Scotland suffered a demoralising start to their World Cup campaign as world champions South Africa squeezed the life out of them in Marseille.
The Boks kicked off their defence of the Webb Ellis Cup with an 18-3 victory on Sunday evening after two tries from Pieter-Steph du Toit and Kurt-Lee Arendse in the third quarter took the game away from the Scots following a tightly-contested first half.
The defeat leaves Gregor Townsend’s side with no margin for error in their remaining three matches against Tonga, Romania and Ireland if they are to qualify for the quarter-finals.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) September 10, 2023
The two sides went into the tournament in confident mood following encouraging summer campaigns which left the Boks ranked second and the Scots fifth in the world, but with Ireland – the top-ranked team – also in Pool B, the pressure was on both nations to start with a victory.
The Springboks started in more assured fashion and had a chance to get the scoreboard up and running in the 11th minute when the Scots were deemed to have collapsed the scrum, but Manie Libbok hooked his penalty wide from 40 metres.
The South African stand-off made no such mistake, however, when presented with another opportunity two minutes later after Finn Russell was penalised for a deliberate knock-on as he sent his kick soaring between the posts from a central position 35 metres out.
Tempers flared on the side of the pitch just after the midway point in the first half after Damian de Allende was slammed into touch but referee Angus Gardner – after reviewing the skirmish – spoke to four players, but decided no further action was required.
Libbok doubled the Boks’ lead to six points shortly afterwards with another penalty after Sione Tuipulotu failed to release.
After South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth limped off to be replaced by RG Snyman, Scotland, who had been struggling to get their attacking game going, carved out a brilliant chance to score, but Darcy Graham opted to go himself and ran into trouble when fellow wing Duhan van der Merwe, on his outside, was crying out for a pass and appeared to have a free run to the line.
Despite being unable to impose their game on the Boks, the Scots were generally standing up well to the physical challenge of their opponents and they cut their deficit to three points in the last action of the first half when Finn Russell – who had earlier needed treatment following a bang to the ribs – kicked a penalty from 45 metres right on half-time.
Two minutes after the restart Libbok attempted to kick a penalty from almost five metres inside his own half, but he failed to get enough distance on it and the Scots were able to gather.
South Africa got their first try of the match in the 47th minute when Du Toit pushed over on the left after a sustained spell of pressure. Libbok was off target with his conversion attempt.
Thing got worse for the Scots four minutes later when Arendse ran in to touch down in the right corner after a lovely cross-field kick from Libbok set him free. With the stand-off having missed three of his five attempts at goal, scrum-half Faf De Klerk took over kicking duties and duly pinged the conversion between the posts.
Scotland have made a habit in recent times of mounting impressive fightbacks, but this time they were unable to find a way of breaching the obdurate Boks.