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Scotland prepared to stand up to bully boys

WHEN it comes to playing South Africa, one word keeps cropping up:

Tim Swinson is optimistic that he can help to trouble the South Africans again. Picture: SNS Group/ SRU
Tim Swinson is optimistic that he can help to trouble the South Africans again. Picture: SNS Group/ SRU

physicality. Opponents see that as both the Springboks' strength and their weakness. They have the capacity to bully their way to victory, but if their power game is stopped at source, then everything else misfires.

There was one demonstration of that at the weekend when Wales took them on in the big collisions, out-matched them and left even the South African players admitting that Wales should have won the game. There were echoes of a year ago when Scotland were the opponents, coincidentally in the same stadium in Nelspruit, and at 17-6 ahead on the hour mark looked as though they were heading for a famous win.

In both cases, the Springbok power came through late to rescue the result for them, but the lesson is well learned: match South Africa physically and they are vulnerable. That rule endures even though they have been making huge strides towards varying their game to diminish their reliance on winning the bully-boy battle.

For a couple of the Scots preparing for this weekend's match with the South Africans, it was a bittersweet moment. The joy of their first caps was tinged with regret at having been close to an historic win only to have it snatched away from them.

There was that controversial sin bin of Jim Hamilton for pushing a Springbok. Did that turn the tide or was it already turning? "It is always tough, whoever you are playing, when you go a man down, especially in a Test match against one of the top teams in the world," said Tim Swinson, who made his Scotland debut against the Springboks a year ago.

"There were a couple of tries at the end which were definitely soft tries and did not go with the way the game had gone before. It is tough to say the sin bin is sole reason we lost, but it definitely made it harder.

"The cap did sink in afterwards but not until a couple of days later when I had just about recovered from the match. At that stage, though, there was a rush into the next game against Italy in Pretoria and it was not really until the end of the tour that it sunk in that I had become a capped international.

"Their pack is quite a force in world rugby, it is what they are known for. But their backs are a bit more varied than they used to be, which is good for them, not so good for everyone else. Fortunately for me, I can really do well in both sorts of games - the physical game as well as the faster one."

For Peter Murchie, the full-back who was also winning his first cap, things have not gone so well. A shoulder injury kept him out all Scotland's matches this season but he arrived on tour in a rich vein of form, keeping Stuart Hogg out of the Glasgow Warriors starting line-up in all the big end-of-season games.

Murchie believes he is ready to step in again. "I have managed to put together some pretty decent form towards the end of the season and feel that I have progressed again," he said. "We have a new coach, a very successful coach, and we are working really hard in training.

"Being on tour with two different squads probably shows how much depth we have now. The fact that we can name two separate squads and are still winning games . . . we got the results in the first two weeks with one squad and pretty much a separate team came in for the Argentina game, with limited preparation time, and got a really good win against a tough team that has been together for a long time.

"It is going to go up another few levels but we can look back at how we approached the game last year. If we get to that 60-minute mark and are ahead, we need to keep pushing and hopefully get a result. We have to go into the game believing that we can get that result."

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