EDINBURGH, Scotland: From the ashes of a failed tour of South Africa by the British and Irish Lions, Scotland believes it has answers to the Springboks.
Scotland had eight players on the tour plus coaches Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy, but they lost a dismal test series 2-1.
Lions and Scotland center Chris Harris was, for one, grateful for another crack at the World Cup champions on Saturday at Murrayfield.
I’d like to think what I learned about South Africa in the summer can help me this weekend, Harris said. “Gregor and Steve were involved as well, so I think we’re pretty ready with regard to what to expect.
“We’ve got enough experience in the squad and the right coaching group to put us in a good place for Saturday.
Flyhalf Finn Russell agreed, believing the knowledge from the Lions tour will be useful towards ending a six-test losing streak to the Boks dating to 2010.
“They’ve had the same game plan for the last three years, since they won the World Cup and a little bit before that, so for us to have had a test there in the summer to then come back with our knowledge … and try and aid the group has been important this week, Russell said.
Not just Lions have intel, but also South Africans in the squad, such as former Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman, former South Africa Under-20s wing Duhan van der Merwe, and former South Africa scrum coach Pieter de Villiers.
Scotland’s confidence has also shot up after taking down Australia 15-13 last Sunday at Murrayfield. The Wallabies had two wins over South Africa in the five-match winning streak they brought to Edinburgh, but struggled to get going against a Scotland side that swarmed all over them.
Russell said the Scots had belief in themselves that if they showed up they had the ability to win. That belief grew as the game progressed. They led Australia at halftime and came back twice in the second half. Not long ago, Scotland wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to rally.
“That’s the level of expectation we’ve got in this group just now, that we know we can knock over the No. 3 team in the world, Russell said.
Beating Australia added to other notch wins this year over England and France.
There’s a lot of excitement building around this team and where were going, Russell added. “We’ve been building over the last three, four, five years to get to where we are now and it feels like we’re starting to turn a corner in terms of getting wins from more of the narrow games, which is great.
Against South Africa, we’re going to have to be at our best again and carry that same belief because it might be another narrow game.
“Australia managed to beat South Africa twice in the summer and we’ve managed to find a way to beat Australia so why cant we do the same again this weekend? We’ve got the belief we can do it.
But just as the Scots think they have a handle on the Springboks, the same goes in reverse.
We’ve all seen what (Russell) is capable of in the last test against the British and Irish Lions, Springboks flyhalf Elton Jantjies said. “He made a difference and challenged us in a different way.
Jantjies was picked ahead of Handre Pollard among limited changes to the Springboks who beat Wales 23-18 in Cardiff.
Jantjies said the main focus was on imposing their game plan and making sure that we stop whatever is thrown at us. We looked at their past matches and last weekend’s game, but also at the way we play and how we can improve, and I believe we’re well prepared for Saturday.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (captain), Rufus McLean, Chris Harris, Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Matt Fagerson, Jamie Ritchie, Nick Haining, Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner, Zander Fagerson, Stuart McInally, Pierre Schoeman. Reserves: Ewan Ashman, Jamie Bhatti, Oli Kebble, Jamie Hodgson, Hamish Watson, George Horne, Adam Hastings, Blair Kinghorn.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies; Duane Vermeulen, Kwagga Smith, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nch. Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Lood de Jager, Jasper Wiese, Cobus Reinach, Handr Pollard, Frans Steyn.
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