Preview - South Africa v Scotland
Preview - South Africa v ScotlandSHARE
Win 'ugly' if you must
When South Africa and Scotland go head-to-head at the ABSA Stadium in Durban on Saturday, the first game of a two-Test series, they will tackle each other – literally and figuratively.
The Springboks, under Jake White as coach, have gone on the defensive. They won the 2004 Tri-Nations on the back of their now famous rush-defence. They literally blitzed the opposition into submission. And White makes no secret of the fact that he places a high premium on defence … certainly more than attack.
He again made a point of telling the media this week that he has set his sights solely on victory – a case of "win ugly if you must".
When the Boks faced the World XV in Johannesburg last week they failed to score a try. Veteran fullback Percy Montgomery kicked nine out of ten penalties, the other being kicked by wing Gaffie du Toit, to give the home team a somewhat fortuitous 30-27 victory.
White was taken aback by the public outcry over the way his team had played and he hit back by saying the all that matters is victory.
"It's about winning, it's not about how we play," he told the media.
"You do everything you can do to get a result, that's the bottom line."
"A team cannot play attacking rugby if it does not have a settled defensive system.
"The Springboks have defended well during the past two years, even though we probably did not play as much attacking rugby as we would have liked to do. But we have at least regained a culture of winning.
"I expect our attacking play to improve soon as a result of experience, consistency in team selection and confidence because of the winning culture."
But Scotland is also a team that prides itself on solid defensive lines.
When they beat both Six Nations champions France and World Cup holders England in Edinburgh this year, they did so on the back of some really great defensive efforts – some real 'Braveheart' stuff.
It wasn't pretty, but after a couple of years of floundering near the bottom of Six Nations standings and struggling to stay in the top ten of the IRB World Rankings, victories against quality opposition such as the French and English are always "pretty" even if the rugby is ugly!
And in the build-up to Saturday's Test in Durban, neither team has made an effort to suggest they are going to play festive rugby.
Both have pointed out the value of a win, in any form, as they build towards the World Cup next year.
Both are out to get some momentum going and the best way to do that is by winning.
Scotland have that momentum and the Boks will like to start their 2006 test campaign on a better note than what they ended on in 2005 – with a shocking performance and a loss to France.
White has made seven changes to the side that beat the World XV last week, with the biggest changes up front. Experience is the key to White's selections, which he hopes will pay off handsomely when they face the rejuvenated Scottish outfit.
With White's selection focus on experience, it is the return of players like Os du Randt, captain John Smit, flanks Juan Smith and Schalk Burger and lock Victor Matfield that must give the pack the impetus they need.
In the backs, there is further evidence of a more experienced look, as 56-Test veteran Breyton Paulse slots in on the right wing, forcing another veteran, Andre Snyman, to move across to the left.
The only two non-capped players are on the bench – Sharks lock Johan Muller and Bulls midfielder Wynand Olivier.
For Scotland the key selection changes were among the loose forwards, where Ally Hogg switched to No.8 in place of the injured Simon Taylor.
Captain Jason White readily admits it is a gamble.
"It will be difficult for Ally because he has not played there a lot recently, but he is a great footballer and he did get a run there against the Barbarians which gave him the chance to build more confidence," he said.
"The Springboks have a very strong back row. They are a set-piece orientated side with a good line-out and we are sure they will try to scrum us out of it."
But Scotland's captain is positive his team will be able to carry their Six Nations form into this two-match series against the Boks.
"The timing of the game is good for us as we are at the end of a very positive season. They had their game last week and there was quite a negative over-reaction to the way they played.
"I am sure that the players who were involved in that will be going out wanting to get that out of their systems."
Players to watch:
For the Springboks: Coach Jake White has made a lot of noise about the value of experience in the Test arena and for that reason alone the spotlight will be on his senior players – Percy Montgomery as the last line of defence and the goal-kicker, Breyton Paulse to provide support for the fullback and produce some magic on attack, Jaco van der Westhuyzen (No.10) and Fourie du Preez (No.9) in the vital halfback positions, Victor Matfield in the line-outs (and other aspects of the game), Os du Randt and captain John Smit in the set pieces.
For Scotland: As captain Jason White, a vital cog in the Sale Sharks machine that clinched the Guinness Premiership title, will have to lead from the front and will play a crucial role in the race to the breakdown, while his defensive efforts will again be vital to the team's cause. In the line-outs Scott Murray and Nathan Hines will have to provide a counter to the threat posed by Matfield, while Alister Hogg's performance at No.8 will be crucial in the final wash.
Head to head: As in any game you can almost pick any two positions and have an interesting battle on your hands, but at No.8 there is the battle between Joe van Niekerk (South Africa) and Allister Hogg (Scotland), which could be a decisive encounter. The scrums will also be vital, with the battle between Eddie Andrews (South Africa) and Gavin Kerr (Scotland) the crucial factor. Neither are renowned for their scrumming power and you can expect the referee to have his hands full and dishing out a few penalties.
Prediction: You won't find too many punters putting their money on a Scotland win and the odds (offered by various bookmakers) suggest that the smart money is on South Africa. In fact, they are giving Scotland a 15-point (or more) start. But based on Scotland's recent form and their overall performances on South African soil, those may be very generous odds. If you're a serious punter, it may just be worth a flutter on the Scottish … certainly on the margin of victory. We feel that the Springboks will sneak a win, but they may not run away with the game as some suggest. South Africa by 10 points or less.
2004: South Africa won 45-10 in Edinburgh
2003: South Africa won 28-19 in Johannesburg
2003: South Africa won 29-25 in Durban
2002: Scotland won 21-6 in Edinburgh
1999: South Africa won 46-29 in Edinburgh
1998: South Africa won 35-10 in Edinburgh
1997: South Africa won 68-10 in Edinburgh
1994: South Africa won 34-10 in Edinburgh
1969: Scotland won 6-3 in Edinburgh
1965: Scotland won 8-5 in Edinburgh
South Africa: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Breyton Paulse, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 André Snyman, 10 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Eddie Andrews, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Os du Randt.
Replacements: 16 Hanyani Shimange, 17 Lawrence Sephaka, 18 Johan Muller, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Enrico Januarie, 21 Wynand Olivier, 22 Gaffie du Toit.
Scotland: 15 Hugo Southwell, 14 Chris Paterson, 13 Marcus Di Rollo, 12 Andrew Henderson, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Allister Hogg, 7 Donnie Macfadyen, 6 Jason White (captain), 5 Scott Murray, 4 Nathan Hines, 3 Bruce Douglas, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Gavin Kerr.
Replacements (from): Dougie Hall, Craig Smith, Alastair Kellock, Jon Petrie, Kelly Brown, Sam Pinder, Gordon Ross, Simon Webster.
Date: Saturday, June 10
Kick-off: 15:00 (13:00 GMT)
Venue: ABSA Stadium, Durban
Conditions: Fine. Light NW, but gentle NE in the afternoon. Min: 9°C; Max: 23°C
Referee: Donal Courtney (Ireland)
Touch judges: Joël Jutge (France), Rob Debney (England)
Television match official: Simon MacDowell (Ireland)
Assessor: Jim Bailey (Wales)