Gregor Townsend lamented Scotland’s inability to lay a glove on South Africa after a deflating 18-3 defeat in their World Cup opener in Marseille.
The Scots went into the match with genuine belief that they could get the better of the world champions, but they struggled to get their much-vaunted attack going.
The Springboks led 6-3 at the break and then pulled away with tries from Pieter-Steph du Toit and Kurt-Lee Arendse in the the third quarter, and Townsend’s team were unable to summon a response.
It was the first time since losing to Ireland at the 2019 World Cup that the Scots – renowned for their potency – had scored as few as three points.
“I’m really disappointed,” said Townsend. “We were slow to get going in the first half. There was a bit of inaccuracy in our play, but then we built into the game and I felt physically we were more than up for the challenge that South Africa bring.
“We started to win penalties at scrum-time, which was a real bonus. There were opportunities but not many in our attacking game, but there were a couple in the first half. We spoke at half-time about the need to build on the way we finished that second quarter.
“But we started with a bit of inaccuracy and then South Africa dominated possession for a period and put on points, and it then became difficult in those conditions. The defence had to play from deep and it became risky, and we never had the accuracy to trouble them on the scoreboard.”
Townsend was frustrated that the TMO did not intervene after Boks centre Jesse Kriel appeared to clash head-on-head with Scotland back-rower Jack Dempsey in the first minute. Replays indicated it could have been a red card.
“I saw it from two screens away and it did look like it was a head-on-head collision and I was expecting the TMO to come in to make the referee aware of that,” said Townsend.
“Who knows (if it could have been a game-changer)? There was a red card (for England against Argentina) on Saturday and it didn’t help or change the game much in terms of Argentina’s favour so who knows?
A tartan takeover today in Marseille 🏴
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) September 10, 2023
“There are still inconsistencies in seeing these things so we are obviously frustrated by that, but we are more frustrated by our own performance.”
Scotland must now win all three of their remaining matches against Tonga, Romania and Ireland to have a chance of getting through to the knock-out phase and Townsend admits they must tighten up their game if they are to do that.
“Accuracy in attack (needs to improve) and in defence we would be relatively satisfied with the effort which went in but I still think there is more in us with that,” he said.
“Our attack in general starts from our set-piece, winning possession and what we did when we had that possession has got to improve. We only scored three points and that is unusual for us.”
Stand-off Finn Russell received treatment after taking a bang to his midriff late in the first half, but he soldiered on for the remainder of the match.
“It looked like he was coming off initially,” said Townsend. “He had a rib injury which seemed like it was going to stop him from continuing, but he dug deep and fought really hard.
“I thought some of his defensive work in the second half was outstanding and it shows how much he cares for his team-mates and playing for Scotland.”