Are Scotland favourites against the Boks? ‘That’s one way of looking at it,’ smiles Townsend

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend

FILE - Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters

Published Nov 12, 2021


Cape Town – With the Springboks having lost twice to Australia during the Rugby Championship, and Scotland beating the Wallabies for the third time in a row last week, doesn’t that make the hosts the favourites at Murrayfield on Saturday?

“That’s one way of looking at it!” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said with a wry smile this week. “You can see that South Africa beat the Lions twice – and the Lions obviously have more players than just the Scotland team.

“I think it’s nice for international rugby that you are getting some results that aren’t always by the form book. Australia did really well in the two games against the Boks – we obviously watched those games closely.

ALSO READ: Gregor Townsend not looking back at Lions series, wants Scotland to ‘play to their strengths’ against Springboks

“But you get different match-ups with different teams – sometimes a team does better against a certain team because of the style of play.

“Or it’s the end of a long season, and maybe the performances aren’t at the same level every week. It was a hugely demanding winter for the South African players, having been in the bubble for so long, a three-Test series against the Lions, and then straight into the Rugby Championship.

“So, you are not going to get every game at the highest level, but they showed against New Zealand and last week that the resilience and the fitness is there to go alongside a quality team and a very successful game plan.”

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Townsend praised the Boks throughout his team announcement press conference, and tried hard to set up the perfect ambush awaiting the South Africans in Edinburgh on Saturday (3pm SA time kickoff).

The Scots last beat the world champions in 2010, when Victor Matfield’s team lost 21-17 at Murrayfield.

Townsend also has a successful history against the Boks. He was the starting flyhalf for the British and Irish Lions in the two victorious 1997 Tests in Cape Town and Durban, and was on the bench for Scotland in their 21-6 win over South Africa in Edinburgh in 2002.

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So, he knows what it takes to get past a Springbok team. Scotland’s best chance of pulling off another incredible win over a southern-hemisphere nation will rest on their ability to move the South African forwards around the pitch, and keep the defence guessing with a high-tempo attacking approach.

But to do that, the Scottish pack will need to secure their own set-pieces, and not be outmuscled in the collisions by the visitors.

“We know that the game is going to be physical, and you can’t go in just with your game plan and think that the opposition are going to go along with how you want to play,” Townsend said.

“We are going to have to front up physically, and the way South Africa attack, it’s very direct. They want more set-pieces, they want to go to scrum and lineout, so we will have to make sure that those areas are something that we are not only able to compete, but impose our strengths on them.

“And there are going to be a lot of kicks to field, and a lot of kicks to chase. It doesn’t work when you say ‘Well, the opposition are going to kick… we are not going to kick’.

“What flows is that a team kicks a lot, you end up kicking a lot because you are either kicking it straight back, or you are receiving kicks in your 22 and you have to manage that area smartly.

“So, it’s going to be one of those games. We have to make sure that we are still able to do what we want to do at certain times. That’s what we will be working on this week, but we will have to play their game and play our game at the same time.

“It’ll take belief this week, but it’ll take accuracy, huge physicality… one of our best ever performances. Our performance in Paris (to beat France), and England (in the Six Nations), another one of them – but probably a little bit extra. Then, I believe that will get us over the line. But it will take an enormous effort to replicate those performances.”

Scotland Team

15 Stuart Hogg (captain) 14 Rufus McLean 13 Chris Harris 12 Matt Scott 11 Duhan van der Merwe 10 Finn Russell 9 Ali Price 8 Matt Fagerson 7 Jamie Ritchie 6 Nick Haining 5 Grant Gilchrist 4 Sam Skinner 3 Zander Fagerson 2 Stuart McInally 1 Pierre Schoeman.

Bench: 16 Ewan Ashman 17 Jamie Bhatti 18 Oli Kebble 19 Jamie Hodgson 20 Hamish Watson 21 George Horne 22 Adam Hastings 23 Blair Kinghorn.


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