The time has come for the Springboks to get their Rugby World Cup title defence under way against Scotland, and here rugby writer Leighton Koopman looks at five keys to overcoming the first hurdle in their quest.
DEFENDING world champions South Africa will have studied Scotland and put plans in place on how to overpower them on Sunday in their Rugby World Cup opener in Marseille (kick-off 5.45pm).
But the Scotsmen will certainly have some tricks up their sleeves to try and pull off an upset.
Rugby writer Leighton Koopman looks at five factors that the Boks will have to watch out for against Scotland at the Stade Velodrome:
With some South African props in their ranks, and some beefy Scots, the Boks will have their hands full come scrum-time. And this is one area that coach Gregor Townsend’s team will want to test the Boks.
They have the likes of Pierre Schoeman, WP Nel, Rory Sutherland, George Turner and Zander Fagerson, who will not stand back for any front row, even if they are the reigning world champions.
While the Boks can field a proper pack of forwards any day of the week, the Scottish pack will be eager to test themselves against the likes of Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe.
They will have studied the Springboks’ demolition of the All Blacks in that last Test before the World Cup to see if there are any cracks in the well-oiled machine that they can pounce on.
Lining up the jumpers
Calling the line-out in Afrikaans used to be something the Boks could do with a happy heart. But that is a luxury the side does not really have anymore looking at the number of South Africans in the other sides they face.
And it’s not just on the South African line-out that Townsend’s men pose a threat.
Scotland have locks and flanks that can secure clean ball from their throw-in and eager forwards that will get their rolling maul going. And the line-out will probably be one of the most important aspects of the Pool B clash.
Battle of the breakdown
This was one of the superior facets of the Boks’ game against New Zealand. They were absolutely clinical in their clean-outs and didn’t allow the Kiwi players to disrupt them after a tackle.
Scotland will be eager to show where the All Blacks went wrong when they contested for possession, with captain Jamie Ritchie and his partner-in-crime Hamish Watson ready to disrupt any quick South African possession.
And of course, it will be the task of someone like Ritchie to make sure the Springbok poachers stay away from their possession at the breakdown and tackle area.
Malcolm Marx, Duane Vermeulen and Kitshoff will be ready to steal balls at the ruck and how many times that happens will all depend on the breakdown play of the Scottish forwards.
South Africa have been gradually improving in how they have been fielding kicks from their opposition.
Scotland will test the Bok wings and fullback with those high and long kicks. Box-kicks are a big part of finding territory for the Scots and they will be looking to deploy those bombs to see how they can pressurise South Africa.
The back three can also expect some unpredictable kicks from the likes of Finn Russell should he get a run-out come Sunday. Their scrumhalves also have a fine knack of putting up high kicks to turn opposition forwards around and getting their team front-foot possession when they win it back in the air.
Tackling the slip-ups
It will be a no-go for the Springboks to slip their tackles after they were not up to scratch against the All Blacks in their last game out.
Russell has an eye for a gap and will be the driving force around Scotland’s attacking game plan at the tournament. How the Boks handle him alongside the rest of the backline can determine the outcome of the match.
Even though they slipped a bunch of tackles against the Kiwis, their scramble defence made up for those mishaps.