Watch out, Scotland! The big bruising Springboks are brooding and the twice Rugby World Cup winners are desperately seeking to reassert their standing as serious champion contenders once more.
Their humbling, horrifying and downright embarrassing defeat to Japan in their Pool B curtain-raiser sent shockwaves around the sporting world but Heyneke Meyer’s men bounced back in style last time out, destroying Samoa 46-6. A measure of pride was restored in the South African jersey but the Boks have plenty of unfinished business to attend to.
A win over the Scots in Newcastle would continue their road to redemption and seal a spot in the quarter-finals, most likely as Pool B winners. But the squad are taking nothing for granted – players are already likening this fixture to a do-or-die knockout encounter and they’re not wrong.
I get the impression the Springboks have their eyes firmly focused on this match and putting in another devastating display. However, defensively they’ve been shoddy in the past year and the 34 points they leaked against Japan was a Rugby World Cup record whilst their form over the past 12 years is certainly questionable.
South Africa have won just six of their previous 14 fixtures and were even turned over by Argentina on home soil back in August. Skipper Jean de Villiers is out of the tournament but exciting centre Jesse Kriel returns to the fold and I just get the impression the Boks are once again ready to unload.
Scotland have been beaten in four of their last five with the Springboks, the most recent of which was last year’s 55-6 drubbing in Port Elizabeth. But the Bravehearts have made significant progress under the tutelage of Kiwi coach Vern Cotter. Results may not have always been heartening but performances certainly have.
The Scots are playing with attacking freedom and their renewed sense of discipline has aided their cause. But the underdogs do arrive in Newcastle with neither lock Grant Gilchrist nor fly-half Finn Russell in tow. Russell’s absence is a real blow as replacement Duncan Weir just isn’t up to the job of play-making or leading from 10.
A feature of Scotland’s two bonus-point wins over Japan and USA has been their shaky starts. The Scots have only led Japan 12-7 after 40 minutes and were 13-6 down to the Americans at the same stage. In both outings they bagged five second-half tries but a repeat of those sloppy openings could be their undoing.
I expect South Africa to impose their physical, confrontational and hard-running approach on Scotland from the off. There’ll be an aerial bombardment alongside the bone-crunching collisions but the Boks do have dangerous strike-runners in the loose too. Having blown a physical Samoan side off the park, it’s understandable to assume a repeat is well within their range and beating the -7.5 handicap looks a decent play at 3/4 this weekend.
South Africa v Scotland – South Africa -7.5 first-half handicap (EVS)Add to betslip
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