Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v South Africa: Autumn Tests 2018 Match Preview pt II – head to heads

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

The leaping behaviour of the springbok is known in Afrikaans by a word which translates as “showing off” or “strutting”. Here’s hoping Finn Russell is the only one “pronking” as Scotland take on South Africa at Murrayfield on Saturday. This is how the two sides compare:

Tale of the tape

68   Tries   39
94kg   Average weight   93kg
299   Caps   182
28.6   Average age   24.9

897kg   Pack weight   924kg
14   Tries   18
195   Caps  248
28.0   Average age   27.1

110   Caps   182
   Tries   20
26.8   Average age   27.0

6 Scotland changes from last Test (v Fiji)

  • 13 – H. Jones for Dunbar [=]
  • 1 – Reid for Dell [+] in scrum [-] in loose
  • 2 – McInally for Brown [=]
  • 5 – J. Gray for Gilchrist [+]
  • 7 – Watson for Ritchie [+]
  • 4/6/8 – Toolis for M. Fagerson with Skinner to 6 and Wilson to 8  [+]

15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Huw Jones
12 Peter Horne
11 Sean Maitland
10 Finn Russell
9 Greig Laidlaw (c)
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV South Africa
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
15 Willie le Roux
14 S’bu Nkosi
13 Jesse Kriel
12 Damian de Allende
11 Aphiwe Dyantyi
10 Handre Pollard
9 Embrose Papier

1 Gordon Reid
2 Stuart McInally
3 Willem Nel
4 Ben Toolis
5 Jonny Gray
6 Sam Skinner
7 Hamish Watson
8 Ryan Wilson

ADV South Africa
ADV South Africa
ADV South Africa
ADV Scotland
ADV South Africa
ADV Scotland
ADV South Africa

1 Steven Kitshoff
2 Malcolm Marx
3 Frans Malherbe
4 RG Snyman
5 Franco Mostert
7 Pieter-Steph du Toit *
6 Siya Kolisi (c) *
8 Duane Vermeulen

16 Fraser Brown
17 Allan Dell
18 Simon Berghan
19 Josh Strauss
20 Jamie Ritchie
21 Ali Price
22 Adam Hastings
23 Chris Harris

ADV Scotland
ADV South Africa
ADV South Africa
ADV South Africa
ADV South Africa
ADV Scotland
ADV South Africa

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


Backs – advantage Scotland

Despite having nearly 40 caps to his name this will be the first time in his career that Finn Russell has played against South Africa. He has previously featured against Montpellier a few times however, which is pretty much the same thing…It will be interesting to see if the Finnocent One can use his kicking game to move the visitors’ pack about to try and reduce their influence. Certainly his battle with the steadier presence of Handre Pollard will be heavily impacted by the quality of ball being produced up front.

Similarly Russell’s half back partner Greig Laidlaw will be looking to get the upper hand on Embrose Papier. The veteran Scottish skipper will be taking on a hugely talented prospect – but one who has played just 25 minutes of Test rugby (and 339 minutes of top level action) in his entire career to date.

Damian de Allende and Huw Jones started alongside each other in the centres for the Stormers on 4 occasions. Will either man be able to use their knowledge of the other’s game to their side’s advantage? There is some real talent in the respective back 3s but as Part 1 of the preview inferred, there may be opportunities for Scotland to exploit out wide.

Forwards – advantage South Africa

There’s never likely to be a South African pack that could be described as small! At 924kgs the Springboks will have fielded even bigger units than the eight that will start the game on Saturday but with skipper Siya Kolisi the only one among them who weighs less than 17½ stone that’s likely to be little consolation to Scotland.

It’s not simply about size either. Crucially for South Africa there’s an almost untamed aggression about their forward play. The big lads put themselves about with a real focus on smashing their opponents at every contact area in a way that, for example, the even heavier pack of Fiji didn’t do last week.

Subs – advantage South Africa

South Africa will have more experience to bring off the bench than their hosts, including the enigma that is Elton Jantjies. A player who is capable of brilliance and calamity within the same move let alone the same game, the Lions player is a little bit like a Springbok Finn Russell – if Ryan Wilson was let loose on Finn’s hair.

Scotland have the resources among the replacements to really up the tempo if required. Gregor Townsend will hope that the gameplan and its execution put his side in a position to take advantage of this late on.


Sean Maitland has scored a try on each of his last 4 appearances at Murrayfield for Scotland (v Fiji, England, France and Australia).

– That’s topped by Huw Jones who has scored a try on each of his last 6 appearances at Murrayfield for Glasgow (v Edinburgh) and Scotland (v England, France, Australia, New Zealand and Samoa).

