Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v South Africa: Autumn Nations Series 2021, Match Preview pt I

Autumn Nations Series - Scotland v South Africa

KO 1.00 at Murrayfield
Saturday 13th November 2021

Live on Amazon Prime Video

Scotland’s home record against the Springboks reads 5 wins and 14 losses since these nations first clashed at Hampden Park in 1906. The scoreline in that inaugural fixture was 6-0 to the home side.

Given the dark blues’ struggles to cross the whitewash against South Africa, a similar result might be Scotland’s best chance of eking out another victory! In this century just 6 Scots have scored tries against the Springboks at Murrayfield:

  • 2018 – Peter Horne, Hamish Watson
  • 2013 – no tries scored
  • 2012 – Henry Pyrgos
  • 2010 – no tries scored
  • 2008 – Nathan Hines
  • 2007 – no tries scored
  • 2004 – penalty try
  • 2002 – Budge Pountney, Nikki Walker

In fact, across 27 meetings with South Africa at all venues, Scotland have only managed to score more than 2 tries on a single occasion. During their 2003 tour Andy Craig, Chris Paterson and Jason White all crossed but the Scots were edged out 29-25 in Durban.

  • 0 tries 6 times
  • 1 try 13 times
  • 2 tries 7 times
  • 3 tries once

South Africa Scouting Report

Slipping by the Springboks

There is a very simple 3-point plan to beat South Africa.

  1. Don’t concede penalties – penalties mean points through kicks or driving mauls from short-range lineouts.
  2. Don’t concede scrums – scrums mean penalties. Refer to point 1.
  3. Don’t concede lineouts – lineouts mean mauls which mean penalties. Refer to point 1.

All Scotland need to add on top of this is a high-octane attacking gameplan which they execute while making absolutely no errors in the teeth of one of the best defences in world rugby – easy!

Last week, South Africa restricted Wales to just 142 metres made with ball in hand (Scotland average 401m per game in the Townsend era). This after keeping the Lions to an average of 204m per game across the three Test series in the summer.

The Welsh also only managed 2 clean breaks (which is the same as the Lions in each of the first two Tests). Undoubtedly Scotland have the personnel to attack from anywhere but they will be facing a stifling defence that cuts off nearly all options and allows no time for good decisions to be made.

It will take one of the games of their careers for Scotland’s leaders in attack (Price, Russell and Hogg) to break down the visitor’s defensive systems. Judicious use of the boot will need to be made in order to play the fancy stuff in the right areas rather than the places the Springboks’ own kicking game will look to manipulate Scotland into working from.

Marseille in Mind

While the result on Saturday will mean everything to the fans, players and coaches and provoke short-term celebrations there will also be a longer term impact on the mentality of the two teams heading in to the 2023 RWC. Less than two years from now Scotland and South Africa will clash at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.

Victory on Saturday would be a huge boost for a Scottish side that knows at least one win against the Springboks or Ireland will be required to reach the knockout stages. The visitors will be keen to continue their dominance of this fixture and not allow the Scots to get ideas above their station.

With the World Cup in mind, South Africa’s selections really sum up that they are looking to build the defence of their title largely on the same players that smashed England in the 2019 final – 16 of the South African 23 for Saturday played in that game, with 5 of the others unavailable through injury and just 2 having retired.

That means that the current squad is a hugely experienced, veteran group. Among the matchday 23 at Murrayfield 12 will be aged 30+ and therefore will be 32 and over in 2023. In total 16 of this selection will be 30+ by the start of the RWC. A number of the missing players (including Faf de Klerk, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Frans Malherbe) will also be in that 30+ bracket.


  • Jesse Kriel is an outstanding player and will win his 50th cap on Saturday but he is not a regular on the wing at this level. He did struggle somewhat under the high ball against Wales and coughed up 5 turnovers – as many as the rest of the South African backline combined. He also missed a couple of tackles and conceded a penalty.
  • During the most recent Rugby Championship, South Africa made the fewest clean breaks (10 – compared to 46 for New Zealand and 42 for Australia). Scotland will need to be wary of a Springbok backline with more of an attacking leaning though. If the home side cannot contain the visitors pack it will also open up vast spaces for South Africa to exploit.
  • The Springboks had statistically the best lineout in TRC with an 88.5% success rate. The Lions’ tour also showed that the likes of Etzebeth and Mostert are a menace on opposition ball in this facet of the game.

