Handré Pollard enjoyed the freedom of a more attacking game plan as the Springboks held off a late resurgence from Scotland to claim a 26-20 victory at Murrayfield on Saturday night.
Bok flyhalf Pollard contributed 18 points via a try, two conversions and three penalties, but it was his general play that was the big plus-point for the South Africans in a dry Edinburgh.
Pollard was a constant threat on attack for the visitors as he ran hard at the line, as he was ably assisted with quick service from new scrumhalf Embrose Papier, who would’ve been delighted with his performance in his first Test start.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus gave his players more licence to thrill with ball-in-hand, and they proved that they can impose themselves with ball-in-hand in the first half.
Wings Aphiwe Dyantyi and Sbu Nkosi saw much more of the ball out wide, and the Boks looked dangerous almost every time they took on the Scottish defence, as the pack of forwards also put the team on the front foot with some big hits in defence.
The renewed zest in the Bok game plan bore fruit as early as the sixth minute. Pollard made a terrific break from his own 10-metre line, and found Papier on his inside.
The Bulls halfback showed how much pace he possesses when he raced upfield, and he passed to a flying RG Snyman, who displayed his silky touch by offloading in the tackle to Steven Kitshoff.
Not to be outdone, the Bok prop also got his pass away under pressure to Sbu Nkosi, who was brought down a few metres short of the line.
The ball came back quickly for Papier, who spun it out for Jesse Kriel to burst over.
That thrilling passage of play would’ve proved to Erasmus what his players are capable of if they are allowed to take on defences with ball-in-hand.
Scotland hit back around the 20th-minute mark, though, and it was former WP centre Huw Jones who played a key part.
Jones put Sean Maitland away, and the former Crusaders star surged downfield before Jones again pulled off a back-flip for his midfield partner Peter Horne to score.
But soon afterwards, it was Man of the Match Pollard who put the Boks back in front at 14-7 as a turnover inside the Scottish half was quickly sent out to Willie le Roux, who flung the ball out for Pollard to dot down out wide.
Pollard and Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw exchanged penalties, and then the home side caught the Boks out with a clever lineout variation that saw flank Hamish Watson coming in from nowhere to dive over untouched.
Suddenly it was 17-17, and despite another Pollard three-pointer before halftime, the Boks were put on the back foot by French referee Romain Poite.
A controversial yellow card by Poite against Le Roux – who had tried to intercept a long pass, but was ruled to have made a deliberate knock-down – slowed the Boks down a bit early in the second half.
Handre Pollard puts in a Man of the Match performance to steer the Springboks to a deserved 26-20 win over an impressive Scotland at Murrayfield. #boksontour#SCOvRSA#CastleLagerOutgoingTour pic.twitter.com/JqBFfKUNLr— South African Rugby (@Springboks) November 17, 2018
Laidlaw levelled the scores at 20-20 with the resultant penalty, and it was game-on for the final 30 minutes.
Scotland were rejuvenated after that, and made a number of visits into the South African half, but tigerish defence and competition at the breakdowns, as well as excellent defence at the maul, saved the day for the Boks.
Pollard even added three more points, but missed two penalty efforts – the second a bad shank with 13 minutes to go, and Erasmus would’ve been frustrated by the fact that the Boks couldn’t close out the game by then.
But replacement flyhalf Elton Jantjies also slotted a vital penalty with about eight minutes to go, and the Boks also won a few late turnovers to thwart the Scots in the final stages.
Considering the record Scotland have at Murrayfield, where they have beaten England, Australia and Ireland, Erasmus will be pleased that his team could pull it through in the end.
Scotland 20 – Tries: Pete Horne, Hamish Watson. Conversions: Greig Laidlaw (2). Penalties: Laidlaw (2).
Springboks 26 – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard. Conversions: Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (3), Elton Jantjies (1).@ashfakmohamed