ONE of the most fascinating individual battles on the menu at Murrayfield this Saturday will be in the outside-centre channel where Lukhanyo Am, the hard-running Springbok outside-centre, is set to line-up opposite Chris Harris, Scotland’s defensive bulwark who has been central to the team’s emergence since the 2019 World Cup as genuine contenders at the top of the world game. 

A ringside seat for that particular face-off could be worth the price of admission alone, although the Murrayfield marketing people clearly haven’t had a word in Harris’ ear about that, because he was typically reluctant to indulge in any pre-match hype when he spoke to the media earlier this week. 

“He’s playing with confidence, isn’t he?” shrugged the taciturn 30-year-old. “He’s a physical player, he’s playing really well at the moment, and I’m looking forward to playing against him. I like the challenge.  

“He’s a bit of an all-rounder. He’s an aggressive defender but the whole South African backline are pretty aggressive. We’ll look at how to get around that, but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to. 

“I don’t like to get over-bothered by it,” Harris replied, when asked if the ferociously confrontational style of the Springbok three-quarters line has added to the pressure this week. “There is an awareness of it, but I just focus my game.  

“If that’s something the media want to do or whatever... They do it in football a lot: ‘This guy versus this guy, who’s going to be on top?’ But as a player I’m not going to get over-involved in that. I just focus on my game.  

“I’m aware of what he’s about [Am]. Every week I’m aware of my opposite number and the guys around him, so nothing changes.” 

Harris actually played opposite Am twice during last summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, and the Springbok vice-captain came out on top on both occasions, scoring a crucial try for the Springboks ‘A’ side which defeated Warren Gatland’s men during the build-up to the Test series, and then crossing the whitewash again during his teams 27-9 victory in the second Test. 

This weekend’s match will be a different sort of challenge for Harris, who has the comfort of being part of an established line-up and playing system as opposed to being parachuted into a team with fairly minimal preparation time. The Scots will hope to test the Springboks with a more adventurous and sophisticated attacking philosophy than the Lions managed under Warren Gatland, although there is no escaping the fact that this will be the biggest test yet of whether they possess the raw physicality to win a dog-fight at this level.

As impressive as last Sunday’s victory for Scotland over Australia was, it was fairly scrappy on both sides which contributed to it falling below the level of intensity the South Africans – battle-hardened by last weekend’s hard-fought win over Wales – will bring to Murrayfield on Saturday. 

South Africa have won their last six games in this series, a sequence stretching back to 2010, but there is a sense that this particular Scottish cohort are better equipped than those who went before to break that streak. 

“It’s about getting a balance,” said Harris. “You play your own way, but you still need to have an awareness of the opposition.  

“They’re a decent outfit and got a hard-fought win against Wales last weekend so it’s going to be a tough test. It will be slightly different to what we experienced against Australia, but we have enough experience in the squad and the right coaches to put us in a good place. 

“There will be some opportunities to play a bit of rugby, but you can’t be caught over playing at the same time,” he added. “It’s a balance and you’ve got to be smart. There are enough boys who have played a few games against them, and spent six or seven weeks looking at them on the Lions tour, so we know what to expect and we’ll be looking to impose our game on them.” 

“We have developed as a group over the last four years, I’ve seen that with guys growing into leadership roles. We are in a decent place and have a good bunch of boys who can really kick on now. Hopefully we can finish these fixtures on a high and then look forward to the Six Nations and give that a good crack as well."