Scotland front for famous win
It might be scant consolation for Peter de Villiers that he did get something right this week -- the Scotland team that scored a famous 21-17 win at Murrayfield were deserving of his and his team’s respect.
It was a massive performance from the Scots, and in retrospect the 49-3 defeat they suffered the previous week to the All Blacks at this same venue was the worst thing that could have happened for the Springboks. Scotland coach Andy Robinson had apologised to the Scotland nation and vowed that his men would respond to the challenge in style -- and boy, did they just.
The Boks scored the only try of the match, with big Willem Alberts barreling over the line off a lineout throw that was intended for Victor Matfield in the 72nd minute. That brought the Boks back within range of another come-from-behind win like the one they scored to get out of jail against Wales seven days earlier.
But had they managed it, it would have been a travesty of justice, for the Scots were significantly the better team in this match beyond the opening quarter of an hour, when the Boks did appear to be winning the collisions and looked sharp.
In that initial period the Boks went 6-0 up through two penalties from Morne Steyn, but for most of the rest of the half it was all Scotland as they fronted manfully to the task and took control of the physical exchanges.
Scotland flyhalf Dan Parks, who was responsible for all of his team’s points with his boot, drew the Scots back to 6-3 with a penalty on the 15 minute mark. Up to then it was Scotland who were under pressure and being penalised, but after that there was a significant swing, with the shrill blasts of referee Stuart Dickinson’s whistle punishing the Boks as for the next 20 minutes only one team was penalised.
The Scots had conceded four penalties in the first 12 minutes, with the Boks being unable to exploit any advantage as their poor skills let them down in the wet conditions, with the visitors making no less than four handling mistakes in the first 10 minutes.
Parks followed up his initial penalty with a drop-goal which came at the end of a period of pressure from Scotland which started with a break that came off a long throw at a lineout. Then came two more penalties to put the Scots 12-6 up in conditions where even the smallest lead was worth something.
The Boks did strike back with another Steyn penalty before half-time, and in the five minutes just before the break the South Africans, as they had at a corresponding stage of the Cardiff match, looked to be starting to hit their straps.
But they had been second best for most of the half, with Scotland enjoying 65% of the possession and generally looking far more tactically astute than a South African side that looked every bit as clueless as the Bok team that lost here in 2002.
Steyn did draw three points back as the scores were leveled not long after half-time, and for a while you could sense the South Africans in the crowd starting to settle as they waited for their side to repeat last week’s effort by hitting the front.
It wasn’t a great day for South African rugby, but there were Springboks who played well. Ryan Kankowski for instance was immense in carrying the ball up and looked the part of a wet weather No 8. His Sharks teammate, Lwazi Mvovo, never missed a tackle on debut and was strong on his feet when he ran with the ball.
The tactical substitution of Francois Hougaard immediately after half-time was also a good one as the Bulls player was poor in the wet conditions and was one of the reasons the Boks struggled to get any fluency into their game.
The scrumming, after an initial setback at the first scrum, was mostly solid, and in the early stages the Boks had some success in disrupting the communication between the Scotland No 8 and scrumhalf. But while Scotland threw a few skew at the lineout in the middle stages of the second half, the Bok lineout was far from good, with Scotland turning over two crucial throws at a time when the Boks were having to play catch-up and were forced to live off scraps.
With 28 minutes to go Scotland made the Boks pay for a skew throw at the lineout as they forced their way from a defensive position to one deep in South African territory. Almost inevitably the Boks conceded a penalty, and Parks put his team in front 15-12, and then added another 10 minutes later as the Bok scrum wilted under Scottish pressure.
For once you could sense some signs of panic running through the normally calm and collected Springbok team, and when Parks was presented with another chance from right in front with 14 minutes to play, there was no longer too much doubt about who was going to win.
The Boks did ensure a frenetic last portion of the game with that try that brought them into range, but inexplicably, given the conditions, Patrick Lambie had replaced the reliable goalkicker that is Steyn after an hour. He missed the conversion, and it left the Boks needing to score a try to win. Had they been needing just a penalty, they might have had a chance -- but full marks to Scotland for the way they ensured most of those last minutes was played in South African territory and for the way they wound the clock down.
After the game the Scottish fans, who had been so disappointed the week before, celebrated by singing “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road”. It might have been an apt comment for the Boks, who now face a tricky road to next week’s massive showdown with England. It's no longer about the Grand Slam, it's about salvaging pride, which seems to be where Springbok rugby has been all year.
Scotland - Penalties: Dan Parks (6). Dropped goal: Parks.
South Africa - Penalties: Morne Steyn (3), Try: Willem Alberts.