– This is the oldest and most experienced (in terms of caps) line-up that Gregor Townsend has named outwith the 6 Nations.

– Scotland have only scored 1 try in their last 3 games against South Africa. The dark blues have only managed to score more than 2 tries in a match on one occasion in their 112 year history of fixtures against the visitors (back in 2003 in Durban when Andy Craig, Chris Paterson and Jason White got on the scoresheet).

Tommy Seymour, Sean Maitland, Greig Laidlaw and Jonny Gray are the only Scots from Saturday’s team who played when the Springboks last visited Murrayfield in 2013. Willie le Roux, Frans Malherbe, Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw are the returning South Africans from that match.

– The players currently in Scotland’s Autumn Tests’ wider squad who have yet to see some game time are George Turner, Murray McCallum,  Robert Harley and Byron McGuigan from the original selection plus late additions Scott Cummings, Gary Graham, Adam Ashe, Duncan Weir and Nick Grigg. How many of these men will feature next week against Argentina?

* Sharp-eyed readers will note the visitors’ flankers are not in numerical order. They’ve been flipped to allow for the fact that South African teams list their openside at 6 and their blindside at 7.

63 Responses

  1. Not sure I agree with a few of the head-to-heads.
    14- Nkosi is top quality and is at least even with Seymour
    4- RG Sneyman is better than Toolis
    5- Mostert is as good as Gray
    22- As good as Hastings is, Jantjies is far more experienced and in quite good form so adv SA imo.

    Also you have Jones in for Dunbar as [=]. Personally I think whilst Dunbar is good, Huw is world class and a definite improvement for us.

    1. Jantjies has moments of exceptional skill but is essentially a liability at test level. He may have experience but it’s done him little good. He’s a SA Trinh-Duc.

    2. Yeah got to say it was tough this week – about half a dozen I went back and forth and changed a few times!

      14 – Nkosi is brilliant going forward but he’s short of experience, not fantastic under the high ball and I think the 14 clean breaks the back 3s of England and France have made the last couple of weeks suggests there are some pretty fundamental issues with the South African defence out wide.

      4 – injuries have held Snyman back a bit and he’s very much been the bench guy for South Africa this season. I don’t see much in that one right now.

      5 – Gray is hugely influential in the Scotland pack in a way I don’t think Mostert is for South Africa. Gray’s work rate allows other players to attack the breakdown more or spread the defence as required. He’s the key link between the forwards and backs on option plays – an important decision-maker plus his passing has to be on the money.

      22 – Jantjies for the Lions and Jantjies for SA seem to almost be 2 different people. He certainly seems to have struggled to impose himself at Test level. Erasmus doesn’t seem to trust him hugely either. He’s got some minutes on the pitch but Pollard has played the full 80 the last 7 times he’s started at stand off so it’s not like the coach seems to feel he can just whip one fly half off and replace him with the other.

      Jones / Dunbar. Yeah looking back on it that’s probably just a wrong call as things stand right now.

      1. Nkosi has been very good on tour, especially in the air, the breaks angainst England happened after Erasmus subbed off Nkosi shifting the entire backline around and it didn’t really work.

        I can’t remember Snyman being injured (I think you are thinking of De Jager, his bulls team mate). Snyman is a monster and fantastic carrier, but has issues with his discipline, hopefully he is better when he starts instead of getting geed up waiting on the bench.

        Mostert is the unsung hero of the springbok team with an unbelievable workrate. He doesn’t have the physical gifts of the rest of springbok locks (it is the one place where we currently have awesome depth), but he’s always up there for cleans, tackles, line out takes and is a safe carrier.

        Jantjes have been up and down, with the England III in June being particularly bad, but Erasmus has used him more than the quoted stats suggests – he has come on at fh with Pollard moving to twelve to great result against France and NZ I. Some people feel Jantjes 10 and Pollard at 12 might offer more if we were looking to play wider, but the simplicity of the current set up has it’s appeal.

      2. Cheers for that Chris (and the notes on the team further down). Very interesting to get some insight into the opposition from a fan.

        Got to say I hope the head heads play out more like I have them because if your calls are more accurate then Scotland could be in a bit of bother!

        Should hopefully be a cracking game however it goes.

  2. Agree. South Africa win the head to heads from 1 to 8 for me. Scotland win half backs. wing at best are even as is full back, Im sure people will cry about this but Le Roux has been exceptional for the past 12 months. Centres boks have the edge. We have the edge in terms of systems and cohesion as a team.

