Rugby Union: Scots given view of full Montgomery

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Scotland 10

South Africa 68

It was not quite the full Monty. Percy Montgomery hooked wide the sixth of the nine conversions he attempted at Murrayfield on Saturday. He still, though, left Scotland stripped bare and withered on the big stage.

It was at the Melrose Sevens two years ago that the Western Province player first showed a glimpse of his prodigious talent to a British audience, in a starring role for the Villagers club from Cape Town. On Saturday, he was such a barnstorming Cape crusader he turned what was billed as a Test match into a winter matinee of exhibition sevens stuff.

It was by no means a one-man show. Pieter Rossouw, Montgomery's provincial colleague, played an equally pivotal part in the Springbok tour de force that broke all records, or so it seemed, and brought the house crashing down on Rob Wainwright and his broken Bravehearts.

Montgomery's, though, was a performance of irresistible verve. Scotland knew he would come crashing through the South African threequarter line; they could simply not cope with the pace, the power and the piercingly sharp angles of his running.

The spring-heeled Springbok scored two tries himself, the second a mesmerising solo effort that left half of the Scottish XV floundering in his slipstream. He also provided silver-platter service for Andre Venter and James Small, who duly devoured Danie Gerber's Springbok record with his second score and was involved in a further four of his team's 10 touchdowns.

Stunned though he was at the final whistle, Wainwright could only shake his head in admiration of the 23-year-old. "The finest display I've ever seen by a full-back," the Scottish captain said. "He's a devastating attacking force."

That the force might have been with South Africa was no consolation to the Scottish captain in the mournful wake of the heaviest defeat inflicted upon a Caledonian battalion since Culloden. It was, though, confirmation of how Nick Mallett has shaken rugby's world order since succeeding Carel du Plessis as Springbok coach.

Mallett caused consternation in South Africa when he chose to try Montgomery instead of Justin Swart as a stand-in full-back for the injured Andre Joubert after the opening leg of the Springboks' European tour. Montgomery's tackling at outside-centre had been identified as an Achilles heel in South Africa's summer series loss to the Lions and in the Tri-Nations matches which followed.

His elusive running from full-back, though, has transformed the Boks into a dynamic attacking unit - of All Black power, it would seem, on the considerable strength of the evidence that has overwhelmed France, England and Scotland these past three Saturdays. Not that Mallett claims to be entirely convinced.

"To score a record 52 points at Parc des Princes, 29 at Twickenham, another record, and then 68 here is just fantastic," the Oxford Blue said. "But we've yet to play the other best teams, New Zealand and Australia. We'll not know where we really stand until we play them in next year's Tri-Nations."

In the meantime, Mallett's men stand proudly ahead of the infamous 1951 Springboks in the hallowed halls of South African rugby fame. The Boks of '51 were responsible for inflicting Scotland's record losing margin in that 44-0 Murrayfield romp and for running a record number of tries past the Scots, nine.

Those particular milestone achievements were consigned to the historical dustbin on Saturday, together with the record points tally Scotland conceded in their 51-15 crushing by the 1993 All Black machine at Murrayfield four years ago. Thus concluded a record-breaking year for Scottish rugby: five record defeats and one record win (against Ireland) in six matches in 1997.

Of particular concern is how the flower of Scotland has wilted in the heat of pre-Christmas battle against opposition from another rugby world. Against Australia a fortnight ago and South Africa on Saturday, the combined score was Scotland 18 Southern Hemisphere 108 - or two tries to 15.

It will take more than the return of three Lions - Alan Tait, Doddie Weir and Tom Smith - to make significant inroads into that telling gap. "We know we have problems," Richie Dixon, Scotland's coach, acknowledged.

As to the question of solving them, answers please to the Scottish Rugby Union, Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. It might take more than a postcard.

Scotland: Try Stark; Conversion Shepherd; Penalty Shepherd. South Africa: Tries Montgomery 2, Erasmus, Small 2, Rossouw, Teichmann, Venter, Snyman, Smith. Conversions De Beer, Montgomery 8.

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd (Melrose); C Joiner (Leicester), A Stanger (Hawick), C Chalmers (Melrose), D Stark (Glasgow); G Townsend (Northampton), A Nicol (Bath); D Hilton (Bath), G Bulloch (West of Scotland), M Stewart (Northampton), S Campbell (Dundee), S Murray (Bedford), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Moseley). Replacements: D Hodge (Watsonians) for Chalmers, 51; G Armstrong (Newcastle) for Nicol, 63; P Walton (Newcastle) for Peters, 71; G Graham (Newcastle) for Hilton, 71.

SOUTH AFRICA: P Montgomery (Western Province); J Small (Western Province), A Snyman (Blue Bulls), R Muir (Western Province), P Rossouw (Western Province); J de Beer (Free State), W Swanepoel (Free State); P du Randt (Free State), J Dalton (Gauteng Lions), A Garvey (Natal), K Otto (Blue Bulls), M Andrews (Natal), J Erasmus (Free State), G Teichmann (Natal), A Ventner (Free State). Replacements: F Smith (Griqualand West) for de Beer, 35; J Swart (Western Province) for Small, 71; W Meyer (Free State) for du Randt, 71.

Referee: P Thomas (France).