of the more curious substitutions), the charges were laid for the Bomb Squad to explode.
Which is exactly what happened. Replacement front row Steven Kitshoff, Malcom Marx and Vincent Koch led the way in pounding the Scotland pack into the Middle Ages.
Kitshoff and Marx also lent their considerable breakdown skills to the conflict, winning penalties and slowing the ball. And when the likes of Lood de Jager, Frans Steyn and Jasper Wiese were called into the fray midway through the second period, the result was never in doubt.
“We are fortunate to have two quality front rows who work in tandem and the guys that started laid the foundation, which the replacements built on nicely when they took the field,” Bok coach Jacques Nienaber said after the match.
“The thing is that what they do in the scrum saps energy. I told Siya (Kolisi) afterwards that it’s like a snake bite. When it does bite, the venom won’t kill you immediately, only a bit later. It’s almost what Ox, Bongi and Trevor are doing for us currently.
“Sometimes — and I don’t want to sound clever here at all — we look at what we think the game is going to deliver. We get it wrong a lot of times.
But I thought today we got it right by starting Trevor and the guys and we told them they had a specific role to play and that they didn’t need to save their energy.
“In the buildup to the match, we said as a team that everyone thinks Scotland is a great attacking team, but they’ve actually been the best defensive team in the northern hemisphere in 2020 and 2021. They conceded the least points in the Six Nations and the autumn internationals. So, we always knew it was going to be tough to break them down.”
Problems to ponder
Nienaber was clearly happy enough with the outcome but has some problems to ponder. Scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies was given another opportunity to shine against Scotland, after a poor outing against Wales, and he didn’t.
Unfortunately, his form and confidence are well below the standards the world champions expect from him and it had a massive impact on the Boks’ patchy first-half display.
Despite pounding the Scottish line early on, and winning five consecutive penalties, the Boks could not translate it into points because of the ponderous and indecisive service from halfback.
The forwards were on top and all it needed was crisp and clinical service from the scrumhalf, but instead they had the rugby equivalent of a person “umming and ahhing” their way through a sentence.
Jantjies’s lack of snap gave the Scotland defence time to reset and smother the Boks’ momentum. Even so, the toil of having to stop big Bok ball runners wore Scotland down. The effects of the Bok physicality in the first quarter became evident in the final quarter, when Scotland simply lost every collision.
“In the first few minutes of the match we had all the territory and possession, but we knew that if we kept on knocking it would consume energy and we hoped to get a few opportunities at the back end of the match, and it turned out that way,” Neinaber said.
Cobus Reinach was introduced at halftime and his snappy service and clear thinking immediately provided the Boks with the momentum they craved. It was the beginning of the end for the Scots.
Nienaber downplayed the Herschel Jantjies problems on his first tour to the northern hemisphere, but it will be a big surprise if Reinach doesn’t start against England.
“I spoke to Herschel after the match,” Nienaber said. “He’s only played 70 minutes of international rugby in Europe. It might’ve been sunny, but conditions are fundamentally different up here.
“Rassie (Erasmus) and I learnt that the hard way when we came up to coach in Ireland (they coached Munster). Rugby here is totally different. Even though we, as a team, had a reasonably good day, it was still really difficult. The going is slower, there’s some dampness to the grass and it’s really something that a player has to get used to.”
Bok wing Makazole Mapimpi scored two tries, either side of halftime, to take his tally to 19 in 24 Tests, with Elton Jantjies, Handre Pollard and Frans Steyn slotting a combined six penalties between them.
Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg finished off two exciting Scotland moves to become the joint-leading try scorer in Scotland history with 24, but in truth, Scotland’s tries were created out of individual brilliance. With the Scottish pack being smashed in the set piece and eventually at the breakdown, their dangerous backs could only survive off scraps.
The Boks were more clinical than they were against Wales after Reinach’s arrival, but they could be sharper still. Had they made more of the dominance they enjoyed in the opening 20 minutes, who knows what the score might have ended up becoming. Because they didn’t create early scoreboard pressure, Scotland were able to stay in the contest for longer.
Skipper Siya Kolisi took a positive view of the contest. “The difference today was the way we used our opportunities, which we didn’t do as effectively against Australia and New Zealand,” he said.
“We scored two tries and there were times when we applied so much pressure they kicked the ball and we won it back. That’s what Jacques has been driving – to see the opportunities and use them, and we did that today.”
England coach Eddie Jones has challenged his England team to end the season with the Springbok scalp after they beat Australia 32-15 at Twickenham.
In a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final, England now also employ Matt Proudfoot, who was the Boks’ forwards coach in Japan two years ago. Proudfoot’s intimate knowledge of the Bok camp and their mindset and tactics will play a crucial role in the build-up.
“They are the World Cup champions and we are not,” said Jones. “It is going to be an important Test and we want to finish off the autumn well – it is the final game of the autumn and we will see it as a final and we want to take them on. We will have to play differently to beat them. It’s the final game and we want to go into the Six Nations with a South African scalp.” DM