Caelan Doris admits to initially being shocked by the sheer size of the South Africa team but insists facing the fearsome might of the so-called ‘Bomb Squad’ will not significantly alter Ireland’s game plan.

Back-rower Doris will take on the Springboks for only the second time in his career in Saturday evening’s crunch Rugby World Cup showdown in Paris.

The 25-year-old helped Ireland register a 19-16 win over the reigning world champions in November following a bruising Dublin encounter in which he was taken aback by the hefty bulk of the opposition.

The Springboks will again look to impose brute strength on Andy Farrell’s men after naming a six-two split of forwards and backs on their bench for this weekend’s pivotal Pool B clash at Stade de France.

Asked what distinguishes South Africa from other sides, Doris replied: “Physicality is the word that comes to mind.

“I remember being shocked at just the sheer size of them, playing them in November.

“They kind of do a six-two or even seven-one sometimes off the bench and have massive reinforcements coming off the bench as well.

“But it’s definitely not the only string to their bow. They’ve got a lot of pace in their backs and their forwards are capable of keeping the ball alive and offloading.

“Obviously the physicality is tied into their set-piece, they’ve got a great maul, great lineout options as well, a very strong lineout and scrum as well, so getting those areas right is going to be big.”

Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who was then head coach, adopted the stacked bench tactic during his side’s run to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019.

Doris insists Ireland will not be deviating from the approach which has brought 15 successive Test wins.

“It doesn’t actually change too much,” he said.

“We talk about delivering an 80-minute performance regardless of who we are playing and knowing that some teams target the last 20 minutes.

“We also speak of our bench coming on and not just fitting in but actually taking it up a level. That will be important for us this weekend.”

Ireland, who have topped the Test rankings for more than a year, can seal progression to the World Cup quarter-finals with success in the French capital.

Doris feels better equipped to deal with the pressures of performing in front of a capacity Stade de France crowd than during last year’s Six Nations when Farrell’s men suffered a 30-24 loss to France.

“There’s so much belief amongst this group and there’s belief that we can still get a lot better,” he said.

“Delivering that in such a big game in Paris in front of 80,000 people – hopefully there will be a lot of Irish there – is just about constantly getting better as a group and believing that we can improve quite a bit.

“We are always striving for the perfect performance.”

Referring to the 2022 defeat to Les Bleus, he continued: “From the warm-up there was a palpable intensity in the atmosphere from the French in particular, drums banging and stuff like that.

“Having experienced it once, it is an easier thing to visualise and be aware of. It will be a little bit less of a shock for me.”

Japan pulled off the greatest shock in Rugby World Cup history as they stunned mighty South Africa 34-32 at the Amex Stadium in Brighton on this day in 2015.

Karne Hesketh’s 84th-minute try sealed a staggering victory from the Brave Blossoms, sinking the two-time world champions and leaving coach Eddie Jones rubbing his eyes in disbelief.

Jones admitted: “Japan beating South Africa? I had to look at the scoreboard at the end just to see if it was true or not.

“We kept hanging in there. It looked at one stage when they got seven points ahead that they would run away with it.

“That would have been the normal scenario, like the horror story where the woman goes for a shower after midnight and you know what’s going to happen.

“Normally they would score three or four, it ends up 50-20 and everyone says, ‘well done Japan, you tried hard, you were brave’. But we were more than brave.”

Instead it was the South Africans who found themselves starring in their own horror movie.

They trailed 10-7 midway through the first half thanks to a try from Japan’s New Zealand-born captain Michael Leitch, which cancelled out Francois Louw’s score, but led by two at half-time after Bismarck Du Plessis went over.

Lood De Jager and Adriaan Strauss scored under the posts in the second half but a try from full-back Ayumu Goromaru, as well as his nerveless kicking, drew Japan level at 29-29 with just 10 minutes to play.

When Handre Pollard kicked a penalty with five minutes remaining it appeared South Africa would at least avoid a humiliating defeat.

But relentless pressure from Japan paid off when rather than take a penalty for a draw, they were rewarded for their bravery when Hesketh scored in the left corner.

