Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was left frustrated by refereeing “inconsistency” after a controversial head clash in Sunday’s Rugby World Cup defeat to South Africa but admitted it was his side’s own inaccuracy that cost them. 

Springboks centre Jesse Kriel made head-on-head contact with Jack Dempsey in an attempted tackle in the first half, less than 24 hours after England flanker Tom Curry was sent off against Argentina for a similar offence.

However, Kriel went unpunished and remained on the pitch for the full 80 minutes as South Africa pulled clear after the break in an 18-3 victory that saw them take charge of Pool B. 

“I saw it from two screens away and it did look like it was a head-on-head collision,” Townsend said after the game.

“I was expecting the TMO [television match official] to come in to make the referee aware of that. 

“Who knows if it had been a red card? We had a red card on Saturday, and it didn't help or change the game in Argentina's favour [they lost 27-10], so who knows?”

The lack of action around the incident was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, coming hot on the heels of Curry’s expulsion in the same stadium the day before. 

READ MORE: Scotland fall to bruising South Africa defeat in World Cup opener 

Asked if the inconsistency is frustrating, Townsend said: "Yes. We had a promising attacking position outside the 22 and then the TMO came in for a body check, which wasn't a traditional tackle.

“I don't know how that didn't end up being a penalty so yes, there are still inconsistencies in seeing these things.

"Whether TMO did it or not, it was on the replay, that incident in the first half, so it is inconsistency over what is a red card, a yellow card or a penalty. 

“I am frustrated by that but I am more frustrated by our own performance.”

Scotland stood up well to the physical task of matching a ferocious Springboks side in the first half, going in at the break three points behind and with the encouragement of a couple of big wins in the scrum. 

But the Scottish attack, usually their deadliest weapon, struggled to get going as the South Africans denied them space.

Scotland were squeezed in the second half, conceding two tries in three minutes to ultimately lose comfortably and with just one penalty on the board. 

“I am really disappointed, we were slow to get going in the first half and there was a bit of inaccuracy in our play,” said Townsend.  

"We built into the game, and I felt physically we were more than up for the challenge which comes from the way they play.

"We started to win penalties at scrum time which was a real bonus. There were opportunities, not many in our attacking game, but there were a couple in the first half. We spoke at half-time about the need to build on the way we finished that second quarter.

"But we started with a bit of inaccuracy and then South Africa dominated possession for a period and put on points and it then became difficult in those conditions. The defence had to play from deep and it became risky and we never had the accuracy to trouble them on the scoreboard.”

There was a nervy moment for Scottish fans in the first half when influential fly-half Finn Russell went down clutching his side after a collision with Kurt-Lee Arendse. 

The playmaker was penalised for an illegal tackle but escaped without a card, and he was able to continue after walking off the blow – something that surprised his coach at the time. 

"It did look like he was coming off initially as he had a rib injury which seemed like it was going to stop him from continuing,” Townsend said. 

“But he dug deep and he fought really hard. I thought some of his defensive work in the second half was outstanding and it just shows how much he cares about his team-mates and playing for Scotland.”

Perhaps the biggest ‘what if’ moment of the night for Scotland was when Darcy Graham went flying through the Springboks line in a rare attacking flourish, only to fail to get the ball out to a team-mate to profit from an overlap and reach the try line. 

"It was a great dummy and he got through but maybe didn't realise someone was coming from behind,” Townsend said.       

"We should have done better after that. “If you don't score straight away from the first phase, you’ve got to be able to be accurate and go through phases and turn that pressure into points in a different way.” 

The Scotland squad now has two weeks to lick its wounds before facing Tonga in Nice on 24 September.   

A meeting with Romania follows, before a clash with Ireland in Paris on 7 October that is now a must-win if the Scots are to escape the pool of death and reach the quarter-finals. 
Quizzed on where his side can improve going forward, Townsend replied: "Accuracy in attack.”

“In defence, we would be relatively satisfied with the effort which went in, but I still think there is more in us with that. 

“Our attack in general starts from our set-piece, winning possession, and what we did when he had that possession has got to improve. We only scored three points and that is unusual for us.”