Rugby World Cup Pool B: Resurgent Springboks too strong for Scots
St James’ Park was once the site of the city gallows in Newcastle, and the Springboks hanged the Scots out to dry on Tyneside.
A strong and dominant display from South Africa, now 13/2 joint second favourites for the tournament with Coral, saw them execute an awesome physical performance to run out 34-16 winners over Scotland and go top of Rugby World Cup Pool B.
Tries late in either half from JP Pietersen and Springbok legend Bryan Habana helped to check Scottish momentum, and put the Southern Hemisphere heavyweights on the cusp of the quarter-finals.
South Africa have an easy midweek match to end their participation in this group against the USA, with the loss to Japan in the pool opener looking more and more like an aberration.
Scotland were easily overwhelmed throughout the first-half, forced into more than 70 tackles during the opening half hour and seeing precious little of the ball. It is a sobering reality check after beating some of the minnows at the Rugby World Cup, in the Brave Blossoms and Eagles.
A pile-up on 13 minutes saw Bismarck du Plessis credited with the grounding touch on an opening try with Vern Cotter’s crew failing to survive the TMO review. Handre Pollard’s conversion and proficient kicking from penalties established a 13-0 advantage for the Springboks.
Jannie du Plessis spent 10 minutes that reached both sides of the interval in the sin bin for using his arms in a tackle on Gordon Reid during a ruck. Even a man light, however, South Africa still grabbed a second try through Pietersen.
Driving into a maul, the Scots over-committed bodies to stop losing ground, but that simply freed up space for the winger to nip in. With Pollard’s conversion, a 20-3 half-time lead was both healthy and harrowing.
Weakness at scrums and line-outs left Scotland hampering themselves, with Laidlaw kicking a couple of penalties to give them something on the board. Cotter’s crew grabbed a surprise try on the counter early in the second-half when Duncan Weir seized upon a rare Pollard error.
Tommy Seymour eventually crossed and Laidlaw converted to reduce Scottish arrears to 20-13. Pollard swiftly atoned, however, by notching a drop goal to restore a 10-point cushion.
Laidlaw’s late tackle on Habana then saw him off the field for 10 minutes. Three further Pollard penalties, with one from deputising Scotland kicker Weir sandwiched in between, brought the score to 29-16.
Adriaan Strauss’ superb riding of a challenge eventually allowed Habana to go over for a third South African try seven minutes from time. Despite Pollard’s failure to convert again, punters can expect to see a Springboks presence in the quarter-finals on this impressive evidence.
Earlier in the day in Pool B’s other game, Japan profited from a real lack of discipline by Samoa, who had three players sin-binned, to run out 26-5 winners at Stadium:mk.
This means it remains a three-horse race to reach the knockout phase, and South Africa are now in pole position with that straightforward final fixture to come. Scotland should join them, provided they respond by defeating underachievers Samoa.