Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v South Africa: Autumn Tests 2018 Match Preview pt I

Action from Scotland vs South Africa in the Rugby World Cup 2015 at St James' Park, Newcastle, on 3rd October 2015. (c) ALASTAIR ROSS | Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography Photo Credit: Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

KO 5.20 at Murrayfield
Saturday 17th November

Live on BBC2

South Africa are back in Edinburgh for the first time since 2013. In fact more than 3 years have elapsed since these two sides met at any venue – the longest break in this fixture since the Springboks were readmitted to the world stage back in 1994.

This will be the 29th time Scotland have tested themselves against one of the four Rugby Championship teams at Murrayfield since the year 2000. South Africa could potentially become the only country from that group that the dark blues have managed three home wins against this century:

Argentina – P5 W2 L3
Australia- P8 W2 L6
New Zealand- P8 W0 L8
South Africa- P7 W2 L5

South Africa Scouting Report

  • Let the back 3 fly

    This is going to be a brutally physical contest and Scotland will find space at a premium. One area where the Springboks have been more vulnerable defensively recently has been out wide. The English and French back threes both managed to make 7 clean breaks against South Africa (incidentally the same number the visitors managed across both of those fixtures added together).

    With the attacking talent at their disposal at wing and fullback Scotland really need to be ready to take advantage of any slackness in defence – and make sure any chances created are converted into points. Teddy Thomas’ coruscating clean break last Saturday for France split the South African defence but foundered for want of a final pass. Scotland were guilty of this against Fiji but got away with it – versus the Springboks there are unlikely to be many second chances.

  • Turnover tendencies

    Maybe it’s the cold weather. Or maybe it’s been the intensity of the Northern Hemisphere defences. Maybe it’s just because South Africa are still a team in transition under Rassie Erasmus. Whatever the explanation the visitors have been coughing up the ball a lot. They averaged 20 turnovers per game against England and France, killing their attacking momentum and bailing out their opponents at crucial moments.

    Bearing this in mind, from a defensive standpoint there must be value for Scotland in strongly targeting disrupting the ball to pressure the Springboks. With an eye on attack, it means opportunities to have a crack at an unstructured defence rather than the wall of monsters South Africa normally present. Turnover ball should be catnip to whichever one of the raving felines it is that gets the nod for Scotland at 10.

  • Will de Allende dominate – or disappear?

    Damian de Allende was in outstanding form at 12 against England earlier this month. The 16½ stone centre hammered his way through the English defence time and time again, finishing with 15 carries for 63 metres gained; 2 of South Africa’s 4 clean breaks; as well as breaking 6 tackles. With France alerted to his strong form though he was shut down in the Stade de France with just 3 carries for 5m and no breaks or tackle busts to his name.

    The Scottish defence hasn’t coped too well with strong carrying from powerful centres so far this Autumn. Gregor Townsend will be hoping his troops have learned some hard lessons and the structures in place, supported by individuals making their tackles, are enough to contain the heavyweights in the South African midfield.

Previous results

This will be South Africa’s 11th visit to Murrayfield during the professional era. Going by the previous sequence of results Scotland are due to lose but are then guaranteed to win the next time the Springboks visit Edinburgh – hooray:

L L L W   L L L W   L L

On their last trip to Edinburgh, back in 2013, South Africa blanked Scotland 28-0 in a game which saw 19-year old Jonny Gray make his Test debut.

The most recent meeting between the two countries was in Newcastle during the Rugby World Cup which didn’t go too well either:

South Africa 36 – 14 Scotland

Significant stat:
931kg – weight of the Scottish pack in that match. With Strauss and Denton in the back row and a very large tight 5, this must have been one of the heaviest packs ever selected for Scotland. Despite this, they were still outmuscled around the park by a hugely physical group of Springbok forwards. The home side might need to play to their own strengths rather than taking on South Africa at their game on Saturday.


Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant 1: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant 2: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

It’s time for Scotland’s near-annual appointment with M. Poite. Until a famous win in the 6 Nations match against Ireland last year, it’s not been a relationship that has really favoured the Scots – with losses on the scoreboard and also in the number of penalties the order of the day. He’s one of the most experienced officials around though and has earned the place he has held on World Rugby’s elite panel of referees for the last 8 years with some suitably elite performances. Hopefully (unlike James Haskell) the Scottish players remember he is “…a referee, not a coach”!

South Africa have only ‘lost’ the penalty count three times in their last 11 matches and conceded a remarkably low 5 in their recent encounter with England at Twickenham. It’s likely they will be very disciplined and not give M. Poite many opportunities to ping them. Scotland must be similarly circumspect if they don’t want to face the reliable boot of Handre Pollard kicking for goal or the Springbok maul coming at them from a 5 metre lineout…

Scotland’s previous games with M. Poite in charge:

  • 2011 – lost to England (A)
    Penalties: 21 (For 8 – 13 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (John Barclay)
  • 2012 – lost to Wales (A)
    Penalties: 23 (For 13 – 10 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 2 YCs (Nick de Luca, Rory Lamont), Wales 1 YC
  • 2013 – lost to South Africa (A)
    Penalties: 23 (For 7 – 16 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Jim Hamilton)
  • 2014 – lost to New Zealand (H)
    Penalties: 17 (For 7 – 10 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2015 – lost to England (A)
    Penalties: 18 (For 8 – 10 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2015 – beat Italy (H)
    Penalties: 26 (For 14 – 12 Against)
    Cards: Italy 2 YCs
  • 2017 – beat Ireland (H)
    Penalties: 16 (For 7 – 9 Against)
    Cards: none

48 Responses

  1. I don’t see us winning this one. They are developing very nicely and by the time RWC comes along they are likely going to be 3rd, if not possibly second favourites. We have the backs to out do them but they are a truly enormous test side. As pointed out in the article, we need to be very clever about how we work the breakdown. Choosing when and when not to compete is key but if we choose to compete and do it well they will cough it up. This is not a game for Ryan Wilson to start in the back row. I’d be going with Strauss, Watson and either Skinner or Graham in the back row (as much as I prefer Skinner at lock) and Gilco must start at lock. Brown at Hooker is a given and they have shown their lineout is wobbly. Greig has all the control to tire them out if he is allowed to use it. Their back 3 are electric, that’ll be some contest. Ultimately if they decide to just run over the top of us or maul us to death we will struggle to compete.

      1. Because he is not. In the tight stuff, he is a really good player. There was a reason Mata and Naka did not get the go forward last weekend, big Gilcho was knocking them back in the tackle.

        Whisper it but I would seriously think about not playing Jonny Grey. He rarely dominates a tackle or a hit up. Yes he tackles all day long but is he unassailable? Not sure.

    1. Yep, hard to see what is the best way through them if they are on form…I guess our advantage is mobility and potentially the breakdown if Poite allows.

      1. They also suffer from the same issue we do with highly enigmatic 10’s, if anything Finn is more consistent than Pollard and certainly Jantjies. Pollard has started the last 2 tests so Erasmus may throw Jantjies in for this one. Le Roux has probably been the form 15 in the world for the past 4 months.

      2. I wouldnt play Gray if we had our full back row available. I’d start Skinner and Gilchrist at lock but I think J. Ritchie will get eaten alive against the Boks so can see Skinner going to 6 with Watson unless Toony goes feet first and sticks Graham there with Strauss at 8. Done see Fagerson starting. Basically if Skinner is not in the back row I would start him with GG at lock. If he starts Wilson at 6 or 8 we may as well be playing with 14 men.

  2. Poite did all right for Glasgow v Exeter in the ERC at Scotstoun IIRC . . . .

    But I lost all respect for him after his convenient change of mind at the end of the Lions series, after giving the ABs a totally correct penalty. The most blatant politically motivated revision of a decision I have ever seen.