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said: “We let our country down, we weren’t good enough but all credit to Japan, they played really well.

“I said before, this will be the toughest World Cup ever and I think there will be more shocks. I still believe we can win the World Cup, but I have to press some hard buttons to try to fix it.”

South Africa-born Ireland hooker Rob Herring insists there will be no split loyalties among his family and friends when his side face the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup in Paris.

Andy Farrell’s men are seeking to secure a quarter-final spot with victory over the defending champions on Saturday evening following bonus-point wins over Romania and Tonga.

Herring’s mother and two of his three sisters have travelled from Cape Town for the tournament, while a number of his friends will be at Stade de France for the standout fixture in Pool B.

The 33-year-old Ulster player has twice before lined up against his native country – Dublin victories in 2017 and last November – but will do so on the biggest stage for the first time.

And he is in no doubt about where his relatives’ allegiances lie.

“They’re all supporting Ireland,” Herring told the PA news agency.

“All of my friends that are coming over and my family, they’re all in Irish jerseys so there will be no divided support. They will be fully behind us.

“It will be great. I’ve played against them a few times now and it’s always a good battle.

“I just want to be a part of the squad, contribute any way I can. It will be a good atmosphere, we’ll have our Irish fans there in full force.

“Every week we think we need to step things up and it’s going to be like that going into the long run of the competition. We’ll keep getting better and it will be another big challenge for us.”

Herring, who qualified for Ireland through a grandfather from Belfast, missed out on selection for the World Cup in 2015 and 2019.

 

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He is already making up for lost time, having claimed tries in the 82-8 opening-weekend win over Romania and Saturday’s 59-16 success over Tonga.

“I keep saying to myself, I’ve got to enjoy these moments,” he said.

“I’ve missed out before and I’ve worked so hard to be here over the last four years so I’m going to put in big performances when I get the opportunity and other than that I’m ready to take it all in and enjoy it.

“This group of boys, we love playing for each other so it’s a great team to be a part of and hopefully we’re going to go into the deep end of the comp.”

Herring’s rival hooker Dan Sheehan could return to contention for the South Africa showdown.

The 25-year-old has been sidelined since sustaining a foot injury in last month’s warm-up win over England but Ireland’s coaching staff are confident he will be available.

Back-rower Jack Conan (foot) and prop Finlay Bealham, who was forced off by a head knock against Tonga, will also be assessed ahead of the visit to the French capital.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will continue to let his performances do the talking after warming up for world champions South Africa with another record-breaking display.

The 38-year-old surpassed former fly-half rival Ronan O’Gara as his country’s all-time leading scorer by moving on to 1,090 career points during Saturday’s emphatic 59-16 win over Tonga.

Sexton last week returned with a bang from almost six months on the sidelines to leapfrog O’Gara as Ireland’s top points scorer at the Rugby World Cup, in addition to becoming the oldest international to wear the green jersey.

His greatest challenge following his long-awaited comeback from injury and suspension undoubtedly lies ahead, with the tantalising Paris showdown against the Springboks likely to decide who tops Pool B.

“The proof of whether I’m in good form will be next Saturday,” said Sexton, who will retire after the tournament. “You’ve got to go and do it in the games.

“There’s no point in saying you’re feeling good or whatever. I just take it day by day, make sure I recover well, turn up to training on Monday and Tuesday and try and put the plan in place to take on the reigning world champions.

“They’ve hit a great vein of form and it’s going to be a huge challenge for us but one that we are really excited about and we feel we’re ready for it.”

Sexton claimed the fourth of Ireland’s eight tries on a history-making evening in Nantes.

He also kicked four conversions and a penalty to add to the 24-point haul he managed in the curtain-raiser against Romania before being withdrawn at half-time.

Bundee Aki’s second-half double, in between scores from James Lowe and Rob Herring, helped seal Ireland’s 15th successive win after Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris and Mack Hansen laid the foundations.

