Can Gregor Townsend’s revitalised Scotland pave the way for a successful World Cup campaign with a win against South Africa?
From Saturday 17 November, 5pm, BBC Two/HD (CH 102/162)
Scotland’s rugby union side has had a mixed 2018, with more ups and downs than a toddler on a bouncy castle. Famous victories, crushing defeats, they’ve had a bit of everything – and yet there’s a feeling this season that Scotland are a gathering force. Their next match against South Africa may show how far they’ve really come, and how far they still have to go.
The Scots botched their first test in the autumn internationals against Wales, failing to make up for their humiliating Six Nations defeat as their defence was once again stripped away like cheap wallpaper. But let’s not forget that this is still the team who conquered France and, more significantly, England. With next year’s World Cup in Japan on the horizon, Scotland have plenty to build on.
A sold-out Murrayfield Stadium will be roaring Gregor Townsend’s home team on as they confront these rugby union giants. History says the contest should be a walkover for the visitors: Scotland have bagged victory only once in their past 13 dust-ups – a 21-17 home win in November 2010. Other statistics tell a different story, though, because South Africa is currently placed fifth in the world rankings, while Scotland is sixth.
Townsend himself is one of the reasons Scotland are closing the gap. Since taking over the national side in May 2017, the head coach has nurtured a core of fresh talent alongside the seasoned pros. He even used this summer’s tests to field a young and inexperienced side, showing that he has one eye on the future. And despite their rawness, they racked up a record victory against Argentina.
The match against Wales revealed a need to develop greater breadth, as injuries to Duncan Taylor, Mark Bennett, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg meant the Scottish midfield was essentially held together by tape and dreams. But the harsh lessons of that game, particularly for future talent Adam Hastings, will surely reap benefits down the line.
Scotland have often been labelled underdogs or plucky losers, but few would bet against them shedding those tags to become real contenders this season. And what better place to start than here?
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