  3. This will be incredibly difficult for Scotland against a monster pack, but we have seen smaller Scottish packs out manoeuvre bigger teams in the past. Rather than bulking up we need to play with pace. Quick ball with Russell teasing. Keep them guessing. Really concerned with the centres. Dunbar is miles off international pace, Horne unreliable and Jones on the naughty step. Horne and Jones for me with maybe Harris benching – which then brings its own conundrum of how do Kinghorn and Hastings slot in. Really need all our best players for this and don’t believe that Russell/Hastings at 10/12 is a genuine starting option.
    Strauss, Skinner and Ritchie need to be involved somewhere.
    The props have been less than impressive so far, but not exactly brimming with options there.

  4. I’m actually confident for this one. South Africa under Rassie Erasmus have became strong in forward and set piece play. They’ve got so many world class forwards in Kitsoff, Marx and Kolisi. But their backs are generally awful. Their only decent backs are the world class talents of De Klerk and Dyanti and De Klerk isn’t even playing this weekend.

  5. Haven’t seen much of SA in action this season but it’s pretty clear they’re climbing out of the abyss they fell into in 16 and 17. Could/should have done a double against New Zealand this year and from the highlights I saw of the England Test they were all over the home team in the first half.
    They prevailed with their traditional battering-ram style against us at RWC 15 and we couldn’t deal with it. I think even if as seems likely we put out a lighter pack than we did in 15, we will be a much tougher nut to crack up front than we were three years ago.
    This has the makings of a cracking Test and I’m looking forward to being at Murrayfield to watch it. Also looking forward to seeing the 23 Toonie is going to select. There was enough that was good even in defeat against Wales the other week (fantastic stadium btw) and much more that was good about the Fiji Test to give Toonie some selection options, if not dilemmas.

  6. I am totally in two minds on this one, both in terms of our selection and the match itself.

    In our selection, I can see the value in picking as big a pack as we have available, but that will simply be trying to match them in an area that we can’t win, i.e. trying to outmuscle them. It may be better to try and keep it as mobile as possible, which could then lead to more of a free-for-all around the breakdown, which is in our favour given their tendencies in this respect.

    On this basis, I can see us sticking with the same front-row, but we will see Jonny come into the 2nd row. I’d like to see him tried with Skinner, but Gilcho seems more likely, with Skinner on the bench. The back row blend is key. Wilson is a favourite and I can’t see him being dropped, even though Ritchie probably deserves to stay in the team. As Watson returning is a cert, it seems inevitable that we will go Wilson, Watson and Strauss. We need Strauss’ heft. Ritchie should make the bench.

    What worries me most, like others, is the centre blend and that depends on how our gameplan will develop. There is evidence that we have gone for more control and discipline in this series. Lots of 1-pass runs around the fringes of the breakdown, looking to earn the right to go wide through hard graft. It didn’t work in Cardiff, but it did against Fiji. If we stick to this gameplan, a crash ball 12 is not as necessary. Instead, a 2nd playmaker is more likely (making Horne a sure-starter).

    But that leaves us with a defensive problem, and de Allende frightens me. None of our midfield defence so far this month has been particularly good. I don’t know who our best defender is in the current squad in that position…it might even be Finn, which leads to the crazy idea of a Hastings/Russell combo from the start. I would’ve thought that Jones was likely to come back in…

    …all of which leads me to thinking that I’ve no idea how on earth the Toombola will fall this week!!

    1. Largely agree with your points just not the selections. I hate that Wilson will start but I think he will pick Gray & GG, Watson, Strauss and Wilson with Skinner and Graham on the bench (just to get him capped). Centres are a concern. Jones will almost certainly start (he knows these players) and I think it will be with Horne. Le Roux has been the worlds best 15 this season (given Falau has been playing wing), Their wingers are electric. Dyanti is good but Cheslin Kolbe is sensational. De allende is a bit of a blunt instrument but a very effective one and it could work against us. Half back is a temperamental pairing with both 10s prone to poor games. As I said earlier I expect Jantjies to start given Pollarde has started both games so far.

