There was tension this Sunday at the Marseille Vélodrome. Under oppressive heat, South Africa and Scotland did not try to save themselves in a particularly tough group. The Scots held out for 40 minutes, before conceding two tries in quick succession after returning from the locker room. They then looked for solutions, tried, but were never really in a position to score, trapped by a very high and rough South African defense, which knew how to annihilate all the men's opening attempts at the thistle.
The first half remained fairly sterile, and the Boks returned with a slight advantage (6-3), but the game was tough. The Scots got the clearest chances, with a three against one harvested by winger Darcy Graham in the 30th minute, but we will remember from this action the clash between Finn Russel and South African winger Kurt-Lee Arendse. We believed for long seconds that the Scottish game leader should leave his teammates prematurely. He finally held his place.
Before that, the match was marked by the exit due to a shoulder injury of the South African heavyweight, Eben Etzebeth (26th), but also by a collision in the 22nd minute, which could be costly in the days to come if World Rugby is looking into screenshots circulating on social media even before the final whistle. Just like the head-to-head clash, not whistled by the referee of the day, Angus Ross, in the 57th second of South African Jess Kriel on number 8 Jack Dempey. “Who knows what a red card would have changed,” reacted Scottish coach Gregor Townsend. Yesterday (Saturday) did not help the Argentines!” Brutal, the match nonetheless remained balanced, the Scottish scrum even managing to obtain a penalty on the siren.
The second half changed completely. In the 47th minute, South African third row Pieter-Steph Du Toit scored the first try of the match after several periods of play, following a scrum from 5 meters away, conceded by Scottish fullback Blair Kinghorn, very awkward this Sunday with three forwards. Four minutes later, Kurt Lee Arendze collected a magnificent pass at the foot of his fly-half Libbok (elected man of the match) and flattened it into a corner. Faf de Klerk took charge of the transformation, and the score did not move.
Both teams still had the merit of continuing to play hard, despite the overwhelming heat. Russell saved his side twice in the final moments, first from a breakthrough from Kolbe, then from replacement scrum-half Grant Williams. In attack, Scotland, on the other hand, came up against the hardness of the Springbok wall and remained sterile, handicapped by failures in conquest. The exit of their pillar Zander Fagerson on coaching cost them dearly, since their scrum was penalized four times in the second half, including twice at the entrance to the South African 22 meters. With four throws lost, it was too much to hope to pick up the score and consider a precious defensive bonus. Note the entry of Cameron Redpath in the last minutes which made it possible to revitalize the three-quarter line, until then uninspired, perhaps helped by the fatigue accumulated opposite. The final moments of the match were played with the hood open, with trying opportunities passing from one side to the other!
The fate is not yet sealed in this group. Ireland, in demonstration this Saturday against Romania, must still play against these two teams. The South Africans will surely offer such a frontal game, and a victory would ensure them a first place in the pool and a quarter-final, a priori, against New Zealand. Scotland will have to rest from their bodies that have been largely tested this Sunday evening during their two-week break, and manage against Romania and Tonga, to hope to play their qualification on October 7 against Ireland at the Stade de France in a fratricidal duel between the two Celtic nations. But to consider a place in the quarter-finals and face France, we will have to be more realistic...