Saturday, 17 November 2012

Scotland v South Africa - Preview

The Springboks will assume the role of favourites at Murrayfield, but recent history advises them against placing heavy significance on that tag.

Two years ago the then world champions arrived in Edinburgh strongly fancied to pile more misery on a Scotland team that had succumbed to an emphatic 49-3 defeat by the All Blacks seven days earlier.

But pre-match predictions counted for little as the home team produced one of their best results under Andy Robinson, beating the Springboks 21-17.

The circumstances going into the latest encounter bear more than a heavy echo of the events of 2010.

Once more Scotland approach the match just a week after another bruising loss against the All Blacks.

Once more they are a team in need of a backlash.

In 2010 the boot of Dan Parks provided redemption against South Africa. With Parks retired, Scotland must look elsewhere for a match-winner. And glistening amid the debris of last week's defeat to the All Blacks was a performance which suggested they have that very player within their ranks.

Two tries from Dutchman Tim Visser underlined the potency he has added to Scotland's backline. Throughout this year's Six Nations, Scotland's failure to convert possession and territory into tries was a persistent theme. Visser's emergence has silenced those worries.

Robinson now has a bona-fide finisher at his disposal. The Edinburgh wing is already being tipped to become his adopted country's all-time leading try-scorer, beating the record of 24 jointly held by Ian Smith and Tony Stanger.

But while Scotland proved themselves as an attacking force against New Zealand, their defence frayed and fractured in alarming fashion. Missed tackles and assorted mistakes undermined them. A focus on defensive discipline will have been paramount in training this week.

Nevertheless, few sides would judge themselves too harshly in the wake of defeat by the world champions. A team's progress cannot be accurately judged against a mauling by Carter and Co. New Zealand exist on an entirely different rugby planet to all other nations.

Back in the normal world Scotland will have noted the heavy weather South Africa made of beating Ireland last week. Try-scorer Ruan Pienaar described his side's first half performance in Dublin as 'terrible.' The Springboks improved after the break, but rarely raised their game above the doggedly efficient. Inspiration was in short supply throughout.

They too hope for a better display. But Bryan Habana's absence from the tour denies them a lethal weapon at a time when Scotland have found one of their own.

Andy Robinson's men will take heart from such details and the fact that South Africa are no New Zealand. Victory would also lift them into the top eight ranked teams in the world - a position crucial to a favourable World Cup draw. The experience of two years ago tells them such a result is well within their compass, regardless of the bookies' odds.

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