  7. Def need a bigger ball carrier than Wilson indeed, hope Townsend thinks so too. Afraid Wilson will be ran over. Strauss a better option for this one. Although you shouldn’t completely adapt to SA and play your own game, it might be wise to add some more ‘weight’ to the squad.

    Huw Jones is already on the team sheet I hope. Like JP07 says: he know’s these guys well.

    1. Sadly I think Wilson will be one of Toonie’s first picks – probably at 8 too if Fagerson is struggling.

      I hope he picks Skinner at 6 as we definitely need J Gray and his maul disruptions capabilities for Sat.

      1. Townsend needs to put his historical preference of Wilson behind him. Wilson is not a test 8 , not even close. He isn’t a 7 either. He is a solid 6 and now we are building an array of upcoming talent in that spot….much better players that just need game time. If an autumn series isn’t the time to give them that experience …then I dont know when it is. Especially with a RWC approaching.

        Id put Gary Graham on the bench…otherwise what’s the point of all the hoo ha of his selection. Stick him in there …capped…lets see what he can do. We dont have a real abrasive aggressive 6,7 or 8 …and that is what he was brought in for. We’ll need that against SA as much as anyone in world rugby. Huge powerful pack…we’ll get blown down the park playing likes of Wilson.

    2. I dunno. If we are targeting the ruck for turnovers, then Wilson is yer man to get stuck in at the bottom of them. We’re at our best when we play merry hell in the rucks (see Calcutta Cup game, 2018) and that might be the best way to stop a bigger pack – pinch or slow their ball. So Wilson and Watson may be the combo to do that.

      As to carrying – well, if the front five aren’t making the hard yards, then I’m not sure one more ‘big ball carrier’ is going to make that much of a difference.

      1. We need three man tackle pods like the irish and NZ both employ….one to tackle the ball carrier, two to run a metre past the ruck and block the support, three to jackal…very illegal but very effective too if the ref isn’t onto it.

  8. On a different subject, did anyone read the article about Ireland a nd Joe Schmit’s Use of sport psychology? they not only use it for consultation. The coaching staff and some players have actually done courses and got diplomas in it. If we are to break our hang-up on away games we need to be doing the same. Once our “16th man”, I.e. the home crowd, is removed, we can’t seem to operate with the same panache and aggression.

  9. I’d like to see:

    Dell, McInally, Berghan, Skinner, Gilchrist, Graham, Watson, Strauss. Laidlaw, Russell, Maitland, Horne, Jones, Seymour, Hogg.

    Allan, Nel, Brown, Gray, Ritchie, Horne, Hastings, Harris.

    1. Similar to other comments I can’t see (barring injuries) Graham starting as like anyone coming into the squad he will need to prove his worth/place. In addition, Skinner is surely at this stage a great bench option as he can cover 2nd row/back row and start the more experienced Gray/Gilchrist and I assume the provide a bit more bulk. Assuming (perhaps incorrectly) Fagerson isnt available I would start Wilson/Watson/Strauss with Ritchie on the bench. I think GT may go with Harris at 13 as he did well (albeit when Scotland were on top) when he came on against Fiji and we have struggled defensively so may give him a chance with Jones on the bench – could make quite an impact given he has something to prove and his SA history.

  10. Graham is like a shiny new trinket to some folk – a reminder, he wasn’t good enough to make the Scotland squad last year or this – but suddenly he’s to start against SA.

    1. Aye get him capped lets see what he can do. Ideal time to blood him when he’s got so much to prove to the doubters, I’d predict a big performance.

      1. Why do we rush to get him capped – unless he’s got some other country to court?

        Lets drop genuinely good players like Ritchie for someone who is an injury replacement.