Previous results

This will be the 9th time the two sides have met in Scotland this century. The head to head looks like this from the home side’s perspective:


Most recent meeting in Edinburgh:

Scotland 20 – 26 South Africa

Significant stat
89% – ruck success rate for Scotland. This is the only time that figure has dropped below 90% during the Townsend era (the dark blues’ average for all games in this period is 96.5%). There can be few better illustrations that South Africa bring an unmatched level of intensity to the breakdown. Add in 3 maul turnovers and Scotland lost the ball 11 times alone in these physical confrontations. They cannot afford to be so profligate this time around if the Springboks are to be repelled.

The Scottish Rugby Blog match report from that game is here.


Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referee 1: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referee 2: Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Brett Conan (Australia)

Despite taking charge of Tier 1 Test matches for more than 5 years and being one of the Southern Hemisphere’s top men, Mr Gardner has never previously refereed a Scotland game.

The last 13 games have seen Scotland win the penalty count 9 times; tie once; and lose it 3 times. They have conceded 4 yellow cards to 9 for their opponents. 2 red cards (v 1 for the opposition) are a couple of fairly big blots on an improved performance in this area.

In the 16 games prior to this run, Gregor Townsend’s men had lost the penalty count 11 times and won it on just 5 occasions. While their own average penalty count has increased from 9 to 10 in the most recent sequence they have been able to win 13 pens from their opponents (compared to just 8 for the earlier run) which suggests far more pressure being put on by the Scots and ties in with the ramping up of the intensity of their defensive work.

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow later in the week, after the team announcements.

21 Responses

  1. There’s some chat that Turner and Cummings are both fit and Kinghorn might start. Interesting. I anticipate some changes, given the 6 day turnaround and the difference in the opposition.

  2. “Kinghorn might start”? Where pray? Assume you mean on the wing but if so can’t see how he’d get in ahead of Graham,Steyn or Rufus Maclean.

    1. I think Rufus could be key in this one. Yes inexperienced but that step could be hugely helpful in giving us opportunities. I’m not sure I’ve seen one like it. He can go both ways at anytime and is strong in defence too.

      1. Rob, I’m old enough to remember T.G.R. Davies. Brilliant talent.
        I can still remember an old episode of Rugby Special in the 70s. Cardiff match in a gloomy, rain-sodden mudbath. They got four scoring chances, and Davies scored four tries. Genius.

    2. Defending his line and kick ball chase from the wing might be where Kinghorn comes in, but it could be argued Steyn could does that pretty well and other things in addition.
      I just can’t see it being the same 15 given the Saturday KO and the nature of the SA challenge.

  3. I would be very surprised to see Kinghorn come in. He’s been playing 10 (mediocrely) all of this season and he isn’t going to be starting there, is he.

    With Duhan pretty much nailed on one wing, I could see a justification for any of Steyn, Graham or Mclean on the other and tbh wouldn’t be unhappy with any of them. I would stick with Graham though.

    If Cummings is fit, that’s a huge bonus and would add him onto the bench.
    Other than that, probably keep the entire 23 the same. Maybe try out Dylan Richardson from the bench to annoy the saffas

  4. It will be interesting to see what tactics Scotland bring this weekend. Will Toony do something completely different to what Gatland did over the summer. I have a feeling they will be more direct than against Australia. I’d play VDM and Steyn and have them running at pace through the midfield with the backrow in hot pursuit and Russell constantly moving the point of attack. I also think we might see Russell going for a lot more 50/22 than Price box kicking. This might look like the Twickenham game this year where moving them around by clever kicking never really let them get going.

  5. I’m not keen on the Kinghorn idea either, never said I was, but GT is almost incapable of selecting an unchanged team and that was a typical left field thing to throw in.
    As to Matt Scott, I would be behind his selection, but Sam Johnson did nothing wrong against Australia and is frequently the calmest heid in our back division. He may be going for physicality over skill, which, let’s be honest, is not drawing the best out of our squad.