While Scotland will still hope to have a say, Ireland and South Africa lead the way in the group, with the eventual table-toppers likely to avoid hosts France and play New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

“Obviously we want to win the group,” said Sexton. “We want to win every game. That’s pretty clear.

“If you get through the group, it doesn’t matter if you finish first or second, you won’t have an easy game.

“But we’ll be going for the win next week and hopefully the game after (against Scotland) as well.”

Andy Farrell’s decision to name a strong starting XV at Stade de la Beaujoire was vindicated by a second successive bonus-point triumph from which his team emerged relatively unscathed.

The head coach, who was upbeat about replacement prop Finlay Bealham’s head injury assessment, hopes his players can move up gear in the capital in six days’ time.

“I would hope we will be better because we’ll certainly need to be when it gets to playing against a fantastic side in South Africa,” he said.

“But two games under the belt is good for us. Hopefully that rolls on to to another level on the third week.

“This is what World Cups are all about, weeks that are coming against the reigning world champions.

“It doesn’t get any better and one thing’s for sure, you know that the Irish (fans) are going to turn up and enjoy it as well. It’s a fantastic week to look forward to.”

Kyle Steyn is desperate to earn a return to the Scotland squad for next Sunday’s World Cup match against Tonga after being left devastated by his omission for the opening defeat by his birth country South Africa.

The 29-year-old wing started all five Six Nations matches earlier this year in the absence of injured talisman Darcy Graham and he went into the global showpiece in France buoyed by having scored three tries in the last two summer warm-up matches, including a double away to Les Bleus.

But with the fit-again Graham and Duhan van der Merwe handed the two starting berths on the wing and full-back Ollie Smith, centre Cam Redpath and scrum-half Ali Price the three backs chosen for bench duty, Johannesburg-born Steyn had to watch from the stand at Stade Velodrome as Scotland suffered an 18-3 defeat by the Springboks.

With the Scots having posted their lowest-scoring outing since losing the 2019 World Cup opener 27-3 to Ireland and failing to score a try for the first time in almost three years, prolific Glasgow captain Steyn is knocking on the door for a return to the fold when Gregor Townsend’s side return to action in Nice next weekend.

“I was gutted, I was absolutely gutted,” said Steyn, reflecting on being left out of the 23 for the opener in Marseille. “But I also understood that the guys who were picked ahead of me are phenomenal players who are in great form, and I think that’s the good thing about our squad at the moment, that we’ve got that level of competitiveness.

“You just have to accept you might find yourself on the wrong side of that sometimes.

“I’m desperate to be back in the squad next week. Especially with having two weeks off, there’s a real want for the squad to get back out there and put our best foot forward, and I want to be part of that, I want to be in the 23.”

The prospect of facing Tonga brings back “special” memories for Steyn.

In what was his first start for the national team in October 2021, the wing became the first player to score four tries in one match for Scotland as they defeated the Pacific Islanders 60-14 at Murrayfield.

“It was a great day out,” he recalled. “It was our first game at Murrayfield with fans back (since the pandemic) and I did well so I look back on it with good memories.

“It’s an incredibly special day to look back on. I think about how much history Scottish rugby has and to have a small piece of it like that, myself and my family are incredibly proud.

“I remember some pretty hard hits as well that day so I’m sure it will be a tough game next weekend.”

Steyn reflected on events in the Scottish camp this week after hooker Dave Cherry was forced to withdraw from the squad with concussion sustained after a fall at the team’s hotel last Monday and Stuart McInally – due to retire after the World Cup – was drafted in as his replacement having missed out on selection last month.

“We’re gutted for Dave that it’s ended like that,” said Steyn. “We wish him well. We’re happy first and foremost that he’s healthy and he’ll be OK.

“The flip side is that we’ve got Rambo (McInally), who didn’t make the squad and was retiring on 49 caps and so it’s great to have someone with that experience who is also bringing a fresh energy in.

“You can see his desire to get out there and get his 50th cap, so it’s great for the squad to have him with us.”

