SCOTLAND’S heavy defeat to South Africa at Murrayfield on Saturday was a reality check which brought the wave of unbridled optimism initiated by the previous weeks victory over Australia to a shuddering halt for most rugby fans from these parts – but assistant coach AB Zondagh says he is more confident than ever about the team’s ability to topple the Springboks when the two sides next meet in the opening round of matches at the 2023 World Cup in France. 

Not only that, he also backs them to beat Ireland, conquerors of the mighty All Blacks on Saturday, in their other big pool match at the tournament.

“I’m convinced we can beat one out of the two, in fact we can beat them both,” said Zondagh, who is initially from South Africa and joined the Scotland coaching team to assist with attack in late August. “We’ve still got time, and there has been big lessons learned from the weekend, but we can also take a lot of confidence out of the good things we’ve done.  

“I don’t think South Africa are going to change the way they play, but us as a team we will keep learning, keep evolving and keep getting better with each game we play.  

“So, the ball is in our court, and it is up to us to get ourselves ready for those matches.

“I think it took world rugby two years to figure out how to beat South Africa, so it is a Da Vinci code which is slowly being cracked, but the Aussies showed that it is possible to beat them [when they won back-to-back Rugby Championship matches in September],” added the 35-year-old.  

“Because they are so rigid they do have certain weaknesses, but here are also things that you can’t get away from. Set-piece and physicality are two things which will always be there, which will always have a massive impact on any match they are involved in, so those are the areas which any team who wants to compete has to at least match up. That’s the challenge which faces any team playing a team like South Africa.”  

Zondagh added that he believes Scotland will be able to match the physicality of South Africa and Ireland, despite that being the key point of difference in matches against these teams in the past. 

“I think we’ve got an amazing forward pack,” he insisted. “The South African scrum is one of the strongest in the world. I don’t think we were bullied off the ball. There are obviously lots of areas we can work on but I’m confident that if we played them again, we’ll be able to play off our scrum ball. On the day, it maybe wasn’t the best picture shown but I’m confident we’ll get it right. 

“I think if a team feels they can get ascendancy in the set-piece then of course they’re going to talk about it and they’ll prepare for it but it’s up to us to nullify it,” he continued. “A good example is the maul this weekend against South Africa. We had a plan and it worked and the boys fronted up. As I say, it needs to be 80 minutes and it needs to be every facet of the game.” 

First things first, Scotland have to refocus in finishing their Autumn season on a postive note by playing well and geting a win against Japan on Staurday. The Brave Blossoms have been out of sorts this Autumn, having lost 60-5 to Ireland two weekends ago and then struggling to a 38-25 win over minnows Portugal last Saturday evening, but the memory of the 2019 World Cup defeat still festers within the Scottish squad. 

“It’s going to be a different threat this weekend but it’s a threat none the less,” said Zondagh. “They have a very smart coaching team, so we have to expect the unexpected against them. We definitely must not underestimate them as they’re a very strong side.  

“They didn’t put out their full-strength side at the weekend so I wouldn’t read too much into that game. It’s going to be a real tough battle. We have to concentrate for 80 minutes if we want to win. 

“Scotland are able to mix it up. We can box if we need to, but we can chuck the ball around as well if we need to. So, this weekend we will work to a new plan with the aim of winning the game, but also playing rugby that’s true to us. Hopefully you’ll see that at the weekend.” 

George Turner and Scott Cummings will return from rib and arm injuries, respectively, to push for selection this weekend.