Chris Cusiter became the latest Scotland rugby player to complete ten seasons of internationals and marked the occasion by sending a “stick with us” message in the wake of a 28-0 defeat by South Africa in the latest viagogo Autumn Test at Murrayfield.
“My experience over the years is it is ups and downs all the time with Scotland,” said the scrum-half, who came off the bench for his 63rd cap and into top-flight action for the first time since facing Samoa on tour last year.
First capped in 2004, he added: “We have had periods of success, some one-off wins and defeats like today which are tough to take.
“Always you have to learn the lessons and move on. South Africa came battle hardened, but we’ll benefit from playing at that intensity when Australia visit on Saturday. Having said that, we are disappointed with the nature of some of the tries we conceded and we needed more quick ball.
“There was some good stuff, though. To begin with we couldn’t get hold of the ball in the first half when they had an aggressive defence, but we did stabilise.
“When we stopped them slowing our ball up and were able to speed the game up we did find a few gaps.
“We definitely got better, although by that point they were well ahead on the scoreboard.
“You can come up to speed quite quickly in coming to terms with the intensity and the size of the hits.
“It is a step up from normal professional rugby and you don’t get long on the ball.
“But that will stand us in good stead against Australia. The message has to be stick with our team. They are second best in the world after all and Scotland have bounced back plenty of times previously.”
When the dust settled, however, it was the first time in 59 matches that Scotland had failed to register a single point.
That run stretched back six years to a home World Cup tie with New Zealand when at least on that occasion the Scots fielded a weakened side in recognition of an upcoming key sectional tie with Italy.
This time they were put on the back foot from the start and spent the entire opening quarter relying on heroic defence, epitomised by a flying Sean Lamont tackle on Willie le Roux, to keep them in the game.
In fact, it took 36 minutes to get into the Springbok 22.
Integral to home woes was an appalling line-out and the rare occasions when Scotland managed to win their own throws elicited ironic cheers from the crowd. During this period, too, the Scots did not manage a single offload to South Africa’s six, while the number of carries told its own story: Scotland eight, South Africa 56.
In some respects, the contest was over before it had barely begun . . . in three minutes, which was as long as it took for Nick De Luca to concede the penalty from which the visitors kicked into the corner then drove Willem Alberts over. Patrick Lambie converted.
At least when South Africa repeated the tactic, the Scots held firm, but such work was undone on the half hour when Ruaridh Jackson, attempting to find the over-running Sean Maitland, saw his pass easily intercepted by Le Roux who ran in unopposed to the posts.
Moments later, Le Roux was the architect of a third South African converted try when he broke through midfield and looked up to execute a brilliant crossfield kick to lay on a score for JP Pietersen on his 50th Test appearance.
Such a scoreline adequately reflected the run of play and the main question entering the second half was whether the Springboks would go for the jugular or cruise, bearing in mind they appeared to have several more gears.
In fact, Scotland did raise their game, helped by the sin-binning of visiting substitute Marcell Coatzee for the final ten minutes, but they were still unable to score or keep their line intact.
The only try of the second period came early as substitute Coenie Oosthuizen was driven over from a line-out in a replica of the opening effort.
At least the Scots did not capitulate and there was a debut cap for 19-year-old Jonny Gray, while Max Evans came close when he was just pipped to a bouncing ball over the Springbok line by Bryan Habana.
But that was little or no consolation to a thoroughly well-beaten side.
“You have to be real. We met a quality side, gave them three clear opportunities and they took every one,” insisted Scots interim coach Scott Johnson. “They were clinical and that put us on the back foot and we dug a pretty big hole. The pleasing part is we filled that hole in a bit and had some good opportunities.
“We are lacking a bit of potency in our back play and trying to get some new players in (but) we showed character defensively.
“We have got to be honest and understand that is the level we are going to have to play at.
“We had a kick-off and we missed a tackle and they scored at the other end. A good side puts you away and they put us away on one missed tackle. The second try we got a bit eager, we gave a loose pass and they broke away and scored.
“We will keep with what we are trying to do and it was nice to see Jonny (Gray) get on and understand the level he needs to be at.”
In trying to put on a brave face, Johnson even saw a positive in the fact Scotland shrugged aside conceding five of their first six line-out throws. “We had a couple of issues at the start of the game, but we won 11 line-outs on the bounce. We let ourselves down early and put ourselves under pressure, but we got ourselves out of the jam.
“This ride is about finding out about people; we found out a bit about people today.
“We starved them of possession in the second half. Yes, they scored early, but they didn’t threaten after that.”
Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers said: “I thought Scotland were better in the second half (but) being able to beat Scotland 28-0 at Murrayfield we will take that any day of the week.”
Tries: Alberts, Pietersen, Le Roux, Oostuhuizen. Conversions: Lambie (4).
Scotland: Maitland, Seymour (Evans 67), De Luca, Taylor, Lamont, Jackson (Weir 56), Laidlaw (Cusiter 67), Dickinson (Grant 56), Ford (Lawson 56), Low, Richie Gray (Jonny Gray 62), Hamilton, Strokosch, Barclay (Beattie 66), Denton. Subs Not Used: Cross.
South Africa: Le Roux, Pietersen, Fourie, De Villiers (Engelbrecht 72), Habana, Lambie, Du Preez (Pienaar 66), Steenkamp (Mtawarira 57), Strauss (Du Plessis 61), Malherbe (Oosthuizen 37), Botha (Etzebeth 60), Van der Merwe, Louw (Steyn 76), Alberts (Coetzee 41), Vermeulen.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France).