Springboks braced for bruising battle with Scotland pack

Malcolm Marx will be key to the Springbok pack in their opening Rugby World Cup match against Scotland. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

Malcolm Marx will be key to the Springbok pack in their opening Rugby World Cup match against Scotland. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

Published Sep 6, 2023


Although the Springbok scrum has been utterly dominant in the lead-up to the World Cup, the reigning champions cannot afford to rest on their laurels ahead of the battle with Scotland in Marseille on Sunday (kick-off 5.45pm).

With two South African-born props in their squad, along with Pieter de Villiers – a former Springbok assistant coach – as scrum coach, the Scots will look to this crucial battle up front to possibly uproot their opponents at the Stade Velodrome.

The Boks used their overpowering scrum to subdue Wales and the All Blacks in the last two warm-up matches before the tournament and will rely heavily on it in their Pool B opening match.

It's the platform from where the halfbacks can set the backline running but also a vital part for the Springboks to gain territory with line-kicks when they win penalties.

Those line-kicks, in return, provide another chance to launch their other potent set-piece – the line-out and rolling maul .

But De Villiers, along with props Pierre Schoeman and WP Nel, will most likely have something up their sleeves for the scrums to counter the power of the Springbok pack.

“There will be a good welcome in terms of playing against each other,” Deon Davids, the Bok forwards coach, said yesterday of facing Scotland with their SA flavour.

Apart from the two props, wings Duhan van der Merwe and Kyle Steyn are also South African-born Scottish players.

“I coached with Pieter de Villiers when I was with the Junior Springboks and part of that team was Pierre Schoeman. WP Nel, way back, was one of my players at the Boland Cavaliers when I started out, so yeah, I’ve got a good experience of them.

“WP, from an early age, when he was in South Africa, showed ability to play at the highest level. I’m quite glad that it worked out for him when he made the decision and got an opportunity to play international rugby.

“For him to still be part of that team (at the age of 37) and competing at this stage, in this competition, is proof of his ability.”

According to Davids, Nel will be one of the Scottish players who will give a good account of themselves but his side will not focus on their opponents but instead on what they must bring to the clash to be competitive.

The delay of the Bok team announcement certainly gives away the fact that the coaches are still plotting and planning on who to release as the starting line-up, although head coach Jacques Nienaber alluded that there might be a couple of surprise selections for the first match.

Usually, South Africa announce their side early in the week but this approach – they are set to name their side on Friday – also indicates that they don’t want to show their cards too early.

Judging by how the front row of props Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and hooker Malcolm Marx have gone in the last two games, especially with their scrumming, the Boks will be tempted not to change too much upfront though.

They laid the platform for the Bomb Squad to put the nail in the coffin of the opposition packs and it’s expected that it will happen again this weekend.

Davids said they are bracing for a physical game while knowing that Scotland pose a threat with and without the ball.

“When you go into each game in this World Cup, it’s going to be crucially important for us to ensure that for that specific game, we are at the best of our ability – intensity-wise, execution-wise, focus-wise.

“In this game it’s all about dominance, it’s about physicality. It’s about using your opportunity, it’s about ensuring that you are aligned in the different things you want to achieve. If you combine that, that will bring out the character and the attitude that you want in a game.”