As the well-versed idiom goes: ‘Talk is cheap.’ And there has certainly been a lot of talk in the Scotland camp this week as they await the arrival of South Africa.
It is obvious they are hopeful of bouncing back from last week’s humiliation against New Zealand and the Springboks have been told in no uncertain terms that the Scots are not going to roll over and play dead again.
The central theme to their public utterances is: ‘We are a better team and we’re gong to produce a better performance this weekend.’
However, the jury is still out on Scotland. Their bubble was well-and-truly burst by the All Blacks last week.
The SANZAR teams – at least New Zealand and South Africa – appear to be in a different league and Scotland’s self-generated hype – following victories over a dismal Ireland and equally sub-standard Argentina earlier this year – has made way for a more realistic outlook.
Scotland attack coach Gregor Townsend admitted that Saturday will be another “huge” test for his team.
“They are the No.2 team in the world and World Cup champions,” he said in an interview on the official Scottish website.
Despite the Springboks’ dismal Tri-Nations they have found some decent form on this year-end tour and the reality of the standards set in the Tri-Nations has hit home.
“Obviously it was a tough Tri-Nations for them [the Boks], but they were playing against some quality sides out there,” Townsend told scotlandrugbyteam.org.
The real challenge for Scotland is to close that gap – which was worth almost 50 points to the Kiwis last week – and to close it in the space of just one week.
Townsend spoke of the Boks’ greater fitness and the brutish forwards that overpowered both Ireland and Wales in the past fortnight.
“They are going to challenge us in defence,” he said of the manner in which the Boks get their big runners into the game, adding: “But we know if we work hard we have the game to win on Saturday.”
The Scots have made no secret of the fact that they want to take the game to the South Africans.
However, they are up against a team that has shown the ability to soak up plenty of early pressure (Wales held a 14 point lead for most of the first half-hour in Cardiff) and then hit back hard in the second half.
South Africa are far from the finished product.
Their kick-’n-chase gameplan have yet to convince many critics of its value, but there is no doubt their defensive lines are solid enough for most part and the forwards are world class.
The key is what must Scotland bring to the game to secure an upset?
“We must work hard off the ball, work hard to get into position and then execute well,” Townsend said.
“Good teams take their opportunities and there were glimpses of that [last] the weekend, but we have to up our standards.
“We’ve learned a lot from the weekend, it wasn’t good enough, but certainly we will be better this weekend.”
The home side knows they simply had too many defensive deficiencies last week – missing 28 in the first half and 11 in the second half.
If that was painful viewing for the fans and coaching staff alike and while they will be better this week, it is uncertain if the Scots can improve to the tune of 50 points in one week.
Players to watch:
For Scotland: When head coach Andy Robinson handed Rory Lawson the captaincy, he ensured the spotlight will focus on him first. However, the key is how the tight five – Richie Gray, Scott MacLeod, Euan Murray, Ross Ford and Allan Jacobsen – can stand up to the Boks. They must lay the platform for talented backs like Dan Parks and Lawson to perform.
For South Africa: Any player on debut will be scrutinised and Lwazi Mvovo will not be spared this examination. The centre pairing of Frans Steyn and Jean de Villiers also did not convince last week. It would be worth watching for an improved performance. François Hougaard at No.9 gets a chance to impress, No.8 Ryan Kankowski gets a rare start, while coach Peter de Villiers’ persistence with Deon Stegmann must be rewarded at some stage by the openside flank.
Head to head: The scrums could be interesting – Euan Murray, Ross Ford and Allan Jacobsen (for Scotland) against the South Africa trio of Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira. What can Richie Gray (Scotland) offer against the line-out master Victor Matfield (South Africa)? Most of all they key showdown is at halfback – Dan Parks and Rory Lawson (Scotland) against Morné Steyn and François Hougaard (South Africa).
2008: South Africa won 14-10, Edinburgh
2007: South Africa won 27-3, Edinburgh
2006: South Africa won 29-15, Port Elizabeth
2006: South Africa won 36-16, Durban
2004: South Africa won 45-10, Edinburgh
2003: South Africa won 28-19, Johannesburg
2003: South Africa win 29-25, Durban
2002: Scotland won 21-6, Edinburgh
1999: South Africa won 46-29, Edinburgh
1998: South Africa won 35-10, Edinburgh
rugby365.com Prediction: Lets be honest, any half decent bookmaker will give you very short odds on South Africa. In fact most will offer Scotland a handicap of close to 15 points – that is more than two scores. The Springboks are favourites and so they should be. The weather may well reduce the winning margin. We believe South Africa will win by 15 to 20 points.
Scotland: 15 Hugo Southwell, 14 Nikki Walker, 13 Max Evans, 12 Graeme Morrison, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Rory Lawson (captain), 8 Kelly Brown, 7 John Barclay, 6 Nathan Hines, 5 Richie Gray, 4 Scott MacLeod, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Moray Low, 18 Richie Vernon, 19 Ross Rennie, 20 Greig Laidlaw, 21 Ruaridh Jackson, 22 Chris Paterson.
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Frans Steyn, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 François Hougaard, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss , 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Patrick Lambie, 22 Adi Jacobs.
Date: Saturday, November 20
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Rather cloudy with outbreaks of rain or showers. High of 7°C and low of 2°C.
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Federico Pastrana (Argentina)
TMO: Tony Redmond (Ireland)