Adam Zampa claimed an unwanted record while Travis Head gave Australia a World Cup injury concern as they were thrashed by 164 runs in the fourth one-day international against South Africa.

Zampa bowled 10 wicketless overs for 113 – equalling the worst figures in an ODI, held by fellow Australian Mick Lewis – as Heinrich Klaasen propelled South Africa to their third-highest total.

Klaasen smashed 174 of just 83 balls as the hosts posted 416-5 at Centurion to level the five-match series 2-2, having lost the opening two.

Of greater concern for Australia will be the injury to opener Head, who retired hurt three balls after being hit on the left hand by Gerald Coetzee.

Australia coach Andrew McDonald confirmed x-rays had shown a fracture with the World Cup just three weeks away.

McDonald said: “He’s going to go in for some more scans tomorrow to work out the detail of (the injury) and then we’ll work out the management from there. How long that (recovery) time frame is, we’re yet to determine.”

Australia already have injury concerns over Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc and Glenn Maxwell, while Cameron Green was concussed in the first game of the series.

Klaasen described his assault, which included 13 fours and 13 sixes, as “one of my better ones”.

He was caught on the boundary off the final ball of the innings, ending a stand of 222 with David Miller who smashed an unbeaten 82 from 45. Rassie van der Dussen also hit 65.

Michael Neser was the only Australian bowler to go for under seven runs an over, Zampa conceding nine of the 20 sixes hit by the hosts

Australia’s reply never really got going, wicketkeeper Alex Carey the only batter to face more than 25 balls but he was last man out for 99 as Australia were dismissed for 252.

England head coach Steve Borthwick has highlighted World Rugby’s inconsistent approach to disciplinary issues.

Tom Curry was sent off in the third minute of Saturday’s World Cup victory over Argentina for a dangerous tackle and received a two-match ban, yet similar incidents involving South Africa’s Jesse Kriel and Martin Sigren of Chile failed to produce a dismissal, citing or suspension.

It has raised concerns over the officiating of illegal challenges involving the head.

Borthwick also highlighted that when Owen Farrell was sent off for a dangerous tackle against Wales and then cleared by a disciplinary hearing, World Rugby intervened by appealing against the decision.

“There has been a large amount of commentary from different sources about what appears to be a lack of consistency and transparency in the decision making process,” Borthwick said.

“Now it’s not my role to comment on that, it’s World Rugby’s. I also note there was a tremendous amount of comment from World Rugby on Owen Farrell for a couple of weeks during our preparation for this tournament.

“It was a situation that went on and on with lots of comment from World Rugby. I note there hasn’t been very many comments from World Rugby – I’m told – in the last week or so. I will leave that to World Rugby.”

Gregor Townsend expressed sympathy for Dave Cherry after the veteran hooker’s first World Cup was brought to a premature end following a fall down the stairs at Scotland’s team hotel.

It emerged on Thursday that the 32-year-old had withdrawn from the squad with concussion after he took a tumble and banged his head at the Scots’ tournament base near Nice on Monday while the players were enjoying some down time with their families.

The previous day, Cherry had played his first World Cup match as a second-half replacement for George Turner in the 18-3 defeat by world champions South Africa in Marseille.

The Edinburgh hooker flew out of France on Thursday to return home, where his fiancée Olivia is due to give birth in the coming weeks.

Stuart McInally – cut from the provisional training squad last month – has been drafted in as Cherry’s replacement.

“It’s very difficult for Dave, and it’s sad,” head coach Townsend said at a media briefing in Nice on Thursday.

“At least he got to play in a game. His wife’s just about to give birth so at least he’s got something positive to go back to. He did well to get himself into the World Cup squad and he did well at the weekend. He would have had more involvement as we went through the pool.”

Cherry’s misfortune has paved the way for a remarkable career swansong for McInally. The 33-year-old announced in April that he would be retiring from rugby after the World Cup to pursue a career as an airline pilot.

McInally was part of Townsend’s 41-man provisional training group for the tournament, but the head coach then omitted him when he named his final 33-man squad in August, seemingly ending the career of the man who captained the Scots at the last World Cup in Japan.