      2. I’m sure Graham will be aware of some of the reaction to his call up so ideal time to stick some of these quotes on the wall to fire him up and unleash him on the Boks.

  11. Our club sides have fared well against theirs in the pro14 so we should win this. They ain’t all that.

    It’s funny how not long ago we were celebrating our options in center, now it all looks a bit shaky according to most. Scott, Bennett, Taylor, Dunbar, Jones, Horne, Grigg, Johnson. 4 injured and none of the other 4 firing.

    1. You are referring to the Cheetahs and the Kings here? Hardly the repositories of Saffa rugby power at the moment.

    2. We do have depth at centre …better than it has been for as long as I can remember. However, its not like the list of options are all on an equal footing. Taylor, Jones and Dunbar being our best…imo…then the rest a level or 2 down from that. Any world side who loses their top options generally drops a level in there next up options and so it eventually becomes a weakness for opposition to exploit.

  12. I’ve watched quite a few South Africa games this year. They were hopeless in Mendoza and even though they won in Oz it was an awful game. The win in New Zealand was huge but it was a strange game with New Zealand making lots of mistakes. They got a good win in France but it has to be looked at in the context of the Boks having been together since August versus a new look French team.

    At Murrayfield and with De Klerk back at Sale we have to look at this as a must win. Kolbe will be dangerous but Maitland is about as good a defensive wing as there is so that should be a good battle. As Kevin Millar says they cough up the ball a lot so if we are clinical and get the scoreboard moving it will really put them under pressure.

    Dell McInally Nel Gray Gilchrist Wilson Watson Strauss Laidlaw Russell Seymour Dunbar Jones Maitland Hogg

    This is the biggest game of the autumn so we should play our most experienced side. England and France both played new units against South Africa, we will give them a different problem. That’s a XV that has played a lot of rugby together.

    1. Townsend is certainly a more canny operator than the French coach. I expect Scotland to arrive with a plan to beat the Boks.

  13. Considering how much Turnover ball they give this is a game for Brown and Dunbar to help Watson out in.

    SA are also frail outwide so speed and accuracy will be key So Jones and Graham get into the Squad.

    Having some sort of of Lineout height to at least hold our own for our main strength the driving mauls will also be key. So Gilchrist has to start.

    Taking the above into account here is my 23

    1. Dell
    2. Brown
    3. Berghan
    4. Gilchrist
    5. Skinner
    6. Harley
    7. Watson
    8. Strauss
    9. Laidlaw
    10. Russell
    11. Graham
    12. Dunbar
    13. Jones
    14. Maitland
    15. Hogg

    16. Mcinally
    17. Reid
    18. Nel
    19. Gray
    20. Wilson
    21. Horne
    22. Hastings
    23. Seymour

    1. Tell you what Neil, big Bob Harley at 6 would be an inspired selection – wouldn’t take a backward step in contact, huge engine so mobility no problem, and if the Boks are feeling at all fragile at the breakdown, then someone like Harley is going to make there lives absolute misery – he won’t pilfer much ball, but as he does at Glasgow he’ll slow them right down and create opportunities for others to steal.

      Strauss was arguably motm for me last week, so whether you’re playing horses for courses or picking players on form – he’s got to be in at 8 either way.

  14. 15. Hogg, 14.Maitland, 13.Jones, 12.Dunbar, Seymour, 10.Russell, 9.Laidlaw
    8.Strauss, 7.Watson, 6.Wilson, 5.Skinner, 4.Gilchrist, 3.Nel. 2.Brown, 1.Dell
    Kinghorn, P.Horne, G.Horne, G.Graham, Gray, Berghan, McInally, Allan

    1. I think you could be close there! Wouldn’t be surprised if there is one less back in the subs (Kinghorn) and one more forward (maybe Harley.)

