For a long time, Scotland’s midfield makeup was a point of contention and debate among fans. Those days are over.

Gregor Townsend’s decision to unite the Glasgow Warriors partnership of Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones at international level proved to be a resounding success and their speed, creativity and understanding has since become a pivotal part of the side.  

But the biggest examination yet of the dynamic duo’s mettle awaits on Sunday in Marseille, when they will come up against a ferocious South Africa side looking to begin their Rugby World Cup defence with a bang.  

Two World Cup winners will line up opposite ‘Huwipulotu’ in Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, and the pair’s experience, physicality and threat on both sides of the ball will provide an acid test to how far the Scotland centres have really come on.   

Although the Scottish pairing is still relatively new to the international scene, Kriel discounted any possibility of the Scots benefitting from the element of surprise.

“They are both really exciting players who have been playing well for Scotland lately,” Kriel said on the eve of the match. 

“Huw Jones played a lot of his rugby in South Africa so I played against him quite a bit there. He was really good for the Stormers.

“I played against Tuipolotu in Japan, he played for the same team that Kwagga Smith plays for.

“I’m familiar with both of them and I know what they can do. They are unbelievably exciting on the ball and I think they have added a lot to the Scotland team.

“[It’s] another big challenge tomorrow, and something that we’re really excited for as a team. We’ll go out there and give it our best shot.”

Temperatures have hit 30 degrees in the south of France in the days leading up to the game, which kicks off at 17:45 local time.

But the searing heat did not appear to bother a relaxed Springboks squad, who were in high spirits as they took to their training pitch in Toulon on Saturday under the blazing heat of the midday sun.

“On the weather, it’s something we as a team have been embracing,” said Kriel.

“We prefer the heat to the rain, so the guys have been really happy, enjoying the heat, and I think we’ve adapted well.”

He added: “There’s a lot of excitement going into the game. Everybody watched the opening game last night and started getting into the feeling of the tournament and the whole World Cup in itself.

“Tomorrow is going to be a massive challenge. It’s something we’re really excited for and I believe we’ll be up for.”

South Africa’s squad features 21 players who were part of the victorious 2019 squad, including Kriel.

However, it was a bittersweet tournament for the outside centre, who picked up an injury during the opening defeat to New Zealand that ruled him out for the remainder.

The Springboks’ success four years ago was lauded as a unifying moment for a troubled nation, with captain Siya Kolisi the inspiring figure at the centre of it. 

And Kriel believes that he and his team-mates will continue to draw energy and motivation from the responsibility of representing their country on the world stage.

“Siya speaks about it a lot - we as a team like to stay connected to South Africa, to our roots and all the people who support us week in, week out,” said Kriel.

“We know the responsibility we have as a team and how it changes the mood of our country.

“We obviously are facing a lot of, I wouldn’t say difficulties, but obstacles that we have in our country.

“I think for the [time] when people watch the Springboks play, they forget about that and unite.

“We’ve seen what rugby can do for our country over the years and how it brings people together. That remains the most important thing for us as a team going into this tournament.”

One benefit of bringing so many World Cup winners to France this year is the experience and leadership they can offer to the group.   

But plenty of new blood has been added into the mix, such as fly-half Manie Libbok, wing Kurt-Lee Arendse, No. 8 Jasper Wiese and youngster Canan Moodie.

Kriel underlined that while the leadership continues to offer guidance to the squad, every player is encouraged to take responsibility.

“We see leadership a bit differently in our team. It doesn’t go on age or number of caps, it goes on ownership,” the centre explained.  

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy like Canan Moodie, who comes in at 19/20 years old, he’s taken ownership of his game, ownership of what he needs to know in the team.

“I’m sure that’s all the young guys from 19 years old right through to the oldest guys, maybe Duane [Vermeulen] or one of those guys.

“I think it’s more about taking ownership, playing your parts in the team and being able to express yourself.

“We do have a strong leadership group, guys like Eben [Etzebeth], Siya and Duane, all those guys, you can name Willie [Le Roux], you can name a lot of guys.

“But for us it’s more about taking ownership in your game and what you need to do on the field.”

World No. 1 side Ireland also await for Scotland and the Springboks in a fiercely competitive Pool B, along with Tonga and Romania.