South Africa (20) 34
Scotland (3) 16
Mike Greenaway at St James’ Park
Sometimes arrogance and confidence can be confused and eyebrows were raised when Heyneke Meyer said midweek that that he was convinced his plan that had long ago been conceived for the World Cup was going to come together against the Scots and propel the team into the quarter-finals and beyond.
But Meyer is a passionate man and he truly believed that his brigade of old hands was coming into form and that with their injuries behind them, the team is not far off peaking at the right time.
Let’s give Meyer credit where it is due. The Boks are starting to look ominously dangerous and the other leading contenders for the Webb Ellis Cup will be looking over their shoulders at the rapidly improving Boks.
The difference Fourie du Preez has made since starting his first Test of the year last week against Samoa has been phenomenal. Meyer has never ceased telling us that Du Preez is key to the Boks’ campaign, and never were truer words said. His influence on the players around him cannot be understated, with Handre Pollard, for one, growing in confidence almost every minute he plays with the cool scrumhalf next to him.
Other key figures are also playing exceptional rugby – Bismarck du Plessis was immense, as was Duane Vermeulen and the evergreen Schalk Burger, but at the heart of the mighty Bok effort up front was the exuberant second row pairing of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager. It is hard to imagine even Victor Matfield forcing his back in ahead of De Jager, the Man of the Match.
A blight on the Boks’ otherwise efficient performance was the old problem of discipline. They had spoken long and hard about it during the week after conceding 15 penalties against Samoa, with the goal being to bring it down to 10 or less, but we had the unfortunate sight of Jannie du Plessis being yellow carded for charging shoulder first into the side of a ruck.
Crazy stuff, especially after he was guilty of the same offence in the match against the World XV at Newlands earlier this season when he charged illegally into Bakkies Botha.
There was an inevitability about the Springboks’ opening score after relentlessly efficient phase play inched them ever closer to the line and eventually a barrage of Boks bustled over, with the try being awarded to Bismarck du Plessis.
The Boks had been superior in the early exchanges imposing themselves in the set pieces, stealing two lineout throws, dominating the set scrums and twice turning ball over at the rucks. The lineout drive was the next arrow taken out of the Springbok quiver and a 20m drive was rewarded with a penalty for Pollard to goal, extending the lead to 10 points after 17 minutes.
The confidence in the Boks was reflected in them taking a kick to the corner as early as the 23 minutes, although it also brought the Boks’ first lineout loss of the tournament, and when another penalty came their way in the 25th minute, right in front of the posts, captain Du Preez opted for the three points.
The Boks’ second try was an absolute gem and came timeously, on the stroke of half time. Even though a man short, the Boks drove resolutely from a lineout to within sniffing distance of the line and then Du Preez neatly popped a short pass out to JP Pietersen, who had come in off his wing, and there was no stopping the big fellow from such close quarters.
The hue contingent of Scots found their voice early in the second half when their team had a purple patch on the scoreboard. Greig Laidlaw added to his first half penalty and then there was an effective 14-point turnaround when Duncan Weir intercepted on his 22 with the Boks’ back line in full flight, and wing Tommy Seymour ended up scoring at the other end of the field.
It was suddenly 20-13 but Pollard steadied the ship with a coolly taken drop goal and the Boks were 10 points clear again at 23-13.
And then the last thing the Scots needed was for captain and scrumhalf Laidlaw to be binned for tackling Bryan Habana without the ball. In that time, Weir kicked two penalties and Pollard his third and fourth.
As was the case last week against Samoa, veteran win Habana had the final say, forcing his way over for his 61st Test try.
Springboks: Tries: Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana. Conversions: Handre Pollard (2). Penalties; Pollard (4). Drop goal: Pollard
Scotland: Try: Tommy Seymour. Penalties Greg Laidlaw (2), Duncan Weir (2). Conversions: Laidlaw
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