Boks’ great escape

The Springboks scraped past Scotland 14-10 at Murrayfield, but it was a lose-lose situation for South Africa.

Victory means there will be no change to the coaching status quo. Victory like this also means likely defeat to the best of Britain and Ireland in South Africa in 2009.

Scotland led 10-0 at half-time and had their goalkickers not butchered four penalties the Boks would have lost. It was a half-hearted and rudderless display by the visitors, who never looked in control of proceedings and were hardly worthy winners when referee Dave Pearson blew the final whistle.

The core of this Springbok team humiliated Scotland a year ago at this same venue, but the lot that played on Saturday looked like imposters, so poor was the discipline, the intent and the physicality.

The lack of physicality was the most alarming aspect of the performance with South Africa’s all-round display at the breakdown their worst of the season. Ill-discipline in going off their feet, ill-discipline in not adapting to the referee’s interpretation and ill-discipline overall. This was a poor performance because the opposition is average. New Zealand’s third best team put 30 past them a week ago in more difficult playing conditions.

The Scots, 10 points to the good at half-time, should have led by more had they not lost their fullback and ace goalkicker Chris Paterson early on to injury. Replacement Dan Parks and flyhalf Phil Godman coughed up four easy penalty attempts and while Ruan Pienaar missed with a conversion and a penalty, he made good with three kicks.

Juan Smith, the man of the match, was the exception to a Bok forward effort characterised by individual efforts. South Africa suffered in the forward exchanges after losing Bismarck du Plessis to a hamstring injury four minutes into the game, a disruption that saw captain John Smit shifting to hooker and Brian Mujati coming off the bench to pack at tighthead prop. The Boks were properly mauled in the scrums, and Du Plessis’s tenacity at the breakdown was also sorely missed.

But the Boks missed Fourie du Preez in a fixture that would have been tailor-made to his strengths. Du Preez’s kicking game would have allowed South Africa more territorial advantage, and his calmness under pressure would have been an asset to a team that looked easily flustered. While the poor performance at the scrum will worry the Bok management as they prepare for the England Test, Du Preez’s injury is also a massive concern. His availability could ultimately determine whether the Boks win at Twickenham next week or go home crying.

Pienaar goaled two penalties early in the second half to bring the Boks back into the match, and with Pearson nailing the Scots at the tackle point, the momentum was in South Africa’s favour. They fluffed a few more opportunities before replacement Jaque Fourie latched onto a wayward pass and powered over for a fantastic score. On for the off-colour Bryan Habana, his finishing of this movement certainly spared the Boks a few blushes.

Scotland had several try-scoring chances towards the end, but it was a desperate South Africa defensive display that thwarted them only inches from the whitewash. Frans Steyn made a telling steal on the deck that saw the Boks regain possession, and when Januarie received the ball at the back of a ruck a few phases on, he made sure time was up before booting the ball into the crowd.

The sight of the Boks walking off the pitch, heads down, said it all. The Murrayfield faithful cheered them off, but there was hardly much to take heart from in this particular performance.

Scotland – Try: Nathan Hines. Conversion: Phil Godman. Penalty. Godman
South Africa – Try: Jaque Fourie. Penalties. Ruan Pienaar (3)