Rugby Union: Mallett's men are showing the strain

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The Independent Online
IF ONLY we could play rugby of this intensity more often, British sides would fare much better against the southern hemisphere teams. But our lack of truly competitive rugby on a regular basis could be clearly seen in the second half at Murrayfield where the Scots got weaker and the South Africans became stronger.

That doesn't mean to say that the Scots should be too disheartened at the outcome. Like Wales the week before, Scotland were given little chance of avoiding annihilation but the first-half performance by their forwards was superb. They denied the Boks possession and made a good game of it, although I have to say that, unlike the Welsh, there was never a time when I thought the Scots were capable of winning.

The second half was a big let-down. Scotland just couldn't keep the pace up and had South Africa been at their best would have taken a hammering. But the South Africans did not look sharp. In fact, there were times when they looked very tired, which might give some hope to Ireland and England in the weeks ahead.

They certainly didn't look invincible and were greatly helped by Scotland's mistakes. But the way South Africa take their chances is very impressive. The way Joost van de Westhuizen scored when Alan Tait laid the ball down after a tackle was terrific. Perhaps, Tait could have kept it closer to his body but the fault lay with the Scottish support. Then, another try came when a Duncan Hodge kick was charged down. You really can't labour that long over a clearance kick.

The second half was poor as a spectacle because of those gifts. South Africa didn't have to go flat-out for the full 80 minutes as they had to against Wales and so it all fell a bit flat. I'm amazed how many knock- ons the tourists are guilty of. If they ever make the ball stick every time, someone is going to get a hammering. But that is just another indication of fatigue and Nick Mallett's main task over the next few weeks is going to be to drive this lethargy out of their system.

Another contribution to the disappointing second half was the performance of the English referee, who didn't allow the same flow as his Australian counterpart did at Wembley. This is not so much a personal criticism but an observation on the difference between refereeing in the hemispheres. We are still far too fussy.

As well as failing to maintain their first-half momentum, the Scots also made the mistake of trying to play the ball out of their own 22. I'm all for ball retention in all parts of the pitch but if you are going to run from your own territory you need someone who can score from 80 metres and I'm afraid the Scots are short of a Percy Montgomery or a Bobby Skinstad.

But I was impressed with the performance of John Leslie and the work up front of hooker Gordon Bulloch and second row Scott Murray.

No South African was outstanding as an individual and, if I was them, I'd be worried about the number of elementary mistakes being made. But they have a lot of experience and know how to fall back. Although Ireland will give them a torrid time in Dublin on Saturday, the tourists will probably be able to do enough to win. Then they will summon up all they have got for one huge effort against England at Twickenham. But if they have learned nothing else from the first two Tests, they know that they are going to have to work very hard.

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