If the moment of the anthems has come under numerous criticism since the start of the competition on Friday, there is not much to reproach the famous children's choir this Sunday. Flower of Scotland and Die Stem van Suid Afrika/Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika were performed with emotion and respect by the more than 60,000 spectators at the Vélodrome stadium. The stands were full, unlike Friday evening. “We barely hear on the pitch anyway, we sing loudly and mostly out of tune,” Springbok captain Siya Kolisi joked after the match. I got the energy I wanted, I’m not complaining.” For his part, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said he “loved” the anthems and the children’s choir: “It was excellent.”
Defending champion but poured into the pool of death, South Africa had no room for error for its entry into the running in this World Cup. Jacques Nienaber's men enforced the hierarchy thanks to constant aggressiveness in defence, the power of his forward package and the vista of his Faf de Klerk-Manie Libbok hinge. “Rugby is not a very complicated sport when your forwards dominate,” underlined the South African coach at a press conference. They open up spaces in which the backs can work their magic.” Without forcing, but without being flamboyant either, the Springboks have mastered their subject and can calmly prepare for the match against Romania (next Sunday, 3 p.m.), before the real shock of this Pool B against Ireland (Saturday 23 September at 9 p.m.).
There was electricity in the air this Sunday in Marseille. The two teams fought a fierce, bitter battle. Enough to give thrills of pleasure to the spectators of a white-hot Stade Vélodrome. The contacts were tough, as evidenced by the injury exit of Eben Etzebeth (shoulder) and the grimaces of Finn Russell, hit in the ribs after colliding with Kurt-Lee Arendse. The palpable tension fully materialized in the 22nd minute during a scuffle at the edge of the pitch. The intensity then refocused on the field, and in this game, it was South Africa who won. “I am very proud to have been able to compete physically, but we were unable to escape the pressure from the South Africans,” analyzed the captain of the Chardon XV, Jamie Ritchie, after the match.
With a great breakthrough from Darcy Graham in the first half, we thought the Scottish back line had been liberated. We delighted in the idea of witnessing the rides of Duhan Van der Merwe, or Blair Kinghorn. It did not happen. Trapped by a very effective rise from opposing centers, the Scots had to give the ball away too often. We had to wait until the end of the match and the entries of Cameron Redpath and Ollie Smith to see some movement again. "The result is disappointing, but that does not call into question all the work done in recent months," nevertheless tempers captain Jamie Ritchie.
At the very end of the first half, the Scottish front line pushed back the South African pack, as they have rarely been able to do, and obtained a significant penalty. But the departure of the first starting line, and in particular of the right pillar Zander Fagerson, led to a flagrant loss of effectiveness in conquest. Sanctioned four times in the second half, the melee may not have cost Scotland the match, but it did prevent them from even maintaining hope of a victory.
Before the start of the World Cup, the referees announced that they would be uncompromising on brutality. On Saturday evening, Englishman Tom Curry was sent off for a head impact against Argentina. A sanction that the South African center Jesse Kriel will not have experienced after his tackle on Jack Dempsey, although the images seemed eloquent. Whatever we think of cards in rugby, we can expect refereeing consistency in a competition of this magnitude and expect all teams to be sanctioned in the same way.