However, the long-serving Edinburgh forward was invited out to France last week to provide cover after hooker Ewan Ashman sustained a head knock in training and he attended Sunday’s match in Marseille before being told his services were no longer required and flying home on Monday.

McInally’s roller-coaster summer then took another twist when he was summoned back to the south of France on Wednesday.

“He’s been called out twice now,” said Townsend, reflecting on whirlwind period for the veteran.

“On Monday I was chatting to him back at the hotel and I said ‘you can stay until tomorrow or go back today, it looks like Ewan is on track to make a full recovery, so there’s no reason to stay’.

“And then he came back out two days later and he’s trained today. He’s obviously kept training, he’s been topping up (his fitness) and he’s always said he’d be ready for the opportunity. Maybe he would have been thinking that would have happened last week, but it’s now happened for him.

“Stuart is a very experienced player for us. He’s obviously been at World Cups before and had trained really well throughout the (pre-tournament) camp and had played well so we’re fortunate that we have someone with his experience and quality to step in.”

The Scots trained on Thursday for the first time Sunday’s bruising encounter with South Africa and Townsend was pleased to see Finn Russell come through the session after the talismanic stand-off took a couple of heavy hits against the Boks, one of which required lengthy on-field treatment.

George Horne and Ashman also took part after concussion ruled them out of contention for the opening game and the pair are on track to return to the fold for the next match against Tonga in Nice on Sunday week.

“Yes, Finn trained,” said Townsend. “There were two guys with red bibs on (George Horne and Ewan Ashman) today. It was a non-contact session although we did do a contact element.

“The two guys with red bibs on didn’t do that (contact element) but Finn wasn’t in a red bib which means he’s obviously able to do some sort of contact, which is a good recovery. He did the whole session.”

The only player who missed training on Thursday was back-rower Luke Crosbie, who was ruled out last weekend with a rib problem.

“Luke is on track, he’s just ill today,” reported the head coach. “He trained on Tuesday morning with the physios. He’s now fully available for selection, but overnight he had a stomach complaint so that’s why he wasn’t training today.

“The other two (Horne and Ashman) came through the session fine and their next stage is to add contact which will be tomorrow. Ali Price went off (the training pitch) as a precaution with a tight groin, but I don’t think it will be anything serious.”

The Scotland players had three days off following Sunday’s defeat by South Africa, with the players’ families invited into the camp.

Townsend is adamant there will be no hangover from their opening-weekend setback as they build towards the Tonga showdown.

“I don’t think morale was ever affected,” he said when asked if he felt the short break was beneficial to the players.

“We knew this would be an opportunity to spend time with families because our next games (after Tonga) are pretty much game then into six or seven-day turnarounds, so it will be quickly into that process.

“We saw the families all together in the hotel for the last two or three days and that was really good, but the mindset they came in to train with today was excellent.

“They worked really hard. That was a tough session, tomorrow’s will be tough again, and Sunday’s will be tough. We know we’ve got an opportunity now to push things a bit harder and then we get back into a normal Test week, which starts on Tuesday for us.”

Ireland are optimistic sidelined number eight Jack Conan will be fit to feature in next weekend’s Rugby World Cup showdown with defending champions South Africa in Paris.

British and Irish Lion Conan, who suffered a foot injury in his country’s opening warm-up match with Italy, missed Saturday’s 82-8 win over Romania and will once again sit out on Saturday against Tonga in Nantes.

The 31-year-old was able to take part in basic on-field training on Wednesday morning following a series of gym sessions, raising hope of him being fit for the Springboks.

Team manager Mick Kearney said: “(It was a) very good training session today and everybody came through that really well.

“Jack was out running, which was a real positive.

“While Saturday will come a little bit early for him, I think the signs are really positive in terms of being able to train fully next week, and hopefully he will be available for South Africa.”

Every other member of Andy Farrell’s 33-man squad trained fully at Ireland’s base in Tours, including centre Robbie Henshaw, who was a late withdrawal from the Romania game due to a hamstring issue, prop Dave Kilcoyne and hooker Dan Sheehan.

