Cotter opts for size in bid to spring a surprise
Scotland are certainly giving it a lash. This afternoon, in an effort to raise the pulses and stiffen the sinews, 300 tartan-clad pipers and drummers will parade through the centre of Newcastle and up to St James’s Park.
In the hours leading up to the closest thing Scotland have to a home fixture, tens of thousands of their countrymen will throng the streets of the city and keep the bar taps busy in the fan zone.
If there will be no shortage of sound or fury this afternoon, wiser heads are taking a more sanguine squint at unbeaten Scotland’s pivotal pool encounter.
When in doubt sensible souls follow the advice of the bookies, and yesterday Scotland drifted out to 8/1 to beat South Africa after the punters concluded this is a Scotland second-string which is destined to come off second-best.
Those hopeful voices who had forecast a first Scottish victory over
South Africa outwith Scotland’s borders have gone strangely quiet.
On the face of it, Scotland have reasons to be hopeful. South Africa have been unusually fallible under the likeable Heyneke Meyer, losing half of their past 16 Tests.
Although they brutalised Samoa last week after the humiliation of their defeat by Japan, it remains true that back-to-back wins have been almost impossible to come by. And that was for a Springboks side captained by the talismanic Jean de Villiers or pack leader Victor Matfield.
How they will fare under standin captain, Fourie du Preez, remains to be seen. Du Preez is a great scrum-half, but whether a man universally described as a man of few words can inspire is debatable.
A more concrete consideration is South Africa’s propensity to cough up unnecessary penalties. Such was their indiscipline against Samoa and Japan that they conceded 15 penalties per game.
Grieg Laidlaw and long-range specialist Stuart Hogg will gorge themselves if they stage a reprise.
If Scotland can keep the Springboks close, this match will revolve around the physical confrontation up front. Vern Cotter may have had little choice but to ring the changes, but a line-up showing 11 alterations from the team who started against the United States Eagles lays bare the extent of the challenge.
Apart from the curious case of Tim Visser, Scotland have gone for size at every turn. There is size up front and four of the starters in the backs – captain Laidlaw, centre Matt Scott, full-back Hogg and wing Tommy Seymour – are first choices, while Duncan Weir is the only available option given Russell’s injury.
Four years ago, Scotland comfortably beat Romania and Georgia before being edged out by England and Argentina.
Cotter is a keen student of rugby history and will not want to repeat the mistake, but it leaves Scotland with an uphill struggle if they are to beat the Boks.