SCOTLAND can beat a team who can beat South Africa: they showed that against Australia eight days ago. What they cannot do is beat South Africa themselves. Not yet anyway. 

The Springboks were convincing winners in the end on Saturday, defeating the home side 30-15 at BT Murrayfield. But, for all their domination of the scrum throughout, and their mastery of the lineout for long stretches of the contest, they only pulled away in the last dozen minutes, when three penalties eased them clear.

Given the final score and the evident difficulties in the set piece, it might have been tempting for Scotland supporters to feel despondent. But, with a final Autumn Nations Series game to come on Saturday against Japan, no such luxury is available to the players themselves.

Sam Skinner, for one, is confident that the problems exposed or created by South Africa can be sorted out in short order. The lock forward believes that Scotland were less impressive in many respects in victory against the Wallabies - who beat the Springboks twice in the Rugby Championship - than they were in defeat at the weekend. And he is convinced that this squad are capable of defeating the world champions, whom they will meet in the pool stage of the next Rugby World Cup.

“We are close, really close,” the Exeter second-row said. “We’ve beaten Australia last weekend – and I genuinely believe we didn’t really get out of the blocks [in that match].

“We’ve put in a better performance against South Africa, for sure. We are close. We are playing at the top level. Small margins have a big impact in the game.

“We’ve got two years to keep building for the World Cup. We honestly couldn’t ask for a better squad, better coaching staff, or better facilities.

“It’s all there for us. We’ve just got to stay ruthless with our mentality and keep improving.”

It would be easy to say that Scotland’s problems were self-inflicted, particularly late in the second half when some of the decision-making verged on the desperate. But playing against a team such as the South Africans will always take its toll on your mental energy as well as your physical energy, so the quality of the opposition has to be factored into any assessment of your own shortcomings. Skinner acknowledged as much, but insisted that his team had it in them to get the better of the Boks.    

“At times, we could maybe have kept it a bit simpler for ourselves. But that’s just hindsight, isn’t it? It’s easy to say that now.

“But we can take confidence from that game, 100 per cent. We know we have the quality to beat that South African outfit.

“They are obviously a good side, don’t get me wrong. They are world champions for a reason. But we can take genuine belief from that game.

“We know we have the tools to win a game like that. But obviously actions speak 

louder than words.”

Of the four changes made by Gregor Townsend to his starting line-up, Stuart McInally stood up best to South African pressure. Rufus McLean was well policed, Matt Scott hardly got going, and Nick Haining found it tough against the back row of Siya Kolisi, Kwagga Smith and Duane Vermeulen. The hooker was as self-critical as always, but, like Skinner, insisted that Scotland could take a measure of satisfaction from the aspects of their play that had gone relatively well.

“We came up against a very good scrum,” McInally said. “They were powerful and they were well coached, and there were a few times we creaked a little - but there were a few times I thought we got into good shape and rhythm as well but didn’t get the rewards. 

“We have got to give credit to them at the set piece: their set-piece team came and delivered. I think on the whole we could have been better at scrum time, definitely, and we have to solve a few issues there, but credit to them for the way they played.”

While Scotland conceded a fair number of penalties, a lot of their defensive play stood up well against the most physical team in world rugby. And, as McInally pointed out, the attack looked pretty sharp at times too.

“We believe we’re a physical team, and we showed that in large parts of our defence,” he continued. “I was really proud of the defensive effort and if you look at the way we scored our tries it was from moving the ball. That was part of our plan, and it was good to see us pick up a couple of tries - but we maybe needed to take a few more of those opportunities.”