The last time Greig Laidlaw faced the Springboks proved a doubly dispiriting experience as he was sin-binned in a 34-16 loss during the pool stage of the 2015 World Cup in Newcastle.
The Scotland skipper believes lessons can be learned from that brutal afternoon at St James’ Park, when Vern Cotter’s team matched the South Africans for a spell before ultimately wilting in the face of an unrelenting physical onslaught.
Laidlaw was yellow carded for a late tackle on Bryan Habana during that match but is sure that the side named by Gregor Townsend for this evening’s encounter are capable of besting the Boks this time around.
“We lost the physical battle that day and that’s probably why we lost the game,” said Laidlaw of the World Cup clash.
“That’s a game I’ve learned from. I think that’s the main point from previous games – we’ve matched them up to a point and then tailed off. We can’t do that this weekend. We need to ramp it up, back our fitness and put pressure on them.”
France put pressure on the Springboks in Paris last weekend but couldn’t contain the Bok backlash. Laidlaw is confident that a positive start by the Scots to this evening’s game will lead to victory.
“Yes. If we get to 23-9 [as France did], absolutely,” he said. “But whether we’re going to do that I’m not sure. It’s 0-0 at the minute and we won’t be getting ahead of ourselves.”
Laidlaw looked to strike a balance between confidence in Scotland’s impressive home record in the last couple of years with a genuine respect for the excellent form the South Africans have shown this year
“I believe we’re well placed,” said the Clermont scrum-half. “But I also know it’s going to be an incredibly tough Test match against a very good team who came off the back of a good result against New Zealand a month or so back in the Rugby Championship. They did extremely well to win at the weekend in a Test match that they were behind in, so it shows they’re playing with a lot of confidence and they can play to the end of games.
“So it’s going to be tough, but we’re delighted to be back again at BT Murrayfield in front of another sell-out. It means a lot to us, this place, and I know the boys have trained really well all week, so we’re very much looking forward to the game.”
The physicality of South Africa’s daunting pack has been spoken about to the point of tedium this week but Laidlaw expressed confidence that Scotland had the tools to get a positive result.
“It’s a few different things. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but any time you play a South African team you’ve got to meet fire with fire,” he said.
“But we also need to hold discipline as well – that’s going to be key. We’ve got a French referee in Romain Poite, so we need to be very disciplined, because we don’t want to give South Africa opportunities to kick into touch and get their driving game going. That’s something I’ve made the team aware of this week, and everybody’s on guard to look after our own discipline in the heat of battle.”
Townsend said earlier in the week that a win tonight would be the best result since he took over as head coach, topping the scalps of England, France and Argentina, and his skipper was in agreement.
“I think yes. It’s easier to say that because those games have been and gone now and it’s brilliant that we’re looking ahead – that’s very much how Gregor coaches, he’s positive with the team,” said the 33-year-old, who will win his 65th cap this evening.
“Certainly we’re right behind him on that. So it’s exciting to get back to BT Murrayfield and test ourselves against one of the best teams in the world.”
This evening represents the biggest challenge yet for new Scotland forwards coach Danny Wilson, and the former Cardiff Blues boss is well aware that his department of responsibility will be under the microscope.
“We’ve got to be right at it, on top of our physicality and the technical elements of the game,” he said.
The maul is likely to be a crucial battleground and Wilson added: “We’ve functioned pretty well in that area. Against Wales we scored a try and maybe should have got another one.
“On the weekend [against Fiji] we picked up four penalties, two yellow cards which gave us a bit of a foothold. But the defensive maul is vital too. Against Wales we defended it pretty well. Fiji didn’t maul so it wasn’t really a threat.
“We ’re now facing a side who maul very often. Our defence of that is going to be vital, both tactically but also in terms of our attitude towards that area. We’ll have to bring a real edge.”
Wilson is looking forward to what will be just his second experience of Murrayfield, having thoroughly enjoyed last weekend against Fiji.
“I’ve been here a short period of time but to talk about the now what I’ve seen straight away is the pride for this group of players to represent their country at this venue,” said Wilson.
“That’s come through in spades for me. It was a great experience for me. The pipe band and all the people surrounding the changing room entrance and the atmosphere gave you a feeling of what it’s like to be a home player and home coach.
“That pride is massive for this group of players.
“There is a confident mood but also an anticipation that we are facing a very good side and have to be on top of our game to give ourselves a chance of winning.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow); Tommy Seymour (Glasgow), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Pete Horne (Glasgow), Sean Maitland (Saracens); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Greig Laidlaw (c) (Clermont); Gordon Reid (London Irish), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow). Replacements: Subs: Fraser Brown (Glasgow); Allan Dell (Edinburgh); Simon Berghan (Edinburgh); Josh Strauss (Sales Sharks); Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh); Ali Price (Glasgow); Adam Hastings (Glasgow); Chris Harris (Newcastle).