Scotland’s unbeaten 2018 at home came to an agonising end as South Africa squeezed past the Scots with a 20-26 victory at BT Murrayfield.
This game was built up as potentially being Scotland’s “biggest win of the last couple of years” by coach Gregor Townsend, and it certainly lived up to its billing. A pulsating first half saw first blood to the Boks, fly half Handre Pollard breaking through the Scots defensive line and sparking a set of scintillating offloads, which culminated in centre Jesse Kriel bombing over the line. Pollard then nudged the conversion for a 7-0 lead after six minutes.
Scotland, however, responded with rigorous flair, a flair which – contrary to the recent belief of many fans - is becoming second nature to the team. Huw Jones, on this occasion, giving a ‘through the back door’ pass, unlocking winger Sean Maitland to burst into Springbok territory. A return pass to Jones saw him repeat the same maverick pass, releasing Pete Horne to cross over for Scotland’s equalising score. Game on.
As the midpoint of the first half was appearing on the horizon, a South African steal meant they were suddenly on the front foot in the Scotland 22, Handre Pollard quickly capitalising on this to cross for South Africa’s second score, booting over the extra two points to convert his own try. A clever lineout move saw Scotland loose forward Hamish Watson score, taking Scotland to within three points of South Africa at the break.
In a far cagier second half, it was Scotland who were made to rue missed opportunities. Willie Le Roux, fullback for the Springboks, being sent to the bin for a deliberate knock-on. Despite this, Scotland failed to capitalise on the man advantage, with South Africa maintaining their three-point advantage.
A nail-biting final quarter saw Scotland fly-half Finn Russell miss a long-range drop goal attempt, before a monstrous penalty kick from Elton Jantjies stretched the Boks lead to six. The Springboks then put on a notable final defensive push to inflict Scotland’s first home defeat in a year. Final score Scotland 20 – South Africa 26.
Scotland will be disappointed with this result, which says a lot about where this team has come in such little time. Not so long ago many Scottish fans would laugh at you if you had said you’d be dissatisfied to lose against a side that has beaten the likes of New Zealand, Australia, and England (twice) this year. Not anymore.
Scotland should look at results like Saturday’s in irritation now. For years it has been Scotland playing catch up to the rest of the home nations, being branded as the ‘underdog’ all too often. With an average age of 25 within the squad, Scotland is well and truly at the dinner table with rugby’s big boys and is here to stay.