Asked if it was Conan’s first on-field session since arriving in France, Kearney replied: “Not since we got to Tours, but it’s his first for the last few days.

“He has been doing most of his rehab in the gym with the physios.

“Today was obviously a very big day for him in terms of getting out and running. He ran really well, it’s really positive and he was in a good place afterwards.”

Frustrated Finn Russell hopes a two-week break between matches will allow Scotland to regroup and get Sunday’s demoralising World Cup opener against South Africa out of their system.

The Scots were unable to spark their swashbuckling attacking game as they crashed 18-3 to the Springboks in Marseille, losing the second half 12-0.

It was Gregor Townsend’s side’s lowest-scoring outing since their first game of the 2019 World Cup when they were defeated 27-3 by Ireland.

Talisman Russell said: “I’m very frustrated with the result but also with the second-half. I don’t think we showed a true reflection of the team that we are. It’s very frustrating.”

The Scots do not play again until they face Tonga in Nice on Sunday, 24 September.

When they return to action, they know they must win all three of their remaining games – the other two are against Romania and Ireland – if they are to have a chance of emerging from the formidable Pool B to reach the quarter finals.

“This was potentially the situation we were going to be in after the first game,” said Russell. “Ideally it wouldn’t have been, but now we’re in this situation we need to pick ourselves back up, we need to get going.

“We’ve got Tonga then Romania so we need to go into these games as best prepared as we can and looking to play as best we can.

“We had a 10-minute period where we let South Africa get two tries so we’ll chat about how we can get better after that second half and coming out firing straight away (after half-time) so that doesn’t happen again.

“As frustrated as we are, there is a lot to work on and still everything to play for.”

The Scotland players have been given time off with their families in the early part of this week to recover from the mental and physical demands of facing the world champions in their first game.

Russell, competing at his third World Cup, has vowed that they will come back ready for their must-win game against Tonga.

“We’ve got two weeks now so we’ll have the next few days just getting away from rugby,” said the 30-year-old. “That was very physically demanding and mentally as well.

“The next few days we’ll get away from rugby, refresh ourselves and come back on Thursday and start preparing for Tonga. That’s a massive game for us.

“We’ve got everything to play for now and to an extent nothing to lose. As tough as it is to take, in sport you have to bounce back as quick as you can and I think the boys will do that.”

Stand-off Russell was in the wars on Sunday and it looked like he may be forced off in the first half after a heavy collision left him grounded and receiving lengthy treatment.

“I’m alright,” he said. “I got a shot in the ribs and I think I was just pretty badly winded thankfully.

“The second one was a stinger which happens in rugby. These collisions happen and that’s part of it. Thankfully there’s nothing that bad.

“I’ll be good to go the next game.”

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?

“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.”

Scotland suffered a demoralising start to their World Cup campaign as world champions South Africa squeezed the life out of them in Marseille.

The Boks kicked off their defence of the Webb Ellis Cup with an 18-3 victory on Sunday evening after two tries from Pieter-Steph du Toit and Kurt-Lee Arendse in the third quarter took the game away from the Scots following a tightly-contested first half.

The defeat leaves Gregor Townsend’s side with no margin for error in their remaining three matches against Tonga, Romania and Ireland if they are to qualify for the quarter-finals.

The two sides went into the tournament in confident mood following encouraging summer campaigns which left the Boks ranked second and the Scots fifth in the world, but with Ireland – the top-ranked team – also in Pool B, the pressure was on both nations to start with a victory.

The Springboks started in more assured fashion and had a chance to get the scoreboard up and running in the 11th minute when the Scots were deemed to have collapsed the scrum, but Manie Libbok hooked his penalty wide from 40 metres.

The South African stand-off made no such mistake, however, when presented with another opportunity two minutes later after Finn Russell was penalised for a deliberate knock-on as he sent his kick soaring between the posts from a central position 35 metres out.