  6. Slightly odd selection by Toonie but I’m very excited to see what McLean can do against SA. It’s a shame Rory Darge has been injured as he might make a more like for like replacement for Watson, who apparently needs to be somewhat rested. I think Haining has consistently played above his reputation for Scotland though, so I’ll remain cautiously optimistic.

    Would love to see Scotland beat SA. Yes there’s the RWC implications, and the decade-long wait since the last victory over them, but the main reason is just that SA have the worst fans in the world, if online is anything to go by.

    1. I remember sitting in front a SAF fan in 2018 how kept calling out that the ref and the entire Scottish team were “cheats”, pretty much every 5 minutes. I was so close to engaging him on our Craig Joubert experience but he was a big bruiser so I held my tongue.
      Let’s just say they don’t endear themselves, and take a pleasure from it.

  7. A bold call to pick Matt Scott four and a bit years after his last start. When he was part of a side that turned the Wallabies over in Sydney.
    Worth watching on YouTube his contributions in the build up to Watson’s try.

  8. I hope this selection is a nod to the increased physicality of the opposition but with the intention to still play our game rather than an attempt to out muscle them.

  9. Very surprised to see this team announced. Maybe Johnston has picked something up but Russell was in the press earlier in the week saying how well they were playing together.

    I also thought Steyn would start this one and he’s not even on the bench. I bet he and his family are gutted.

  10. Scott & McLean were surprising calls….only because McLean has 1 cap going in…and Scott hasn’t played since ’17. Both are in great form though. Looking forward to watching their impact. McLean especially has enough talent to be world class imo. I doubt SA coaches were expecting either. McLean could cause their aging team huge problems. Also keeps them wondering which is best side to shut down VDM or RM. We really should try our best to move the play side to side. Would rather have seen Steyn (especially) or Graham on the bench than Kinghorn.

  11. Think whatever the tactical justification is we are going to miss Watson’s turnovers etc. He may give up a couple of stone to Haining, but he competes better than anyone and would only have helped stimy that bruising momentum from the Bok pack. Also cannot really see any fairness in not giving him a starting opportunity in a Lions test or home international.

    Matt Scott from left field – hope goes well.

    V excited for McLean.

    Big game due from Russell…

  12. I think this is Matt Scott’s final throw of the dice. He has been, perhaps unfairly, overlooked by Toonie since he took charge. I don’t watch English rugby but a lot of folk on here have said he has been playing well for a long time and deserves a chance, so here it is. Did Sam Johnson pick up a knock, wouldn’t be surprised he got a couple of big clatters at the weekend. He has been getting back to his best and is hard as nails so it’s a bit surprising to see him dropped but this is Matts big chance and I hope he takes it.

    I think benching Mish is pretty smart, in Toonies interview he more or less said its due to his lack of game time. We have seen him used to great effect off the bench before. The thought of a fresh Mish bouncing off tiring Bok tackles makes me excited.

    He has gone for tried and tested in McInally, I hope the lineout functions as giving away cheap ball against the Boks is suicide.

    Not much to say about McLean, I thought he was the better player between him and Steyn against Tonga. Toonie also mentioned about the AIs being about giving players opportunities. I know I’ll get slated here but as good as Darcy was last weekend I thought he was exposed size wise a couple of times so am not disappointed to see someone else come in for this game.

    Hopefully the tactics are a bit better, don’t go straight for the miracle pass or chip through.

You might also like these:

Craig is joined by Jonny and Iain to look forward to Glasgow's huge URC final in Pretoria, after the win against Munster and skirt around the latest news of the week.
Craig is joined by Jonny and Rory to look back at the disappointing end to Edinburgh's season and Glasgow's march towards the semi finals.
Gregor Townsend has named a largely experimental squad for the summer tour of the Americas. It's not a question of who misses out, but rather who is actually going, writes Rory.
Iain is joined by Jonny and John to discuss the penultimate round of URC fixtures as well as the recent Scottish Rugby Writers' Awards

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion