Scotland, it would appear, do not have the ghost of a chance at Murrayfield this afternoon. Having nailed France and England by record margins, the Mallett-driven Springboks seem destined to conclude their European tour by administering the biggest hammering of the lot.
Jim Telfer, the Scottish Rugby Union's director of playing operations, has suggested it would take "a miracle" to bring about a victory that, in his estimation, would rank as "Scotland's greatest rugby achievement." And The Scotsman, while pondering the possible selection permutations, pointed out that the one most likely to succeed, "playing all 26 squad members at once, is apparently in contravention of the laws".
Such defeatist talk is not the canny Caledonian kidology it might once have been. The ghosts of pre-Christmas games past are threatening to haunt Scottish rugby today.
The nightmare 37-8 defeat inflicted by a less than accomplished Australia is still fresh in the memory - a performance, more faint-heart than Braveheart, which had the punters pouring out towards Princes Street long before the merciful blast of the final whistle. The home challenge today will be to mend broken hearts and avoid further record-breaking damage on the scoreboard.
South Africa may have crossed the equator without Joost van der Westhuizen and Andre Joubert, twin-orchestrators of their 34-15 win at Murrayfield three years ago, and this week been deprived of Henry Honiball, but the relentless progress they have made under the direction of their Hertfordshire- born coach, Nick Mallett, suggests they are capable of emulating the All Blacks of 1993 by becoming the second team to put a half-century of points past Scotland.
Anything less than that would represent a qualified success in damage limitation for the Scots, who welcome back their captain, Rob Wainwright, at blind-side flanker, but who have been denied the totemic presence at inside centre of Alan Tait, scorer of the clinching try in the Lions' first Test victory against South Africa at Newlands in June. With Doddie Weir and Tom Smith also Lions still licking wounds, Scotland would seem to be in danger of losing by a record margin too.
That particular humiliation was inflicted not in the 51-15 defeat against New Zealand four years ago, but by South Africa in November 1951. Ten of the Springbok XV got their names on the Murrayfield scoresheet in that 44-0 rout - among them Aaron "Okey" Geffin, the place-kicking Transvaal prop who landed seven of his nine conversion attempts.
Scotland have not beaten the Springboks since Ian Robertson and Chris Rea performed the dummy scissors move which set up Ian Smith for the clinching try in a 6-3 victory at Murrayfield on 6 December, 1969. The captain that day, one JW Telfer of Melrose, will not be expecting a victorious 28th anniversary present, but the SRU's director of rugby will be hoping for a vast improvement on the showing that left him "embarrassed and ashamed" at Murrayfield a fortnight ago.
Mallett, publicly at least, claims to be wary of a potential backlash. "I hate coming in against a side like Scotland, who are coming off a bad defeat and being written off," he said.
In his days as a padded-up Oxford Blue, Mallett once came in against Ian Botham - and struck him for three sixes in one over. The fear of Scotland is that South Africa's coach could be chasing a cricket score again this afternoon.
SCOTLAND v SOUTH AFRICA
R Shepherd Melrose 15 P Montgomery W Province
C Joiner Leicester 14 J Small W Province
A Stanger Hawick 13 A Snyman N Transvaal
C Chalmers Melrose 12 R Muir W Province
D Stark Glasgow 11 P Rossouw W Province
G Townsend Northampton 10 J De Beer Free State
A Nicol Bath 9 W Swanepoel Free State
D Hilton Bath 1 O du Randt Free State
G Bulloch W of Scotland 2 J Dalton Gauteng
M Stewart Northampton 3 A Garvey Natal
S Campbell Dundee HSFP 4 K Otto N Transvaal
S Murray Bedford 5 M Andrews Natal
R Wainwright Wats, capt 6 J Erasmus Free State
E Peters Bath 8 G Teichmann Natal, capt
I Smith Moseley 7 A Venter Free State
Referee: P Thomas (France) Kick-off: 3.0 (BBC 1)
Replacements: K Logan (Wasps); D Hodge (Watsonians); G Armstrong (Newcastle); P Walton (Newcastle); G Graham (Newcastle); J Hay (Hawick).
Replacements: J Swart (Western Province); D Van Zyl (Mpumalanga Pumas); A Aitken (Western Province); W Meyer (Free State); N Drotske (Free State).Reuse content