Ruthless South Africa too strong for Scotland
South Africa 18-3 Scotland: Springboks too strong for Scots in Rugby World Cup opener
Scotland slipped to defeat in their World Cup opener as defending champions South Africa put in a typically ruthless and powerful display in Marseille.
After a fraught and physical first half in which Scotland’s forward pack put in an abrasive performance, two quick Springbok tries took the game away from Gregor Townsend’s side.
Pieter-Steph Du Toit crashed over for the first before a wonderful no-look cross-field kick from Manie Libbok put in Kurt-Lee Arendse for another score four minutes later.
From there, the world champions turned the screw at the set-piece and wore down an increasingly ragged Scotland.
The Scots may point to a potential red card for Jesse Kriel for a dangerous tackle in the opening two minutes that was missed by officials, but they were also undone by errors in key moments, particularly six lineouts going astray while in promising positions.
Townsend’s side now face an uphill task to get out of the fiendishly difficult Pool B that also includes the world’s number one-ranked side Ireland, while South Africa got their title defence off to a solid start and face Romania next Sunday.
Scotland have a two-week wait to right their wrongs when they take on Tonga in Nice.
Scotland suffocate under pressure
Much was said about Scotland needing to play this game at a ferocious tempo; to take the ball away from a humungous Springbok pack.
That never materialised at any point, but in the first half the way the forwards went about taking the game to their opposite numbers was admirable.
A scrum penalty right on half-time felt significant as Finn Russell made no mistake with his kick to leave the score 6-3 at the break, Libbok having put over two of his three efforts before that.
But it proved the high point for Scotland as South Africa brutally re-asserted control. Du Toit was eventually the man to batter past the dark blue defensive line on 47 minutes, and they swiftly did further damage.
Defensive pressure forced Scotland back and eventually a turnover yielded ball for Libbok who, having been somewhat wayward off the tee, produced the moment of the match as his no-look kick-pass found Arendse on the wing and he scampered in.
There seemed no way back for Scotland at that point. Penalties mounted, lineouts failed to find targets, and their attack struggled to fire a shot against South Africa’s blitz defence.
That said, had Darcy Graham used a two-man overlap in the first half as he should have, things might have been different. As it was Scotland ended without a try, or even a second-half point, to show for their efforts.
Other than Libbok’s moment of brilliance, there was no champagne rugby from South Africa. After a scrappy first 40 they merely doubled down on what makes them so hard to play against.
Their blitz defence to shut down Scotland’s attack forced errors, and that was combined with a strong set-piece and physical dominance.
It was not perhaps a performance that will make other sides sit up and take notice – like the demolition of New Zealand in their final warm-up – but they turned up the heat just enough to burn Scotland.
They can consider themselves fortunate that Kriel’s tackle on Jack Dempsey, which resulted in a head clash similar to Tom Curry’s on Saturday evening, escaped without punishment.
The Springboks will also expect to improve as they eye a massive meeting with Ireland on 23 September at Stade de France.
What they said
Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie: “Credit to South Africa for putting us under pressure. Yes, we created opportunities, but we pride ourselves on taking those opportunities, so we have to be better.
“I’m really proud how we fronted up physically. I thought our defence was excellent, we really took it to them physically.
“Plenty of time to dust ourselves off, all the hard work we have put in has not gone away, it is one set-back but we have loads to play for.”
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend: “We felt we’d kick on in the second half and we didn’t. A lot of that is down to our inaccuracy. We know we have to better. We didn’t get into the flow of our game.”
South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber: “I think it could have been a slippery one. Scotland are a good side – they are not number five in the world for nothing.
“They pushed things a long way in the game, I thought we had a little bit of dominance in the first half but we had to grind the win out.”
South Africa: Willemse, Arense, Kriel, De Allende, Kolbe, Libbok, De Klerk; Kitshoff, Marx, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Mostert, Kolisi, Du Toit, Wiese.
Replacements: Mbonambi, Nche, Nyakane, Snyman, Van Staden, Vermeulen, Williams, Le Roux.
Scotland: Kinghorn, Graham, Jones, Tuipulotu, Van der Merwe, Russell, White; Schoeman, Turner, Z Fagerson, R Gray, Gilchrist, Ritchie, Darge, Dempsey.
Replacements: Cherry, Bhatti, Nel, Cummings, M Fagerson, Price, Redpath, Smith.