It was bad enough for Scotland last week against a shadow All Black side scavenging for scraps of possession. The gap between the teams on the scoreboard was 32-6 but the gulf in terms of pace and precision was as wide as the Forth. Sadly for Frank Hadden's side, who need a win to avoid dropping into the pot of third-class nations for the World Cup draw next month, their opponents at Murrayfield this afternoon are a near full-strength Springbok team whose big-hitting forwards knocked gaping holes through the Wales midfield at times last Saturday with the speed and power of their route-one running.
For Scotland's midfield – Phil Godman at outside-half and the centre pairing of Nick De Luca and Ben Cairns, clubmates at Edinburgh but still novices on the international stage – it promises to be a long afternoon attempting to contain the rampaging Boks. The task facing them can be sized up not so much by the 6ft 5in and 16st 10lb of Pierre Spies as by the blistering speed of the Blue Bulls' No 8, surely the fastest forward ever to have taken the field in international rugby.
Spies started his rugby life as a No 8 but played as a wing threequarter at Under-19 level. His exceptional pace was the hallmark of his explosive all-round game when he burst on to the international scene in 2006 and it remains so, despite the trauma of the blood clot on the lungs that ruled him out of the World Cup last year. But just how quick does the 23-year-old happen to be over 100 metres? "I don't know what my time would be now," he said, "but at school it was 10.7 seconds."
One can only assume that Spies has got quicker since he left the Afrikaans High School for Boys in Pretoria in 2003 but his dated personal best is still strikingly impressive. After all, Shane Williams' best recorded 100m time is 10.8sec, which happens to be the same as that of Thom Evans, the former boy-band star on Scotland's right wing who has been coached by Margot Wells – the wife and speed guru of Allan Wells, the 1980 Olympic 100m champion from Edinburgh – and who has spoken of challenging for selection as a sprinter at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.
That only five Scottish athletes have run quicker than 10.7sec for 100m this year is another measure of the searing pace that Spies has at his disposal, and that Scotland will need to find a way of neutralising close to the breakdown at Murrayfield this afternoon – while also endeavouring to keep a lid on Bryan Habana's 10.4sec 100m speed on the left wing. In this embryonic era of the experimental law variations, with its increased chinks of daylight for the loose forward, the spring-heeled Springbok No 8 would appear to be a particularly potent force.
For Spies, today's game will be his ninth back in a Boks shirt since the shocking discovery of the medical problem that led to his withdrawal from his country's World Cup squad last year, and to fears for his long-term health. "It has changed my approach, to rugby and to life," he reflected. "When you get threatened by something that threatens your life, it makes you realise what you have – the people around you, the things around you, and especially my relationship with God. I've just got a deeper meaning of what our purpose is on this planet."
Scotland: C Paterson (Edinburgh); T Evans (Glasgow), B Cairns (Edinburgh), N De Luca (Edinburgh), R Lamont (Sale); P Godman (Edinburgh), M Blair (Edinburgh, capt); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), J Hamilton (Edinburgh), J White (Sale), J Barclay (Glasgow), A Hogg (Edinburgh). Replacements: D Hall (Glasgow), A Dickinson (Gloucester), M Mustchin (Edinburgh), S Gray (Northampton), R Lawson (Gloucester), D Parks (Glasgow), H Southwell (Edinburgh).
South Africa: C Jantjes (Stormers); J P Pietersen (Sharks), A Jacobs (Sharks), J de Villiers (Stormers), B Habana (Bulls); R Pienaar (Sharks), R Januarie (Stormers); T Mtawarira (Sharks), B du Plessis (Sharks), J Smit (Sharks, capt), B Botha (Bulls), V Matfield (Bulls), S Burger (Stormers), J Smith (Cheetahs), P Spies (Bulls). Replacements: B Mujati (Stormers), G Steenkamp (Bulls), A Bekker (Stormers), R Kankowski (Sharks), D Rossouw (Bulls), F Steyn (Sharks), J Fourie (Lions).
Referee: D Pearson (England).
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