South Africa put the squeeze on a brave Scotland, scoring two tries early in the second half to break open a close game and win 18-3 to open their Rugby World Cup title defence this morning.
The Springboks showed both sides of their game at Stade Velodrome where flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit bashed his way over in the 46th minute and winger Kurt-Lee Arendse flew onto a perfect cross-kick from flyhalf Manie Libbok three minutes later to make a narrow 6-3 lead at halftime suddenly comfortable.
There were no more points as South Africa closed it down in the last half-hour, using a set-piece dominance it ultimately gained and physical, rushing defense to keep the game Scots at bay.
That forward dominance for the world champion wasn’t guaranteed, though, especially after Scotland held its own early in the scrum battle and even shunted the daunted Boks pack back on their own put-in to set up Finn Russell’s long-range penalty and Scotland’s only points on the stroke of the break.
The powerful Scottish scrum drew coach Gregor Townsend and most of his management team off their feet in the coach’s box to roar with delight.
But the momentum was settled in South Africa’s favor from early in the second half and the Boks ruled at scrum time for the last 40, boosted by their renowned ‘bomb squad’ of forward reserves off the bench.
South Africa was relieved with an effective win against a Scotland team on the up and as high as No. 5 in rankings. South Africa is No. 2.
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber made clear he was relieved afterward when he called the game “a slippery one” for his team to start with.
South Africa led through two penalties from Libbok. South Africa’s new starting 10 missed his first shot and was again inconsistent off the kicking tee, but made up for it with his piece of vision to find Arendse out wide for the try that sealed victory.
Arendse caught the kick and cruised in untouched on the outside of Scotland’s defensive line for a 12th try in 11 tests to continue his fantastic strike rate.
South Africa might have two player concerns from its tournament opener, though. Lock enforcer Eben Etzebeth, the Boks’ most experienced forward, left after 25 minutes with an apparent injury, although it wasn’t clear what. He watched the rest of the game from the bench.
And center Jesse Kriel might face a post-game citing and disciplinary hearing after his head clash with Scotland No. 8 Jack Dempsey in a front-on tackle in midfield early in the game, which was missed by referee Angus Gardner.
Kriel was upright in the tackle and his head went straight into Dempsey’s face, which appeared to meet at least the yellow card and possibly red card threshold under strict new tackle laws.
South Africa, looking to become just the second team to retain the World Cup and win a record fourth title, has Romania next in a week’s time before a showdown with top-ranked Ireland on Sept. 23, which looks like being the pool decider, as expected. Scotland plays Tonga next Sunday.