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Scotland 10 South Africa 21: Scots left in a world of pain

Scotland have suffered greater humiliations than this at the hands of the Springboks, but none with such far-reaching signif-icance.

Heinke van der Merwe and Schalk Brits bring Scotland's Dave Denton to a crashing halt   Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Heinke van der Merwe and Schalk Brits bring Scotland's Dave Denton to a crashing halt Photograph: Stewart Attwood

Early next month, they will go into the draw for the 2015 World Cup seeded among the third-tier nations, having failed to claw a way back into the top eight of the world rankings after this defeat.

It looked respectable enough on the scoreboard at the finish, and there was much to admire in the way the Scots hammered away at their opponents in the second half, but the consequences are dismal. Robinson faced the same scenario when he found his side in the same group as Argentina and England at last year's World Cup and Scotland failed to find a way into the quarter-finals for the first time.

It is a devilishly difficult position to be in, and as he reflects on this match he will rue all the chances that were not taken, and all the gifts of easy points that his team handed to South Africa. Scotland had the winning of this match in their grasp, but they lacked the composure and, critically, the discipline to succeed.

They paid the price chiefly in the first half as they coughed up possession and handed over swathes of territory by giving South Africa a stream of penalties. At the finish, neither Robinson nor any of his players could offer a decent explanation of what went wrong, but they were in contrite mood.

Some of referee George Clancy's decisions against them were borderline, others simply mystifying, but no-one attempted to shift blame to the official.

It was more maddening still that Scotland came back so strongly in the final 30 minutes. It would be easy to say South Africa were throttling back by then, but they were not remotely comfortable in the driving seat throughout that period. Nor, for that matter, did they have anything to be comfortable about after Henry Pyrgos, a revelation at scrum-half after replacing Mike Blair in the 45th minute, had cut the gap dramatically with a clever try five minutes after his arrival.

Blair's departure came just after he had gift-wrapped South Africa hooker Adriaan Strauss's second try by throwing a wild pass that was gleefully accepted. As Strauss, who had not scored in 19 previous internationals, barrelled on over the 22 and homing in on the Scots line, he looked to be running in slow motion at times, but neither Blair nor any other player in a blue shirt got within five yards of him.

It is always unfortunate to cough up a score to a flying winger, but this one was nothing short of embarrassing.

Strauss's team-mates might also reflect on the possibility that this was the game where the beginnings of a new Springboks side took shape. Coach Heyneke Meyer has struggled to get results on the road in his first year in charge, but after last week's win in Dublin he will be looking at a European clean sweep if they can beat England at Twickenham next weekend.

South Africa may lack the sheen of the All Blacks, but there is no shortage of grunt in the forward pack and old-fashioned rugby savvy throughout the rest of the side.

Classy scrum-half Ruan Pienaar has had more conspicuously brilliant games than this, but he controlled proceedings with quiet excellence, even if the hosts made it alarmingly easy for him at times.

South Africa also gained a significant edge in a loose forward battle that was brutal at times. Scotland lost a good deal of power when Richie Gray went off with a head knock after 21 minutes, and while Al Kellock did nothing wrong after taking his place, he lacked the sheer physical force Gray brings to the party.

Gray was already nursing the injury and looking groggy when South Africa drove hard from a 20th-minute line-out and just kept on going to give Strauss his first try.

Whether that was a factor may have fuelled a few arguments around Edinburgh last night, but it was certainly clear that those Scots who had all their senses intact at that point were horribly slow to respond when the drive came on.

Springboks fly-half Pat Lambie kept his side ticking along with three penalties in the opening half, although there was no great authority in his all-round play and coach Meyer will surely be looking to get Morne Steyn out of his sick bed before too long. However, Lambie easily had the better of Greig Laidlaw, his opposite number, who had a worryingly low-key performance.

After the arrival of Pyrgos, the tempo of the Scotland game was raised a few notches and they gained their reward with an almost absurdly simple, though very clever, try. It came from a line-out five metres out, and when Kelly Brown knocked the ball down to Pyrgos the scrum-half simply rocketed through a gap in the set-piece and over the line.

With almost half an hour left, and Scotland starting to build up steam, you might have been tempted to back Robinson's side at that moment. But the defensive class of the South Africans meant the Scots had no further return on the scoreboard.

You would probably back them still to beat Tonga in Aberdeen next weekend, but victory there will be a clear case of too little too late.

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