Tempers flared on the side of the pitch just after the midway point in the first half after Damian de Allende was slammed into touch but referee Angus Gardner – after reviewing the skirmish – spoke to four players, but decided no further action was required.

Libbok doubled the Boks’ lead to six points shortly afterwards with another penalty after Sione Tuipulotu failed to release.

After South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth limped off to be replaced by RG Snyman, Scotland, who had been struggling to get their attacking game going, carved out a brilliant chance to score, but Darcy Graham opted to go himself and ran into trouble when fellow wing Duhan van der Merwe, on his outside, was crying out for a pass and appeared to have a free run to the line.

Despite being unable to impose their game on the Boks, the Scots were generally standing up well to the physical challenge of their opponents and they cut their deficit to three points in the last action of the first half when Finn Russell – who had earlier needed treatment following a bang to the ribs – kicked a penalty from 45 metres right on half-time.

Two minutes after the restart Libbok attempted to kick a penalty from almost five metres inside his own half, but he failed to get enough distance on it and the Scots were able to gather.

South Africa got their first try of the match in the 47th minute when Du Toit pushed over on the left after a sustained spell of pressure. Libbok was off target with his conversion attempt.

Thing got worse for the Scots four minutes later when Arendse ran in to touch down in the right corner after a lovely cross-field kick from Libbok set him free. With the stand-off having missed three of his five attempts at goal, scrum-half Faf De Klerk took over kicking duties and duly pinged the conversion between the posts.

Scotland have made a habit in recent times of mounting impressive fightbacks, but this time they were unable to find a way of breaching the obdurate Boks.

Bullish Grant Gilchrist is adamant Scotland remain unfazed by South Africa’s blistering form in the lead-up to their World Cup showdown in Marseille a week on Sunday.

While the Scots have enjoyed an encouraging summer campaign, the Boks have been busy inflicting record defeats on both Wales (52-16) and New Zealand (35-7) over the past two weekends to climb to second in the world rankings.

The Scotland squad watched South Africa’s demolition of the All Blacks together in their hotel on Friday, but lock Gilchrist insists it has not caused any heightened trepidation within the dressing room.

“It doesn’t change our mindset,” he told the PA news agency. “We’ve known all along that South Africa can peak at a World Cup, they’re world champions for a reason.

“We always knew the size of the challenge that was going to face us. Other people might say this and that, but we were expecting to play the best version of the Springboks, and we’re going to relish that opportunity.

“It’s even more exciting when you see the way they played against the All Blacks. They’re one of the top sides in the world and we have to go out and impose our game on them.

“If you don’t feel excited about playing South Africa at a World Cup when they’re in the form they’re in, then you’re in the wrong changing room. We’re going to embrace that.

“We know we’ll be massive underdogs but we’ll be going into that game having prepared really well and we certainly believe if we can get our best rugby on the pitch for 80 minutes we can cause them a lot of problems.”

The Scots made it three wins from four summer Tests on Saturday when they recovered from a 6-0 half-time deficit to defeat Georgia 33-6 at Murrayfield, with five tries after the break. Gilchrist feels it was good practice for their World Cup pool matches against the likes of Tonga and Romania when the Scots will find themselves cast as favourites.

“We spoke last week about how it was always going to be a mental challenge playing at home with all the expectation that we were going to blow Georgia away,” he explained.

“They’re a good side, they win a lot of games. I know they play a tier down from us but they beat Wales recently. They’re not a minnow side, they’re a quality outfit and they showed that for spells. They’ve got players tearing up the Top 14.

“We knew the challenge and that we’d have to be patient, so the pleasing side of it is that we didn’t panic, we stuck to the task and we got the job done.”

Gilchrist feels his team have shown in bursts over the summer – particularly in the two matches home and away against France – what they could be capable of at the World Cup.

“I think we’ve got to look at the positives,” he said, reflecting on the summer campaign. “We’ve built our game and I think we’re really comfortable with what our best performance looks like.

“Probably the second half of the home game against France (when they scored 22 unanswered points to win 25-21) and also the way we started and finished in Saint-Etienne (when losing 30-27).

