The loudest cheer at the home of Caledonian rugby on Sunday came when Scotland exchanged one shade of Gray for another: when Jonny Gray emerged from the bench to replace his brother Richie, thus becoming his country’s first teenage forward for 62 years. That apart, the afternoon was one long anti-climax for the home crowd. And for Scotland.
Their opponents arrived in Edinburgh last week pledging to play sexy rugby – or “total rugby,” as Heyneke Meyer, South Africa’s head coach, put it. In the end, though, the Springboks had no need to hit ecstatic heights.
One trademark lineout drive from their first attack and they were 7-0 to the good. Two opportunist tries in the space of two minutes and they were 21-0 up, home and hosed before half-time. They could afford to take their foot off the gas ahead of their French test in Paris next Saturday.
Having shut out Wales on the try front in their 24-15 success in Cardiff the previous weekend, Meyer’s Boks have yet to have their whitewash crossed on their European tour. As for Scotland, they did not just draw a blank on the try front. This was their first blankety blank on the scoreboard since the 40-0 defeat against the All Blacks here in the 2007 World Cup.
“Look, we were up against a pretty good side who took every one of their chances,” Scotland’s interim head coach Scott Johnson said. “This journey is about finding out about people and we found out about a few today.”
Where Scotland go from here is a final autumn home match against Australia next Saturday. Yesterday, they were going nowhere from the start – on the back foot from the off as the Springboks ran through 19 phases, and unable to stop the maul that the visitors put into motion when Patrick Lambie kicked a penalty into the left corner with five minutes on the clock.
The No 8 Duane Vermeulen snaffled the lineout ball and the Springbok pack drove Willem Alberts over the home line with ease. From then on it was one-way traffic – to such an extent that poor Judy Murray, watching from the West Stand, was in danger of suffering a cricked neck.
Scotland did manage to break out and launch an attack in the 29th minute, but in doing so they only succeeded in shooting themselves in the foot. Ruaridh Jackson tried to find Richie Gray with an outside pass but the ball bounced off Sean Maitland’s shoulder and was picked up by Willie le Roux, who galloped 70 metres to touch down his fourth try for his country.
Two minutes later the impressive Le Roux showed he could fashion a try too, forcing a gap with a little show-and-go before breaking from deep and angling a left-footed kick into the right corner for wing J P Pietersen to celebrate his 50th cap with a five-point score.
The fourth try came 13 minutes into the second half, replacement prop Coenie Oosthuizen scoring from another lineout drive.
There was a scare for the Springboks with four minutes to go when Francois Louw departed in a neck brace. However, the Bath flanker gave a thumbs-up sign before he disappeared down the tunnel and Meyer described Louw’s removal from the field as “probably precautionary”. “He’s injured his neck but we hope he’s going to be fine,” Meyer added.
“You’ll always take four tries to nil in international rugby,” the Springbok coach said, turning to the subject of the mis-match. “We didn’t give them any points at all. We’re very happy with that.”
Scorers: South Africa Tries Alberts, Le Roux, Pietersen, Oosthuizen. Cons Lambie 4.
Scotland: S Maitland; T Seymour (M Evans, 65), N De Luca, D Taylor, S Lamont; R Jackson (D Weir, 56), G Laidlaw (capt) (C Cusiter, 59); A Dickinson (R Grant, 56), R Ford (S Lawson, 56), M Low, R Gray (J Gray 62), J Hamilton, A Strokosch, J Barclay (J Beattie, 65), D Denton.
South Africa: W Le Roux; JP Pietersen, J Fourie, J De Villiers (capt) (JJ Engelbrecht, 71), B Habana; P Lambie, F Du Preez (R Pienaar, 65); G Steenkamp (T Mtawarira, 56), A Strauss (B Du Plessis, 61), F Malherbe (C Oosthuizen, 33), B Botha (E Etzebeth, 60), F Van der Merwe, F Louw (M Steyn, 76), W Alberts (M Coetzee, h-t), D Vermeulen.
Referee: J Garces (France).
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