      1. A 6/2 (half backs) split is a bit more unusual than a 5/3 split (half backs and a utility back) and Toony considered that for the Wales game. I guess it comes down to how attritional you think this game will be for the forwards and backs. You don’t want a scenario where Russell gets steamrollered, Dunbar tweaks his knee, Jones gets his hand stood on and Hogg twists his ankle. It could be worse than Twickenham in ’17.

        Is it the 13th today!?!

  15. Dropping Jonny Gray seems to be this seasons version of dropping Sean Maitland.

    Not going to happen people.

  16. Very close to giving Graham his debut, some of my Falcons supporting mates really rate him. For me JGs game has not progressed to the next level, he is a great tackler but………..Skinner to start for me. Turnover ball is key on Saturday. Hopefully Hogg 100% match fit. 50/50 game

  17. Peoples problem with Graham is his comments when he opted for England but i’m sure people will come round. So there’s not some weird double standard at play here. He is clearly Scottish enough to represent Scotland. The question marks that should be raised is over Blade Thomson, Chris Harris and Josh Strauss.

    Thomson and Harris qualify through 1 grandparent and have not lived/played rugby in Scotland. Not sure that’s an acceptable standard in my opinion. Strauss came in, got his residency qualification and then left which also feels wrong.

    P.s. If birthplace isn’t your criteria then not sure how Harley is english.

  18. Enough already on Gary Graham and how Scottish people are.

    If you qualify that’s it. Let’s get behind the team and support Townsend’s judgement.

    Here’s my team (some real selection headaches for us which is great).

    Hogg, Seymour, H Jones, Dunbar, Maitland, Russell, Laidlaw, Dell, Brown, Nel, Gilchrist, Gray, Skinner, Watson, Wilson.

    Allan, Mcinally, Berghan, Toolis, Strauss, G Horne, P Horne, Kinghorn.

  19. Great article as always!

    I mentioned it before on another thread but I am again seeing conversations around the web about a Hastings/Russell 10/12 combo. Am I alone in worrying that this may actually happen? I see Hastings as a 12 and think this would be the way forward for having the two playmakers on together. Russell has a much stronger pass / kick game and I think he brings the rest of the backline into the game much better. Hastings is a stronger runner and I think he could do real damage in the midfield. Any thoughts on this?

    1. I don’t think anyone is considering Hastings at 12 in these discussions though. Finn came through playing there and his defence is generally better (as well as being a bit bulkier) so if the Finnsanity was to happen I think it would be that way round.

  20. I remember watching Hogg playing at outside centre for Glasgow against Munster. I think he might have scored 3 that day – was almost unplayable on the outside break. Hastings, Russell and Hogg for me at 10, 12, 13. Seymour and Maitland on the flanks with Darcy Graham at FB…..stick wee George at 9 and lets see what happens…..makes me smile just thinking about it….crank up the Finnsanity to ‘hands in the air, hair on fire’ and watch the Boks just try to keep up – like Bambi on ice but with bad facial hair.

  21. I think they will struggle against the Boks. Watching the Wales game, while Scotland were close enough in a game that they could conceivably have won if a few 50/50 breaks had gone their way, it was very noticeable that the forwards struggled to get over the gain line. With the honourable exception of Watson, the ball carriers were frequently getting stopped on or behind the gain line. The Welsh defence are well-drilled and well organized but the Welsh pack not necessarily more powerful.

    The Boks are a step up again in physicality. Unless Scotland can find a way to keep the ball moving and stay out of a physical battle ( think Japan pulling off that ultimate upset against SA in the WC….) I can only see Scotland getting outmuscled and bullied out of the game? I guess we’ll see.

  22. 50/50 game, Scotland may very well struggle but recent evidence suggests at Murrayfield we are a match for anyone. Anyone who says ….can only see Scotland getting out muscled………. hasn’t got a clue. (or drunk…it was 0245), Wales, England, Ireland, France, Australia, NZ all have bigger packs and they were pretty much helpless to stop us scoring tries. If Russell & Hogg can get decent ball & we get front foot ball we will win.

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