  3. This game has me very nervous. I’m afraid we’re going to get our first tonking at Murrayfield for a few years. To be fair I thought that before the England game, so what do I know?

    1. I’m switching between optimism and despair for this one. When I’m feeling optimistic I think about how we only just lost to the ABs last year and we are better now than then, and SA are not as good as the ABs were then. We’re also at home and BTM is a bit of a fortress now.

      When I’m all ‘doom and gloom’ then I think about the size of their pack and the power and skill of their backs, plus we don’t exactly have a good record against huge bullying packs.

      Time will tell.

      1. Well it makes a nice change to have genuine optimism, I guess! I think we’re a better team than SA at the moment, but we’re too inconsistent and, as you say, easily bullied. All SA need to do to win is emulate Wales’ offside defensive strategy then, when they get the ball, feed it to either their powerful centres or seriously rapid wingers.

        But if we play like we did against NZ, I think we win.

      2. That said, they’ve lost to Argentina, Australia and England (x2) this year, so it’s not like they’re infallible.

      3. Stick with the English style optimism rather than Scottish pescimism. A bit less “I’m so nervous about Fiji I need Valium to sleep” and more “we lost 7 games in a row and the logical conclusion is that we’re the only realistic competition for the all blacks at the next world cup”.

  4. Hogg is better than Le Roux who has regressed a lot from his peak of a few years ago.

    Syman has been poor any time i’ve seen him. Lots of Nathan Hines type niggle and no production.

    1. Not a chance. He had regressed but the last 9 months he has easily been the best 15 in the world

  5. “– The players currently in Scotland’s Autumn Tests’ wider squad who have yet to see some game time are George Turner, Murray McCallum, Robert Harley and Byron McGuigan from the original selection plus late additions Scott Cummings, Gary Graham, Adam Ashe, Duncan Weir and Nick Grigg. How many of these men will feature next week against Argentina?”

    It’s a mug’s game but I predict we will see McCallum and Gary Graham from the bench and no one else.

    If no one is to start all four games then Wilson, Seymour and Nel will all have a weekend off.

    1. You would expect Turner to feature given how well he performed on the summer tour. Grigg has been on fine form for Glasgow the last few weeks. McGuigan for Seymour, who as you point out is due a rest. Ashe – depends on how Strauss goes from the bench. Graham – as per McGuigan, giving Wilson a break. Cummings possibly losing out due to Skinner’s impressive debut.

      Weir & Harley missing out because of the increased competition in their position, although I doubt Toony will “discard” either of them given we are only a couple of injuries away from trouble. Good position to be in.

  6. The absolutely minimum we should be expecting going into the game tomorrow is that it is one that we COULD win. That is not saying we SHOULD, but there is at least a chance. This Springbok team have been somewhat inconsistent this year, beating the ABs, but losing to Argentina, Australia and England, all of whom we have beaten (and beaten well) in the last 12 months.

    If our half-backs are beautifully in sync.
    If we take our chances.
    If our midfield defence is more effective.
    If the back row blend is a masterstroke.
    If we have parity in the set-pieces.
    If we can force the same number (or more) of turnovers.
    If we we front up in the loose.

    Then this game is there for us to win. If two or more of these aspects doesn’t function to the standard of a Calcutta Cup performance, then we will probably lose narrowly.

    But all to play for. I’m excited, and not just because I wasn’t there last week and had to watch it in the evening (without knowing the score) as my wife was away!

  7. Re the Springbok in general –

    Tight five really good. Line out being a bit of worry with Marx’s throws being a bit of a concern.

    Strength – scrum and carrying
    Weakness – line out, Malherbe is not as good in the scrum as Louw (not in the squad) or in the loose as Du Toit (lh replacement.

    Loose trio – unconventional Ito of playing without a dedicated openside and playing a lock at bs, but individually brilliant. Haven’t clicked on tour at all so far, maybe returning to the championship trio (yeah Vermeulen didn’t play) will help them click.

    Strengths – each can be amazing at something, Du Toit tackling, Kolisi carrying, Vermeulen beast.

    Weakness- no top end pace or dedicated ground hog (though Vermeulen, Marx and Kitchoff can steal like nobody’s business)

    Halfs – unknown. This is Papier’s first start and he has had a lot of grow up rugby experience, but has looked pretty classy on the pitch.

    Strengths – Pollard is having his first injury free run in years and is growing into the general role. Papier looks classy.

    Weakness – Erasmus loves the box kick and they default to that everytime they have poor ball. We are not great at box kicking.

    Midfield – eish, I guess they defend well enough (unless they don’t)

    Strengths- De Allende was good against England, starters defend well except when they don’t (France)

    Weakness – lacks skill, not athletic monsters, dumb as planks.

