More than pride at stake for Scots
The talk in Edinburgh all week has been of a Scotland backlash to their heavy defeat at the hands of New Zealand last Sunday, but their clash with the Springboks will be about more than just regaining pride, if indeed they really feel they lost any against a team that is so clearly the best in the world.
With the IRB rankings on 3 December set to determine which of the three top-four team pots of seeds the 12 directly qualified nations from the 2011 World Cup will go into when the draw for the 2015 event is made in London on that day, Scotland have plenty to play for as they seek to avoid the disadvantage they felt they were at in New Zealand 13 months ago.
The battle for world ranking positions has been a background to what is known in the northern hemisphere as the autumn international season.
The Springboks pushed the Wallabies out and moved back into second spot in the rankings when they beat Ireland last weekend and France smashed Australia.
It was an event that Juandre Kruger, the Bok lock, felt had perhaps more significance than people realise.
“We moved to No 2 in the world rankings after Dublin and for us that is very important as it is our aim to become the best team in the world. That is why we are very serious about winning all the matches on this tour and why we definitely won’t be underestimating Scotland,” said Kruger.
But the Boks are reasonably assured of a place in the top four by 3 December, and even if they drop a ranking position, they, like New Zealand, will be part of the top tier of seeded countries for the 2015 event.
It’s not so simple for Australia, who are playing to avoid dropping into the second pot of seeds for the first time. Another tour defeat could see them drop to fifth.
Just how relevant or important the quest to be in the right seeded group is, will become more clear when the draw is made, but clearly it doesn’t help the cause if you end up in the third pot and thus get to face more teams in the world top eight during the pool phase of RWC 2015.
And that’s why Murrayfield on Saturday is so important for Scotland – perhaps more important than for the Boks.
IMPORTANCE OF SEEDING
Scotland were in the third pot for the first time when the draw was made for last year’s World Cup in New Zealand, and Scottish critics blamed that for their failure to qualify for the quarterfinals.
If the Scots repeat their feat of 2010 by lowering the South African flag at Murrayfield, they will be in with a chance of jumping into the top eight at the expense of Wales or Ireland.
For Wales to drop down it will require the Samoans to win in Cardiff this coming weekend, but after the Pumas so comprehensively outplayed the Welsh last week, no-one is writing off the possibility of such a result.
But even if Wales win, a Scotland victory over Jean de Villiers’s men might be enough to lift them to eighth spot, and thus drop Ireland into the third band of seeded teams.
So the ante is high for Scotland, who have made a habit of recovering themselves from one-sided games against New Zealand by excelling against the Boks the following week.
South Africa lost here two years ago and in 2002, but could well have had another blemish on that record – the match here in 2008, Peter de Villiers’s first year in charge, was won only narrowly by a Bok team that for long periods of the game were outplayed.
Other teams aside from Australia who are bidding for a place in the top four for the World Cup draw are England and France.
The latter will feel they are on a roll after defeating Australia, but Argentina, who they host in Lille this weekend, have long been a bogey side for them.
Indeed, Argentina’s win over Wales was one of the performances of the opening weekend of the autumn international season, and it sent out a clear message that being part of the Castle Rugby Championship and the southern hemisphere top table has already started having a positive impact on their game. A victory over France will underline that fact.
At the same time, the Wallabies, apart from their brave draw against New Zealand in the third Bledisloe Cup game a month ago, have been singularly disappointing this year, and while they have the excuse of the injuries that have forced them to field what is nearly a second-string team, coach Robbie Deans will be fighting for his international future at Twickenham this week.
Current World Cup seeding pots (as it stands before the weekend games)
Band 1: New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, France.
Band 2: England, Wales, Argentina, Ireland.
Band 3: Scotland, Samoa, Italy, Tonga.
There are two additional bands of qualifiers to make up 20 teams.