Unlike Japan and the USA the history of Scotland versus South Africa in rugby is a long one with the sides having met twenty five times in over an hundred years. That history might have been longer were it not for South Africa being out in the cold during Apartheid.
Scotland’s win rate against the Springboks does not make for great reading. Played twenty five, won five, lost twenty. No Scotland South Africa game has ever resulted in a draw. Despite Scotland gaining maximum points from their opening games Pool B remains wide open with four teams still very much in contention. Come Saturday afternoon Scotland and the Springboks will know the outcome of the Samoa versus Japan game. Depending on that result a draw may suit both sides and we may see a little bit of history being made.
Scotland’s campaign has started brightly and this writer has no desire to ruin the mood. So rather than looking back over the entire history of games between the two nations we’ll just look at the Scotland’s wins.
17 November 1906 – Scotland 6 South Africa 0
This was the inaugural tour for the South African rugby team and is recognised as the first time the team were dubbed the “Springboks”. In fact the game against Scotland was the first international match ever played by a South African side.
International rugby tours in the early 1900s were not like today’s. South Africa played a staggering twenty nine matches on the tour winning twenty six, losing two and drawing one. Apart from games against the home nations South Africa also played a number of games against regional sides such as Devon and Monmouthshire. In fact the only other defeat on the tour came in a 17-0 defeat to Cardiff.
The game against Scotland was played at Hampden Park in front of a crowd of 32,500 on rain sodden turf. The Boks had already demolished a South Of Scotland side, but Scotland was a much harder challenge. Records from the time show the match was dominated by Scottish forwards and despite the score being 0-0 at half time Scotland ran out eventual winners.
The issue of language on the pitch was also a great issue at the time. A South African rugby “enthusiast” writing to the New Zealand Herald said:
“South Africans now playing Rugger in England are able to shout directions on the field to each other (they are mostly Dutch-Boers) and their opponents can’t make out what is being said. I can just fancy Japie Krige [a South African player] being displeased with a referee and slanging him for all he is worth to the great amusement of his team, while the poor referee is blissfully ignorant of what is being said. It’s a great advantage, you see, to know the language.”
There are three players in Scotland’s line up with the advantage of knowing the language. I’d imagine Nigel Owens has brushed up on his Big Book Of Afrikaans Swear Words too.
Scotland tries: Purves, MacLeod.
17 April 1965 – Scotland 8 South Africa 5
It would be almost sixty years before Scotland beat South Africa again. By the time the South Africans arrived at Murrayfield they had already been beaten by a Combined Universities side from Ireland as well as Ireland themselves. The week prior to the game at Murrayfield, a Scottish District side ran out 16-8 winners against a Springboks side described as being “uneven of talent” and “tactically suspect” by the Scotsman at the time.
Scotland didn’t cover themselves in glory and the back row was described as being of “alarming fragility.” None of the four (yes four) centres managed to beat their man but their defence was described as being solid. James Shackleton, a Scottish centre, was singled out for criticism for kicking too much late in the game. Plus ca change eh?
The Scotsman article covering the game opened with a PG Wodehouse quote and also featured some latin. You don’t get quality high brow writing like that these days eh? (apart from on here – Ed.) However as good as the match report is, it doesn’t include a full list of who scored the points.
6 December 1969 – Scotland 6 South Africa 3
The 1969/70 South African tour was overshadowed by protests about Apartheid. Protests in Scotland were organised by future Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The match would be the last between the two sides until the end of Apartheid and South Africa’s tour of Britain and Ireland in 1994.
You can watch highlights of the match and surrounding protests on Youtube. The game was halted a number of times due to protesters on the pitch with a number taking residence in the centre and on the posts.
16 November 2002 – Scotland 21 South Africa 6
It would be some time before Scotland beat South Africa again but the 2002 win is by far the most emphatic win against the Springboks.
Reports from the time indicate that South Africa were not firing on all cylinders and Scotland dominated the scrum and the line out with Scott Murray grabbing everything that came his way. The scores were tied at 6-6 at half time but the Scots carved the Springboks up in the second half with tries from Budge Poutney and Nikki Walker.
The Guardian described the South African team as “the worst and certainly the most ineffective to have pulled on the green and yellow in Britain.” Parallels might be drawn with the misfiring and broken Boks that will face us at St James’ Park on Saturday.
“We were told to go at them from the start,” said the Scots hooker Gordon Bulloch. “No big pack likes turning and trying to rectify their backs’ mistakes, and with Jim Telfer’s help we are a wee bit more hard nosed these days.” Sound familiar?
Scotland tries: Poutney, Walker
Scotland cons: Laney
Scotland pens: Laney 2
South Africa pens: James 2
20 November 2010 – Scotland 21 South Africa 17
Scotland’s most recent win came just 5 years ago and the match day squad featured four players who are likely to turn out on Saturday. Sean Lamont, Ross Ford, Richie Gray and Richie Vernon. Coach Nathan Hines also played that day. A number of the South African team also played that day and we can only hope it plays heavy on their minds.
The match was a scrappy rain soaked affair and all Scotland’s points came from the boot of Dan Parks. The highlight of the match was a break by then back row Richie Vernon, who was surprised to find himself deep in Springbok territory after a break from his own half only to have no support.
With Scotland 9 points to the good in the last 10 minutes South Africa crashed over for a try from a line out. However the conversion was missed and Scotland held on for a famous win. The BBC website still has highlights available.
Anyone looking for parallels with Saturday’s game may wish to note that the South African’s had been decimated by injuries.
Scotland pens: Parks 6
Scotland Drop goal: Parks
South Africa tries: Alberts
South Africa pens: Steyn 4
There are parallels between this South African side and the teams Scotland have beaten in 2002 and 2010. This is by no means a vintage Springboks side and they have been decimated by injuries. However Scotland only overcame those diminished sides with huge effort and determination. The same will be required on Saturday. On the plus side Scotland have four players and one coach in their ranks who do know what it’s like to beat the Boks.
Here are the team announcements:
Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Richie Vernon, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Duncan Weir, Greig Laidlaw (captain); Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown, WP Nel, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Josh Strauss, Blair Cowan, David Denton.
Replacements: Ross Ford, Al Dickinson, Jon Welsh, Tim Swinson, Ryan Wilson, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Pete Horne, Sean Lamont
Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana, Handre Pollard, Fourie du Preez (captain); Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Frans Malherbe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Willem Alberts, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.