Rugby Union: Scotland expect backlash from Springboks

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The Independent Online
IT IS ALMOST half a century since the greatest Springboks side of them all - and, quite conceivably, the finest touring team ever to visit these islands - made mincemeat of both Scotland and the international record book by scoring 44 unanswered points at Murrayfield. So dominant were the South Africans that day that Hennie Muller, something of a gentleman as well as a sleek greyhound of a No 8, excused himself from his own half- time team talk and politely offered his opponents some tactical advice.

This, of course, is a harsher age. The Scots may well go down by a similar margin at the same venue this afternoon - those mordant pessimists who believe the domestic game to be on the point of collapse might almost see 44-zip as a let-off - but the parallels will surely end there. Hard- nosed Boks like James Dalton and Joost van der Westhuizen are not exactly noted for their generosity.

They will be especially parsimonious today, thanks to the unexpected wake-up call they received from 15 super-charged Welshmen at Wembley last weekend: "We can't afford to play like that again," muttered Gary Teichmann, the Springboks captain, yesterday, his words confirming Scottish suspicions that their fellow Celts have done them no favours whatsoever. "We now know that the sides here will raise their game by 20 or 30 per cent and we must do the same."

Scotland will have to improve 100 percent on last week's ponderous performance against the New Zealand Maoris if they are to spend this afternoon in the same game park as the tourists. Even if they approach the required level of advancement, they may still find themselves being eaten alive.

Jim Telfer, their sergeant-majorish head coach, has never had much time for what the New Zealanders used to call "fairy-tale rugby", but his decision to dispense with proven big-match operators like Gary Armstrong and Gregor Townsend suggests he has developed a recent passion for Hans Christian Andersen. Or, more appropriately perhaps, the Brothers Grimm.

Armstrong is not quite the player he was before his body began to fall apart, while Townsend's instinctive preference for the off-the-cuff, rather than the regimented, undoubtedly drives a realist like Telfer to distraction.

For all that, Armstrong still lives for the physical challenge presented by a Springboks outfit and Townsend, on a good day at least, remains the bee's knees. Besides, it was only 18 months ago that the latter demonstrated, not least to Telfer, that he could play hardball with the best of them. His contribution to the Lions' victory in South Africa was far greater than many observers chose to admit.

A really bad defeat for the Scots will throw a distinctly inquisitorial spotlight on the whole structure of the game north of the border. Telfer's choice of eight home-based players may be applauded by the arch-conservatives in the Murrayfield hierarchy but the fact remains that the so-called super- districts, Edinburgh Reivers and Glasgow Caledonians, have barely won a match worth winning since their creation emasculated the Scottish domestic championship. Both have mixed it with the Springboks' midweek side, with embarrassing results: well over a century of points conceded, no tries scored.

It may well be that the real fascination of this afternoon's contest lies with the Springboks in general and Bobby Skinstad, their extravagantly equipped young flanker, in particular.

No player has been so widely venerated in South Africa since Danie Gerber thundered onto the scene more than a decade ago, and the stir caused by the 22-year-old student is all the more remarkable given that he has yet to start a Test. That will all change this afternoon and Budge Pountney, an honest open-side striver from Northampton, will do well to stay in the same half of the pitch as his opposite number.

Christian Stewart, a Canadian-born centre who now plays alongside Skinstad at Western Province, is the other debutant. Ten years older than his fellow Capetonian, he is unlikely to dismiss his defensive duties with the carefree abandon shown by Franco Smith at Wembley last Saturday.

"I've had one hell of a wait, because this is something I've dreamed of all my life," Stewart said yesterday. "I'm surprised it's happened now; we midweekers felt the first-choice Test side would perform well enough to shut the door on us. But the chance has presented itself. All I've ever wanted is this opportunity."

When Stewart last shared a Test pitch with the Springboks, at Port Elizabeth in 1995, he was clad in the red of Canada. It was, to say the least, an explosive encounter: one mass brawl, three sendings-off, a subsequent citing and many tears before bedtime. "I have to admit I stayed well away from the fighting," he recalled. This afternoon, though, he will be in the thick of everything.

SCOTLAND v SOUTH AFRICA

at Murrayfield

D Lee London Scottish 15 P Montgomery W Province

A Tait Edinburgh Reivers 14 S Terblanche Boland

J Mayer Edinburgh Reivers 13 A Snyman Blue Bulls

J Leslie Glasgow Caledonians 12 C Stewart Western Province

C Murray Edinburgh Reivers 11 P Rossouw Western Province

D Hodge Edinburgh Reivers 10 H Honiball Natal

B Redpath Edin Reivers, capt 9 J van der Westhuizen Blue Bulls

T Smith Glasgow Caledonians 1 R Kempson Natal

G Bulloch Glasgow Caledonians 2 J Dalton Golden Lions

P Burnell London Scottish 3 A Garvey Natal

S Murray Bedford 4 K Otto Blue Bulls

G Weir Newcastle 5 M Andrews Natal

P Walton Newcastle 6 J Erasmus Free State

A Pountney Northampton 7 R Skinstad Western Province

E Peters Bath 8 G Teichmann Natal, capt

Referee: C White (England) Kick-off: 3.00pm (BBC1 2.40)

Replacements: K Logan (Wasps), G Townsend (Brive), G Armstrong (Newcastle), M Leslie (Edinburgh), S Grimes (Glasgow), D Hilton (Bath), S Brotherstone (Edinburgh).

Replacements: G Du Toit (Griqualand West), F Smith (Blue Bulls), W Swanepoel (Free State), C Krige (Western Province), A Venter (Free State), O Le Roux (Natal), N Drotske (Free State).

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