SCOTLAND may have won their opening three matches on their summer tour but the hard truth is that their last two matches against teams ranked in the top six in the world - this defeat, and the thumping by Wales at the end of the Six Nations - have both produced hammerings by more than 50 points.

That is the statistical measure of where they stand and the trough they have escape to make an impact at next year's Rugby World Cup.

What is less certain is how relevant the statistics of this particular match are when it comes to predicting the future of the team. There were so many unique features to the game, ranging from the insane schedule leading up to it to the enforced absence of so many leading players that it is tempting just to write it off as a bizarre one-off as callow youth went into battle against hardened men and got their backsides kicked.

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Certainly Vern Cotter, the head coach, was adamant that it had been valuable as a learning exercise for both him and the young players who now have experience of what it is like to face one of the best and most powerful teams in the world - but that was about it. "It is obviously disappointing to lose, and by that amount, but there were some encouraging performances by several players," he said. "I still don't like losing but I was encouraged by the spirit and determination of the players.

"We will go forward with a plan to improve physically, improve technically and to apply tactics that suit us and the profile of the team. I go away with plenty of things to think about, which is good."

He will take some encouragement from some individual performances. Adam Ashe had been plucked from nowhere to start at No.8 and by and large did not look out of place; Henry Pyrgos added some zip and speed to the work at the base of the ruck; Stuart Hogg made one break that should have produced more and was always lively; Tommy Seymour is fast becoming the pick of the Scottish wings; and Grant Gilchrist is real captaincy material.

Overall, though, it was another error-strewn performance where they gifted South Africa a comfortable and productive opening spell through their poor discipline and handing mistakes. Though they fought back, they could only muster two Duncan Weir penalties for all their willingness to run the ball they never really looked like cracking the Springbok defence. "We gave away too many penalties," said Cotter. "We were penalised early in the game which gave them access to our end of the paddock and they scored from those opportunities.

"We came back and applied pressure on them in the latter part of the first half and their early penalty in the second half demonstrated that we had them thinking a bit more about the game and position, and the inroads they were making.

"Then a yellow card tipped it their way again. It became difficult and then we ran out of steam. Physically they dominated the greater part of the contract zone, especially in the latter part of the game."

In practice, the match was over within 16 minutes as Marcell Coetzee, the flanker, Willie Le Roux, the full back and Lwazi Mvovo,the wing, all crossed for tries that had their origin in a Scots mistakes - penalties for the first, missed tackles in midfield for the next two.

As Cotter rightly pointed out, it spoke volumes for the determination of the team that somehow they managed to turn things round. They certainly did not dominate the next half-hour, but neither were they dominated as they found ways to give as good as they got.

That all ended when Tim Swinson was harshly sin binned for what was judged to be a no-arms tackle, and with two tries when he was off - Coetzee again at the tail of a driving maul and JP Pietersen when the defence was caught man short - set the scoreboard rattling again. A third only seconds after Scotland were back to 15 men when Henry Pyrgos had his ambitious pass intercepted by Mvovo made sure there was no way back.

With players running out of steam in the final quarter, South Africa added two more tries through Lood de Jager, the giant young lock, both from Scottish mistakes and though they kept battling for a consolation score, it was never on the cards.