Com­ing on leaps and bounds . . .

Scot­land have found spring in step, but Mait­land knows they’ll have to fly out of the blocks against Boks


ASTUTTERING start against the United States or Ja­pan is one thing: in both cases, Scot­land had the com­po­sure and the abil­ity to re­cover from a dif­fi­cult half-time po­si­tion and win well. They know, how­ever, that they will not be able to ex­tri­cate them­selves so read­ily if they make a sim­i­lar be­gin­ning against the Spring­boks on Satur­day.

South Africa them­selves had their own in­dif­fer­ent be­gin­ning - though in their case it was to the tour­na­ment, not just to part of a game, as they sen­sa­tion­ally lost to Ja­pan on the first week­end of the Rugby World Cup. On Satur­day in Birm­ing­ham, how­ever, they dis­posed of Samoa in some style, to go to the top of Pool B be­fore Scot­land over­took them a day later by beat­ing the Amer­i­cans.

Like Scot­land, the South Africans have lost a player to in­jury – their cap­tain, Jean de Vil­liers, has flown home af­ter break­ing his jaw against Samoa. But, notwith­stand­ing that dis­rup­tion, they now look like they have got into their stride. They are con­fi­dent that they have put the Ja­pan re­sult be­hind them, and can go on to qual­ify for the quar­ter-fi­nals as group win­ners.

Cer­tainly, Scot­land know that they will have to be at their best from kick­off on Sun­day in New­cas­tle if they are to in­flict a sec­ond de­feat of the com­pe­ti­tion on the for­mer world cham­pi­ons. “Af­ter their open­ing game they’ve had a wake-up call,” said Sean Mait­land, one of the five try-scor­ers in the 39-16 win over the US.

“A lot of pres­sure was put on them be­fore their match against Samoa. They pumped Samoa, but we know if we play like we did on Sun­day in the first half then they’ll pump us too.

“We need to get out of the blocks a lot quicker if we’re to stand a chance. They will have looked at our two games and said that Scot­land are vul­ner­a­ble in the first half.

“But we know what we need to do. We know that even against Samoa if we start the way we have against Ja­pan and the USA then we’ll get pun­ished.”

Scot­land were 13-6 down at half-time against the Amer­i­cans, and 12-7 up against Ja­pan, but re­cov­ered to score five tries in each game and win both well. Mait­land said that, although they ob­vi­ously wanted to be on top of their game from kick-off, the good thing about those two games was the way they re­cov­ered af­ter be­ing un­der pres­sure.

“It’s al­ways good to come through so well, es­pe­cially af­ter the way we played in the first 40 min­utes. The US game was very much like the Ja­pan game - we let our­selves down, made too many mis­takes and al­lowed them to stay in the game.

“We’ve all been in these sit­u­a­tions be­fore. We can han­dle the ba­sics things when we’re un­der pres­sure.”

To say that Scot­land han­dled the pres­sure, how­ever, is to sim­plify what hap­pened. The change in at­ti­tude helped at the start of the sec­ond half, but so did the change in per­son­nel, as Alas­dair Dickinson and WP Nel came on at loose­head and tight­head prop re­spec­tively to shore up a scrum that had been very shaky.

The im­prove­ment in the set piece once those two were re­united with

Ed­in­burgh team-mate Ross Ford in the front row gave the backs the plat­form from which to at­tack with far greater con­fi­dence.

There is lit­tle doubt that the cap­i­tal trio will start on Sun­day, in a game which will see Nel, a South African by birth play­ing for Scot­land, go up against Tendai Mtawarira, a Zim­bab­wean play­ing for South Africa.

“We’ve met each other a cou­ple of times, on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions, so I know to ex­pect a good bat­tle up front,” Nel said of the man nick­named Beast.

“It would be nice to play against him. If I get the op­por­tu­nity, it will be great.”

Nel has brought some of the hard­nosed com­pet­i­tive­ness of South African rugby to the Scot­land squad, and his knowl­edge of the Spring­boks’ men­tal­ity should be of con­sid­er­able help in the match at St James’ Park.

“As South Africans, they want col­li­sions,” he said when asked what was dif­fer­ent about their men­tal­ity. “They love col­li­sions.

“They want front-foot ball, they want to carry it into con­tact, play off the No.9 – and they just love to dom­i­nate. It’s up for us to be ready for what they’re go­ing to bring to us this week­end.

“It starts at a young age in South Africa. It’s brought right through the rugby, to ev­ery­one play­ing the game, that you want to dom­i­nate your op­po­si­tion. They’re just brought up like that.

“I def­i­nitely think we can step up and face that. We’ve im­proved through the pre-sea­son and stepped up for this World Cup. They’ll be a step up on any­thing we’ve faced in the pre­vi­ous two games.

“We must go back to the train­ing ground now and work on plans to com­bat them this week­end.”

BEST FOOT FOR­WARD: Sean Mait­land, pic­tured be­ing tack­led dur­ing the USA game, be­lieves Scot­land will have to be at their ab­so­lute best from the off against South Africa to stand any chance of keep­ing con­trol in Pool B.

Pic­ture: Getty

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