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Scotland 10 South Africa 21: Practice does not make perfect

Scotland's senior players were again left examining their own failings after lamely allowing a Springbok development team to dominate them early and take control of Saturday's Test at Murrayfield.

Scotland flanker John Barclay tries to force his way past Francois Louw, who was named as man of the match. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
Scotland flanker John Barclay tries to force his way past Francois Louw, who was named as man of the match. Pictures: Stewart Attwood

Having admitted to standing off their opponents when the All Blacks visited six days earlier, the Scots did so again in the early exchanges – and paid a heavy price against a team that bore little relation, in terms of quality, to the Springbok team that was beaten two years ago at the same venue, prompting exasperation from Sean Lamont, the most experienced Scot afield when the game ended.

"It was the same as last week, not matching a team that we knew were going to be physical. When we beat them two years ago we matched them," said the winger. "We knew what we needed to do, we discussed it throughout the week. We needed to hit them hard and low, but for some reason everyone was trying to play their game and hit them high. They are big, powerful boys and if you try to play them at their own game, you are not going to."

Asked how that could have happened, he expressed bewilderment: "That's the million dollar question. We have had it drilled into us. That is something we will be asking ourselves when we debrief this properly because there is no excuse. We've been told where to go. We've been told what to do and how to do it. The whole gameplan was to hit these guys low, get them on the deck and contest the breakdown.

"Hit them high they rumble through you and get an extra five yards in the contact. Then, because they are going forward, they get that quick ball that puts the next phase under pressure. I'd love to know why we weren't doing it – it's so frustrating."

Lamont is understood to have caused some internal disquiet last year with a similar outburst after a dreadful Scotland showing against Wales, following which performances noticeably improved. This time, then, it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that his observations raise serious questions about what is happening within this camp.

If Lamont has spoken in a way that his coaches and colleagues would again consider out of turn it would suggest that – with some justification, given the way they responded last time – he is more concerned about getting the right reaction than about adhering to management mantra.

However, if his interpretation of what happened on Saturday is right – and several team-mates hinted at similar sentiments – then players have completely failed to take on board what they have been told on the training ground.

Some confusion on that front may be understandable when processes are new, but head coach Andy Robinson has been in the post for three and a half years and there is no evidence of meaningful progress.

Kind as it was of Robinson's counterpart Heyneke Meyer to suggest this Scotland team has the capacity to challenge for a place among world's the top four, the reality is that they are this week battling to stay in the top 10, and deservedly so.

South Africa's youthful pack can hardly have believed the ease with which they drove across the Scottish line a second time to register the game's first try, after a similar manoeuvre had been deemed by the referee to have followed an illegal mauling formation.

That score arrived after Pat Lambie had twice nudged his side in front with penalties, to one from Greig Laidlaw, but with World Cup captain Al Kellock's motivational presence introduced at that point in place of the injured Richie Gray, Scotland upped their game.

Lambie extended the Springbok lead before the interval with his third penalty, but Scotland had the better of much of the game thereafter, preventing their opponents from scoring any second-half points bar the converted try they were gifted when Adriaan Strauss intercepted a Mike Blair pass to scamper 35 metres for his second try.

In contrast, a perfectly executed training-ground move, as Kelly Brown fed Henry Pyrgos while the Scottish lineout parted in the middle and brought their markers with them, gave the replacement scrum-half a clear route to the line.

But even when they had the upper hand, Scotland far too rarely looked like they had a real idea of how to find a way through a South Africa defence that was in no way unhappy to have to make more than twice as many tackles as their opponents.

Deep in the first half an energy-sapping sequence of some 11 phases ended with Kellock penalised for holding on to the ball because Jim Hamilton failed to clear away Francois Louw, who was deservedly named man of the match for a hard-running, all-action showing.

Midway through the second half a 12-phase Scotland attack ended with Laidlaw tamely kicking away possession, by no means the only time the Scots did so unnecessarily, while set-piece blunders also proved costly at important moments.

As a footnote, perhaps the best news for the Scots from this campaign, and the saddest, relates to the men who have this season worn the No.1 jersey. The emergence of Ryan Grant, overlooked by Robinson at Edinburgh, has been hugely encouraging, not least as there is a growing belief that 12 years after he first toured with Scotland Allan "Chunk" Jacobsen is to announce his international retirement.

analysis Apart from a training-ground move which led to a try, Scotland's preparation counts for little against the Springboks, writes Kevin Ferrie

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