Jean de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Events of the last few days and weeks only enhance the likelihood that South Africa’s third match, against Scotland in Newcastle, will be the trickiest Pool B obstacle to overcome at RWC 2015.
The Scots appear back on the rise, at least to a degree, after ending last and winless in the latest Six Nations competition much earlier in the year.
That undesired wooden-spoon status came about primarily because they suffered a 22-19 home loss to Italy, the team who eventually ended narrowly above them in fifth.
But within the last fortnight, Scotland have determinedly avenged that result in warm-up Tests for the World Cup, first beating the Italians 16-12 away and then – perhaps especially illuminating – thrashing them 48-7 at Murrayfield on Saturday.
It wasn’t enough to lift their position this week on the global rankings from 10th (though the Boks also remain static in fourth) but certainly sent a message that they are beginning to close the gap again with the better teams in the European pecking order, at very least.
Just examining that latest result is statistically educative if you are a South African already not taking for granted victory at St James’ Park, even as the Boks do remain reasonably clear favourites to top the pool.
It is a fact now that in their latest meeting with Italy, Scotland have won by 41 points; the Boks’ last result against Italy was victory by 16 (22-6) in Padua less than a year ago in November 2014.
This Scottish team under the coaching tenure of New Zealander Vern Cotter also fought extremely pluckily in mid-August against Ireland, presently above South Africa in third on the world ladder and top-rated “northern” power as things stand.
They were only beaten 28-22 in Dublin a fortnight or so back – which again amounts to a better outcome than the Boks’ last meeting with the Irish on last year’s end-of-season tour, when they were comfortably eclipsed 29-15.
If you want to gain a further indication statistically of the Boks and Scots perhaps being that bit closer to each other in standard than some people may imagine, consider also that Scotland’s last result against the world champion All Blacks was a gallant 24-16 reverse at Murrayfield last November.
The touring New Zealanders were not at fullest strength for that clash, but they still started with such figures as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa, and the result has strong similarities with the Boks’ latest encounter with the All Blacks – surrendered 27-20 at Ellis Park on July 25.
Scotland can also boast that in their last home fixture against Argentina, the Boks’ rivals in the Castle Rugby Championship, they prevailed 41-31 in November, which is better than South Africa can say after they suffered a first-time defeat to the Pumas in Durban recently (37-25).
When the Boks meet the Scots in Newcastle, it will obviously be on “neutral” turf ... but not by much.
The north-east city is pretty close to the Scottish border and there is an old joke about a Geordie (Tynesider) simply being a Scotsman with his brains kicked in.
South Africa hold a commanding 20-5 win record over Scotland, but the second last time they met in northern climes saw the Scots emerge 21-17 winners at Murrayfield in November 2010.
I attended that arm-wrestle in the filthiest, most frigid conditions imagineable, Dan Parks kicking all of the fired-up Scots’ points via six penalties and a dropped goal.
In the Bok starting line-up were eight members of the Bok squad heading soon to RWC 2015: Zane Kirchner, Jean de Villiers, Lwazi Mvovo, Morne Steyn, Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis and Victor Matfield.
They will be able to remind others around them pretty shortly that if the Bok pool is considered a relative walk in the park by some critics and fans, they might want to revise that theory at least around the Scottish clash ...
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