EQUALLING Scotland’s try-scoring record was no consolation to Stuart Hogg yesterday in the wake of his team’s 15-30 defeat by South Africa. Nor was the fact that, with 87 Test appearances, he is now the most-capped full-back in men’s rugby history.

As far as the Scotland captain was concerned, the sole focus in the aftermath of the Autumn Nations Series loss was on where his team had gone wrong. The world champions played better as the match at BT Murrayfield went on, slowing play down and stifling the life out of the game whenever Scotland tried to raise the tempo. But, after a first half which ended with his team 10-8 ahead, Hogg insisted that he and his colleagues had to concentrate on their own shortcomings rather than their opponents’ undeniable virtues.

“I‘m bitterly disappointed with the result,” he said. “I think, especially in the first half, we were in control of the game and for the first 20 minutes we defended like our lives depended on it. 

“We kept them out and went down the other end of the field and scored three points. That was huge for us. 

“We started the game very well defensively and it was just unfortunate that the second half didn’t go according to plan. The boys are absolutely devastated with the result. The second half was far from where we need to be and where we want to be and that has cost us.   

“You could say the Springboks would have won anyway but I’d probably disagree. We shot ourselves in the foot at times. We just didn’t control the game as we’d like to. Yes, we were put under pressure - but at times we didn’t help ourselves.”

Scotland’s most notable progress this year has been in the way they have handled even severe pressure, maintaining their composure and patience, and trusting in their ability to hit back when the occasion arises. But in the last quarter of an hour or so yesterday, as they fell behind and saw time running out, they tried to force the issue too often, with some risky decisions merely compounding the difficulties they faced.

“We felt we were in control at half-time,” Hogg continued. “We had the choice then to sit back and expect it to happen or go out to make it happen. At times we looked good, played in the right areas and were in control of the ball and defended really well. But we missed vital clear-outs and that was the thing that killed us.

“We allowed South Africa to get into their game. They wanted to slow it down and kick to the corner and get their set-piece going. We gave them an avenue into the game at times and that’s not what we’re about.

“We wanted method in the madness in the way we played. We wanted to move South Africa around, but we didn’t reload quickly enough to be accurate.

“We wanted to be our best and we’ve got to be on it for 80 minutes. Anything less will not win you Test matches – it’s as clear as that.” 

Hogg’s two tries brought his Test tally to 24, level with his fellow-Hawick man Tony Stanger, a hero of the 1990 Grand Slam, and with Ian Smith, a member of the first Scotland team to win the Grand Slam in 1925.  He admitted that he might be minded to celebrate his try record eventually, but insisted that the first thing to do was make sure he was in the right frame of mind to start preparing for next Saturday’s last international of the year at home to Japan.

“It’s not about that, it’s about winning Test matches,” he said when asked about the landmark. “It’s about being in a position to keep the momentum going as a national side. That’s what we’re about. We talked in the changing room about this being a minor blip, a bump in the road.

“I think I might [feel like celebrating] in a few hours when I’ve calmed down and settled down. My focus now is to make sure I recover well so that we are in a great place physically and mentally come Monday.”