A chance to build momentum – but underestimate Scotland at your peril
After a hard-fought and impressive win against Wales last Saturday, Siya Kolisi’s Springboks will face a Scottish team brimming with confidence following their own victory over Australia. Scotland will be desperate to turn over the Boks. A win would cement them as northern hemisphere heavyweights and give them a great deal of confidence before the Six Nations and the 2023 Rugby World Cup. After last weekend’s victory over Michael Hooper’s team, the Scottish will have confidence without much pressure. This could spell trouble for the Boks if they are not at the top of their game.
Boks once again stick with continuity in selection but Le Roux is back
Wayne Pivac’s Wales proved to be a difficult nut to crack for the Springboks last weekend in a pulsating test match. Despite winning the possession and territory stakes South Africa were aided by a Welsh pitch invader who prevented a probable Welsh try when the scores were level at 15-15 around the hour mark. Although the Boks seemed to be in control throughout, they came very close to coming unstuck at the Millennium Stadium. Their replacements performed under pressure while an injury-hit Wales’ bench struggled to make an impact. The victory was a big feather in a well-decorated post-2017 Springbok cap, and their first win in Cardiff since a Fourie Du Preez-inspired triumph in 2013.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber has once again largely stuck to his guns by not fixing what isn’t obviously broken.
“Scotland will be a force to be reckoned with at Murrayfield, so it was important for us to maintain continuity within our squad, while at the same time celebrating Jesse and Franco’s 50th caps and giving Elton a chance to start,” Nienaber reasoned.
Willie Le Roux also comes into the side in an injury-enforced change to replace the stricken Damian Willemse. Le Roux has had his fair share of critics this season and will be under pressure to perform at Murrayfield on Saturday. What may or may not have factored into his selection is that the fullback will have fond memories of the venue. On that same 2013 tour, Le Roux produced one of his best performances in the Bok jersey, masterminding a 28-0 shutout of the Scots on their home ground. Performance of a similar level will go a long way to silencing his doubters and will give the mercurial veteran confidence that he can still be a starter at the 2023 World Cup in France.
Elton Jantjies also gets a well-deserved start after outstanding performances off the bench in the Boks’ last two wins over the All Blacks and Wales. Handre Pollard drops to the bench to cover both flyhalf and inside centre and will be looking to make a big impact as a replacement at the end of an erratic season.
Jantjies will be looking to ignite a Bok backline that has struggled with attack for the majority of 2021. For all the grit and courage on display last weekend, the Boks’ line play was predictable and never really looked like breaking down the stubborn and well-organised Welsh defence. This likely prompted the selection of Jantjies with his instinctive capacity to penetrate opposition lines and he will be relishing the chance of a rare match for a full-strength Springbok team. His halfback combination with namesake Herschel will be vital in establishing go-forward for the physically dominant Springbok pack.
As mentioned by Nienaber, the Boks have retained Jesse Kriel on wing and drafted in Franco Mostert at lock to play their 50th tests. Kriel will be under pressure to perform after an indifferent showing against Wales. Lukhanyo Am’s meteoric rise has made 27-year old Kriel a periphery figure this year and a repeat performance could see Sbu Nkosi reinstated for the season closer against England – and raise further question marks over Kriel’s long term role.
Mostert, on the other hand, has been ever-present for the Boks in 2021, working tirelessly at both blindside flank and lock.
Bok fans will be disappointed not to see last week’s man of the match, Frans Steyn in the starting team. However, if and when he comes onto the field, the enigmatic old-timer will overtake Victor Matfield as the longest-serving Springbok player ever – and will once again be looking to make a grand statement.
Scotland players have revenge on their minds
The 2021 British and Irish Lions team contained the most Scotland players since the 1997 series against the Springboks. Many of the members of the touring contingent had their confidence bruised by the confrontational South Africa team and will be looking to turn the tables this coming weekend.
“I’d love to get another crack at the Springboks,” Scotland and Wales centre Chris Harris said on Wednesday. “Losing the third (Lions) test was obviously a disappointing finish to an amazing tour, so to have another opportunity to play against them will be amazing.”
There was a prevailing sense of injustice from the Home Nations after the Springboks’ series victory over the Lions. Harris, Ali Price, Hamish Watson, Duhan van Der Merwe and the irresistible Finn Russell will be looking to use the experience gained on the tour to cause an upset against the Boks. The Scots will also be looking to lift the tempo against the bruising Boks with smart offloading to release strike runners like Darcy Graham. The Springboks were vulnerable against offloads in their losses to Australia and the Scots will look to take a leaf out of their vanquished opponents’ book.
Breakdown battle all important
For all of the talk of the respective backlines, Saturday’s match will likely be decided by which team is better at ruck time. Hamish Watson, the Six Nations Player of the Year, has been demoted to the bench which is likely a tactic to counter the Boks’ powerful bench, better known as the Bomb Squad.
Kwagga Smith’s superhuman performance against the Welsh will need to be repeated at the breakdown in order to get both Jantjies the front foot ball that they will need in order to make an impact. As brilliant as Elton Jantjies can be, he is a front foot flyhalf and will be hoping for a good platform to work his magic and get one over his more fancied opposite number, Russell. Jasper Wiese having to counteract Watson off the bench may have Bok fans biting their nails.
A criticism of this South Africa team has been that it does not possess the winning percentage of the All Black teams of the past who won the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups. Although knives seem to constantly be sharpened for the Bok team this does hold some merit. In what is shaping up to be a potential humdinger, Kolisi’s men could silence many of their critics in Britain and set up a classic against England at Twickenham in a rematch of the 2019 World Cup Final.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Frans Steyn
15 Stuart Hogg (c), 14 Rufus McLean, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Nick Haining, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Substitutes: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Oli Kebble, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 George Horne, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Blair Kinghorn
Referee: Angus Gardner
Kick off: 15:00 (SA time)