    Back three – very exciting combo. Each offers a different challenge. Pretty smart on defence as long as the centres don’t bite in.

    Strengths – the wings can both beat a man given a chance. When Le Roux is on he adds a creative spark.

    Weaknesses – inexperienced, Le Roux isn’t always on. Dyanti has been run down on long run ins.

      1. Haha we are almost Welsh in the use surnames, I was referring to Wilco (the prop) not Francois (the average flanker)

    1. The bench – not great tbh, the frontrow replacements should keep the momentum going but there isn’t anyone there that is likely to come on and win the game for SA.

      (As an aside I really don’t like the use of foreign based players on the bench as I don’t think they add any more than local options would have and they are taking match payment that could have been spent keeping guys playing locally, but that is a different discussion)

      In general this isn’t a great SA side talent wise and one that doesn’t even maximise the talent that it does have. Already this year they have lost three games that they should have won (Australia away, NZ at home and England two weeks ago). Maybe there was some bad luck or tight moments that went against them, but some teams have a knack for winning and this team doesn’t seem to have that.

      I don’t know what to read into the French game from last week. SA was really poor, but somehow found themselves leading when the final whistle went. If they are that bad again today they will probably lose, but I expect them to at least be better.

      But I guess it is better to be poor and win (France) than good and lose (England)

  8. Seems about right x if we can get a reasonable forward platform, our backs should just about have the edge.

    Could go either way.

  9. Excited for tomorrow now.

    I reckon if we score more points than South Africa then we’ll win the game.

    Should be good and I think we have a more than good chance. South Africa have weaknesses and haven’t faced a Scotland team like this and with this belief in themselves. Scotland bounce back from setbacks now much more than they used too. Quietly confident.

  10. We should win tomorrow. Fortress Murrayfield with only NZ escaping with a narrow win. Russell pulling the strings.

  11. Just watched the whole France v SA game vs highlights….FdK was prominent but SA didn’t do very much really and France totally opened the door at times.

    We are a better team than France so certainly confident we can win….depends wholly I think on not getting too battered up front and Poite’s interpretation of the breakdown.

  12. 50 / 50 game today but a game we should be confident of winning.

    Wee bit concerned team picked to negate SAs strengths rather exploit their weaknesses .

    V France they missed almost 20% of their tackles & conceded 21 turnovers.

    Dunbar not in squad, Brown on bench (2 off the best on ground).

    Replacement backs interesting too, would’ve thought Kinghorn better suited, looks like GT wants to see Russell/Hastings in tandem again

    1. Not really getting that. I see our backs as strong. I see us wearing them down first half and being the livelier finishers.

      No need to be negative at this stage.What is to be gained !

      1. Not negative Grumpy just my armchair musings about todays game. I expect us to win today. No-one has stopped Russell & Hogg in Edinburgh for a while. Averaging 34.44 points over last 2 years

  13. Unrelated but Jake Kerr is getting some plaudits as he begins to break into the Leicester team. Seen him described as an accomplished line out thrower and solid scrummager.

    1. Be interested to hear how Davidson got on as well. We could really do with a big carrying, scrummaging, mauling lock with a streak of bastard in him. Hoping Davidson or CHH could be that player.

  14. HT: Mixed bag?

    Russell not being great
    Poite allowing the ball to be slowed at breakdown
    Scrum issues

    Hogg. Awesome.

    1. Our forwards have stood up well enough. But our decision making has been awry and we’ve given them very cheap points. SA brutal at breakdown

  15. Great break by Jones but shame wide left attackers were too flat forcing the kick; ball in hand would have been better.

  16. One fly half was man of the match. The other had a complete horlicks. That’s the main difference

  17. Disappointed to have been right about this. Poite was baffling and inconsistent, but we were our own worst enemies.

  18. Why do we never get the ball out of the maul when it’s in trouble!!!

    Too many mistakes in the last 20 meant a game that was there for the taking was lost. We allowed SA to release pressure too easily by coughing up the ball. Ref’s interpretation at the breakdown possibly didn’t help; question is why hadn’t we done our homework and learnt how to play him?

  19. Very disappointing. Again.

    I don’t think Scotland have moved forward from last year. I said at the start of the AIs that Townsend need to pick a 23 and go with it after the Wales again. All this chopping and changing means there is a lack of coherence.

    Russell was at his ‘laconic’/disinterested worst today. Poor.

    We got destroyed at the breakdown. Backrow didn’t work.

    Fraser Brown needs to start against more physical sides. McInally isn’t physical enough.

