Rassie Erasmus praised the Springboks’ growing maturity following their hard-fought 26-20 victory over a good very Scotland team in front of a capacity crowd at BT Murrayfield in Edinburgh on Saturday evening.
The South Africans held a small halftime lead (20-17) over the enterprising Scots after a thrilling opening half, which saw both sides displaying some good attacking rugby.
Two well-taken penalty goals in the second half, one each by Handré Pollard and Elton Jantjies, eventually clinched the match for the Springboks. Pollard scored 18 points from a try, two conversions and three penalty goals, to help steer the result in the South Africans’ favour.
Pollard was named Man of the Match and in the process moved into third position on the all-time Springbok points’ scoring list with 336 Test points, surpassing top try scorer Bryan Habana’s 335.
Jesse Kriel scored the first try of the match while Scotland also scored twice in the first half, through Peter Horne and Hamish Watson. Greig Laidlaw succeeded with two conversions and two penalty goals.
Erasmus, SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby, praised the Springboks’ opponents after the match: “To beat a team that has become a real force in world rugby, a team that is on up, in the middle of a good home run, is satisfying.
“The current world rankings doesn’t indicate how tough it is to come and play here and we could have lost the game in the dying minutes. We’re definitely not the finished product yet, but we are slowly growing into a better team.”
The Springboks won their second Test of the Castle Lager Outgoing Tour and will be looking to make it three from four against Wales in Cardiff next week. They beat France in Paris last Saturday, but lost by a single point to England in London a fortnight ago.
Erasmus, though, mentioned the Boks they will not get carried away this win over a very dangerous Scotland side.
“We’re learning how to close out games and that’s why we won this game because Scotland were as good as us on the day,” said Erasmus.
“The maturity of this team is starting to show because we are now winning games from tight situations. We scored three points when Willie le Roux was off the field with a yellow card and they didn’t score.”
But Erasmus admitted his side did not get the expected dominance in the scrums while Scotland also did well to stop the Boks’ driving maul.
The breakdown was however a key area where the Springboks performed admirably, according to Erasmus: “We did well at the breakdown, especially our work at the defensive breakdown where we won managed to win vital turnovers at important times.”
Erasmus also lauded 21-year-old Embrose Papier, who made his first start in the No 9 jersey for the Springboks and had a good game next to Pollard.
“I really think that in the case of Embrose, we got it right,” said Erasmus.
“We thought this was the right game for him, on this pitch and the way Scotland play suits him well, and he also handled it very well. Credit must also go to (Springbok assistant coaches) Mzwandile Stick and Swys de Bruin for the way they’ve blooded him into Test match rugby.”
The Springboks now travel to Cardiff where they will conclude their four-week tour of the United Kingdom and France next Saturday against Wales as the Principality Stadium.
South Africa 26 (20) – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard. Conversions: Pollard (2). Penalty goals: Pollard (3), Elton Jantjies.
Scotland 20 (17) – Tries: Peter Horne, Hamish Watson. Conversions: Greig Laidlaw (2). Penalty goals: Laidlaw (2).