SCOTLAND have already run up some impressive results this year against more highly-ranked teams, most notably the Six Nations victories at Twickenham and the Stade de France. And by beating Australia on Sunday they showed that the standard they reached in the spring, far from being evanescent, is now the level at which they consistently play.

Even so, head coach Gregor Townsend believes that his team’s performance will have to improve by another notch or two if they are to get the better of South Africa at BT Murrayfield tomorrow. Not only do the Springboks have the highest ranking of any team Townsend’s squad will face this year - they are second only to the All Blacks - they also invariably constitute the toughest physical challenge of any nation in world rugby.

“This is the biggest challenge that we’ve had in the last two years,” Townsend said after naming a starting line-up that shows four changes from the one that began the 15-13 win over the Wallabies five days ago. “They’re the world champions, a team that’s very tough to play against. They have beaten the All Blacks and had two wins over the Lions. Their form is still right up there.

“So it will take belief this week and also accuracy, huge physicality and one of our best-ever performances. The performances in Paris and England – another one of them with a little bit extra. I believe that will get us over the line. But it’s going to take an enormous effort to replicate those performances.

“We’re going to have to front up physically. The way South Africa attack is very direct. They want more set pieces - they want to go to scrum and lineout, so we’ve got to make sure that that area is something that we’re able to not only compete, but impose our strengths on them.

“And there’s going to be a lot of kicks to field and a lot of kicks to chase. We’ll have to make sure that we’re still able to do what we want to do at certain times - and that’s what we’ve been working on this week. But we’re going to have to play their game and play our game at the same time.”

Those four changes to the starting 15 are split equally between backs and pack.  Behind the scrum, Leicester centre Matt Scott is set to win his first cap for four years, having last been involved at the very start of Townsend’s reign, while Glasgow winger Rufus McLean is back after an extremely impressive two-try debut against Tonga two weeks ago and is preferred to Darcy Graham. In the pack, Edinburgh hooker Stuart McInally returns from illness in place of the injured George Turner, and his team-mate Nick Haining is at blindside as an indirect replacement for openside Hamish Watson, who is on the bench. Having only played for the first time this season against Tonga, Watson needs to be managed carefully according to Townsend, who nonetheless believes he could play a crucial role in the last quarter.

Ewan Ashman, who scored a spectacular try on his debut against the Australians after being an early replacement for Turner, again starts on the bench. Josh Bayliss, the other debutant off the bench against Australia, drops out of the squad to make way for Haining. The other alteration among the substitutes sees Blair Kinghorn take over from Kyle Steyn. 

Essentially Townsend has selected the biggest, most physical team he could pick. The exception is the slender McLean - but even there, the Warriors back punches well above his weight in defence, and always backs himself to get the better of his opposite number. That self-belief is something that has grown throughout the whole team over the past couple of years, and the coach thinks it is a crucial ingredient of their success.  

“It’s about managing the moments when doubt might have crept in in the past,” Townsend explained. “There’s togetherness and belief that we can go and win this. That could be on the back of a very good performance like in Paris - or last week, which wasn’t quite as good a performance, but still doing enough to win.

“It’s about managing the moments and finding a way to win. You look at your team-mate and he looks confident and you go, “Right, we’re going to win this”. This is the biggest challenge for us as a group and it will be a good test of where we are.”

Any game against the Springboks is extremely tough, and this one will be all the more demanding given the six-day turnaround from the Wallabies match. But with relatively few injuries to concern them and with Townsend having made judicious use of his resources, Scotland seem in the mood to do something special - although whether the South Africans will indulge that mood is another matter.