Two clashes with New Zealand provided the perfect preparation for taking on swashbuckling Scotland in Sunday’s Rugby World Cup opener, according to Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick.   

Two of the top five-ranked rugby nations face off in a mouth-watering opener in Marseille on Sunday, where the South Africans will begin their bid to become just the second side to successfully defend a world crown.

It promises to be a clash of styles between the notorious power game of the Springboks and Scotland’s preference for a quick and expansive game plan.

But backline coach Stick believes the stylistic similarities between the Scots and the All Blacks – who South Africa lost to in Auckland in July before thrashing them 35-7 at Twickenham two weeks ago – leaves the Boks well prepared for whatever Gregor Townsend’s men throw at them.

“Scotland are in a very good space at the moment and I know their coaching staff very well,” Stick said.

“If you look at a guy like Gregor Townsend, I’ve played with him at the Sharks and I know his philosophy.

“He enjoys good running rugby and you can see the influence [New Zealand] have got in that team.

“[There are] very confident players in that side and if you look at a guy like Finn Russell at 10, he’s probably one of the best playmakers in the game.

“We know it’s their strength, but with what we’ve faced so far as a team – playing against the All Blacks twice already this year – that was a good practice for us going towards the World Cup.

“If you look at the style of play Scotland are using, coast to coast, where they send the ball wide a lot, it’s exactly what you normally face against the All Blacks.

“At the moment they are one of the best attacking teams, but as a team we’ve done our homework on them. We’ll make sure we enforce our game plan.”

One of the unenviable jobs Stick and the Springboks staff have faced is working out how to shut down Scotland’s creative hub Finn Russell.

The playmaker will have the keys to the Scottish backline once more in Marseille, and his instinctive approach to guiding the attack makes him a notoriously tricky opponent.

“If you look at his style of play, he’s probably one of the more difficult players to analyse because of how he mixes his game around,” said Stick.

“We’ve played against him many times and know he’s a very tricky player. Also, if you remember when we played against the British and Irish Lions, and the impact he had in that game.

“We respect him very well, one of the best fly-halves currently in the world.

“But we’ve done our homework, we know his strengths very well and probably a few weaknesses.

“We will just make sure we pitch up in the game. If you give him time and space, he will surely punish us. “

The challenge facing Scotland is mountainous; not only are the Springboks the reigning world champions and No. 2-ranked side in the world, but they have won each of their last seven meetings with the Scots in a run stretching back 13 years.

But Stick pointed to the 2023 tournament’s billing as the most open in history as a reminder of the dangers of complacency.

“It’s a very tough pool, but we’ve always openly spoken about how probably the toughest game we’re going to play in this World Cup will be Scotland in the first game,” he said.

“It’s going to be a tough game but it’s a World Cup. The games that we’ve played against them in the past don’t count anymore.

“Against the top eight teams in the rankings, if you’re not at your best on the day, you’re probably going to have a long day at the office.”