Scotland played relatively well last week against Japan, but the difficulty level goes up a few notches this weekend when they host South Africa at Murrayfield. The Boks comfortably beat Wales in a hugely physical game in their last outing and they will look to send a message to their Kiwi rivals by putting Scotland to a similar sword. The two teams met during the South African Quadrangular Tournament in the summer – the match ended 30-17 to the home team but the victory was tighter than the scoreline suggests, especially against a seriously weakened Scotland team, a theme that seems to repeat itself this weekend.
The Scots’ two most impressive players from the Japanese victory – Tim Swinson and Matt Scott – are both out injured so Jim Hamilton and Duncan Taylor replace them. The game will be even more important for Big Jim who was wrongly sin-binned when the teams last faced each other so he will be looking for revenge, and it’s safe to assume that his call-up is to help cull the threat of opposition lock Bakkies Botha. Richie Gray also starts at lock and could become the latest of 47 sets of brothers to have played for Scotland, if uncapped younger brother Jonny comes off the bench.
The other three changes include Alasdair Dickinson and Moray Low coming in for Ryan Grant and Euan Murray in the front row, and John Barclay replacing captain Kelly Brown, who isn’t even on the bench, at flanker.
Barclay’s inclusion means that Scott Johnson is finally fielding an out-and-out seven, while it is a just reward for Alasdair Dickinson after an influential cameo off the bench last week. Johnson has gone on record saying that all 41 players called up for the Autumn Internationals will get game time and that looks to have rung true when you consider the experienced bench – Scott Lawson, Geoff Cross, Johnnie Beattie, Chris Cusiter and Max Evans all come in.
South Africa are strong favourites for this game and it is easy to see why, with the squad they have named and the way they dismantled Wales last week. JP Pietersen wins his 50th cap for his country and is joined by Bryan Habana on the wing. Willie le Roux takes over at fullback as Pat Lambie moves forward to the fly-half position and the Bok front-row gets a makeover as Gurthro Steenkamp and Adriaan Strauss, scorer of a brace in this fixture last year, replace Tendai Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis.
Morne Steyn and Willem Alberts face late fitness tests and if Alberts is deemed unable to play, then Siya Kolisi takes his place at the side of the scrum. Steyn’s possible replacement has not been named yet. Flip van der Merwe and Botha both start in the engine room as Etzebeth is pushed to the bench in Botha’s first start in a Springbok jersey since the 2011 World Cup, and captain Jean de Villiers and the experienced Jaque Fourie and Fourie du Preez all retain their places in the backs.
All eyes on
His discipline may be ropey at best but there is no denying the physical presence of Jim Hamilton, he is a fan favourite and sure to be a welcome sight as he runs onto the pitch. His aggressive nature is something that is needed and he will be looking for a little piece of justice after he was unreasonably yellow carded in the summer for “attacking the face of Eben Etzebeth”.
The man Hamilton is set to track all game is the experienced, and possibly one of the best locks in the modern game, Bakkies Botha. A colossal man and with a temper to match, Botha will be at the centre of every lineout, rolling maul and ball carry as he looks to pull apart the inexperienced Scotland backs. Don’t be surprised if Botha and Hamilton square up on more than one occasion during the game.
Head to head: Alasdair Strokosch v Francois Louw
Francois Louw is probably the in-form six in test rugby at the moment and it will be up to his opposite man, Alasdair Strokosch, to try and contain him. Louw is a stereotypical South African back row, he makes huge tackles and carries and loves popping up on the wing to score tries, but as the designated ‘fetcher’ also gets through a lot of work at the breakdown. Strokosch’s role is slightly less defined, but just as important. He rarely misses a tackle and he will be looking to slow the Bok’s ball as much as possible to stop them gaining any kind of fluid platform.
Some of Scotland’s best performances come when they are tipped to fail but while they may disrupt the Springbok train to begin with, don’t expect it to last very long. The scoreline will be close at halftime but the Boks will walk away with it soon after. It is sure to be a physical game in the pack but the Scottish backs don’t have the quality to make any sort of impact on their opposite men. South Africa by 20.
By Calum Gillon (@C_Gillon)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images