    Ben F- what was Hogg doing wrong in defence? He’s our best back, would you rather Leigh Halfpenny?

    1. Hogg was man of the match in my eyes. We lost the game when he went off, and I think he knew it. So, we lost that game with poor decision-making, whether it was keeping the ball in the mail too long or attacking down he blindside from a line out in our own 22. I think we’ll improve, but Toonie needs to address this inability to win against physical rush defences sharpish. Luckily there’s a tournament coming up with plenty of physical rush defences. Or unluckily, I guess…

      1. Agreed.

        Team was wrong.

        Toolis doesn’t do enough to be test lock. Gilchrist brings more physicality.

        I rate Wilson but not at 8 in internationals.

        We looked blown with 15 mins to go.

        JP- you are correct. Without Laidlaw,Hogg and Barclay (i know he was in the studio and not in the team btw) on the field there is a lack of leadership. I would also have taken Russell off and kept Horne at 12.

      1. The turnover? Pretty harsh.

        As above do you want Leigh Halfpenny- boot the leather of it and drop back? Haven’t watched back but I assume he was set for an attacking play as he had thrown the long pass to Huw Jones. As Barclay said, the pass was the correct play, it was the turnover that killed us.

      2. Keep watching , we miss it very time . We talk about the centre channel vulnerabilty , well is it ? and if it is ? what are we doing about it ? It is not just Hogg, we missed it in Cardiff as well. Halfpenny is a decent professional , he is not Hogg, never will be.

      3. Is the problem not the Le Roux is running at props in the midfield. Because of the turnover? Again as Barclay said at half time. Not sure what that has to do with Stuart Hogg.

        He also didn’t play against Wales so not sure how that is his fault (assuming that is the centre channel vulnerability you are talking about). Scotland defend with one man in back field but that is a system not Hogg’s fault.

  20. A thread on rugby fanatics talking (Facebook group with 33k members) suggesting Jantjies was getting booed louder than Polard for his kick because he isnt white.

  21. Been a lot of keyboard warriors on here recently criticising P. Horne. Hope they have the cojones to be back with an apology.

  22. Finn needs to develop his game when he’s not got front foot ball and make better decisions. How Jones, hogg and Watson were fantastic but both second rows posted missing need them to front up against teams like the saffers that’s what GG would give us in my opinion

  23. S.A. deserved their win, but some good moves by Scotland. The breakdown is still a major weakness , in competing for the ball, getting it away quickly and a static first receiver. Scotland’s losses over the last year can all be attributed to the forwards failure to subdue the opposition.

  24. Adults going off, not kicking the penalty, blame the second rows, talk Hogg up, talk Horne up, blame McInally , blame the very muted Finn, all missing the elephant on the room.

    SA yellow card, man off, we take 3 points immediately , but what next !!! I think we lost points to 14 men (was it 6 but someone will correct me on that ), not that it is important the point being this.

    Compare Japan, they took a try immediately England went down to 14 and a second one before England were restored to 15 men .

    What more is there to be said, only one thing , the same flaw in Cardiff repeated again in Edinburgh.

    Toonie changes the sides again and again and again and again and we love picking the new sides and arguing over details , but Toonie fails to fix the fundamental game management issue.

    Missed opportunity, that was the moment the game was lost. A try would have won the game.

    Great first half, the better team won, we only just , came second.

    Actually, a really good game of rugby and I still love Scotland, this is a side full of good rugby , I am just so disapointed for them, it must be so frustrating.

  25. GT picked the wrong team. Yesterday was a day for Brown, Gilchrist, Dunbar (although P.Horne played well) Strauss & possibly Gary Graham starting.

    Scotland very uncomfortable against a physical rush defense, didn’t quite get the bounce of the ball & were 2nd best in the physicality stakes.

    Still………..SA beat NZ and very nearly beat England, 1 score from winning the game and an excellent spectacle.

  26. Yesterday’s result is further proof that we’re making good progress. I agree with all the comments about our struggles at the breakdown although I thought it was poorly officiated, however, we do need to get a bit more streetwise like all the top teams are and learn to play the referee. It annoys me to have to say that because the referees should all be interpreting the rules in the same way! Am I the only one that thinks, most teams “line speed” regularly starts from an offside position. I do get frustrated watching Finn Russell, he appears to have a casual attitude at times and often costs us field position and possession.
    Gregor needs to field his best available team now, starting on Saturday, all the best teams have consistency in selection. The only changes I would make, if all are fit, would be Gilchrist for Toolis and Strauss for Wilson with G Horne on the bench.

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