“We understand we’re going to have to put that out on the pitch for 80 minutes and we’ve not done that yet. But these are warm-up games, they’re for finding your form. We understand we’re going to have to peak in two weeks and that’s an exciting challenge.”

Gregor Townsend expects Darcy Graham to be available for Scotland’s World Cup opener against South Africa after the wing missed Saturday’s 33-6 win at home to Georgia with a quad strain.

The 26-year-old was named in the starting XV on Thursday but subsequently removed from the squad on Friday after getting injured in training, raising concerns about his availability for the Scots’ first match of the global showpiece in Marseille two weeks on Sunday.

Asked after the Georgia game if he was confident the talismanic Graham, who has 19 tries for Scotland would be ready to face the Boks, Townsend said: “Yes. I don’t want to say that and jinx it, but the indications would be that by the end of this week – potentially Thursday – he’ll be back to full fitness, if not it will be the following week.

“We’re training Tuesday and Thursday this week and then the guys will have Friday and Saturday off so we’re aiming for Thursday for Darcy. If he’s not able to train Thursday, it will be the following Monday in France.”

Scotland scored five tries in the second half as they fought back from 6-0 down to defeat Georgia in their final warm-up match.

It was the fourth time in four summer Tests they had trailed at the break and the third time they had fought back to win.

Although the Scots failed to fire before the break, Townsend was heartened by the way they blew their visitors away after the interval.

“I believe it was probably better for us going six points down because it meant we had to improve certain areas, our fitness would have to come through and it did, and our bench did really well too,” he said.

“We know also that playing against South Africa is a different game, but Georgia didn’t score a try so that was a pleasing aspect too.

“We’re still working for that performance we can be happy with over the 80 minutes. It is never going to be the complete performance, because opposition are going to have their moments.

“Georgia are a very good team. They’ve beaten Wales and Italy (over the last year), and they are outstanding in that contact area, so we have to give them credit too – but we know that certain aspects will have to improve. And at least we saw that improvement in the second half which was pleasing.”

Townsend – who leads his squad to their World Cup training base in France next Sunday – is close to crystalising his starting XV for the South Africa game, although he still feels he has big calls to make about who will be on the bench.

“It’s probably not set in stone,” he said. “We’ll have a good look at that game again in depth.

“I’m more clear on the 15 than the 23, and I know there are players who have put their hand up today to come into the mix, whether in the 15 or more likely the bench.

“That’s been a really positive outcome of these four games – our bench has played really well, and we’ve finished every game stronger than our opposition.

“That’s a credit to the fitness of the squad and what they’ve done during the (summer) campaign, but also the eight guys making a difference in the last 20 minutes of games and they certainly did that today.”

Warren Gatland said Wales’ record defeat to South Africa in Cardiff had made his World Cup selection task easier.

Gatland names his 33-man World Cup squad on Monday on the back of a chastening 52-16 thumping to the Springboks.

After two warm-up games against England, in which Wales won once and lost once and generally saw the reputation of their young team enhanced, Gatland’s side were dismantled by opponents boasting 659 Test caps to their 235.

South Africa’s victory – the first time Wales have conceded 50 points under Gatland – comfortably eclipsed their previous biggest win in Cardiff – a 34-12 in 2007.

Asked if the game had answered a lot of questions on his World Cup selection before next month’s tournament in France, head coach Gatland said: “I think so. We’ll go back to the hotel, sit down as coaches and hopefully finalise it.

“If we need to have more discussion hopefully we can do that on Sunday. Possibly some of those questions that we’ve got would have made it a little bit easier for our discussions.

“It was disappointing. I thought we were dominated physically on both sides of the ball.

“We’d spoken to the players about the physicality they’d bring and playing against the world champions. They’d just come out of a Rugby Championship.

“The only positive I can take is hopefully there’s a lot of learning that some of those players will have got from it.”

Experienced trio Alex Cuthbert Dan Biggar and Liam Williams all dropped out of the original team with minor injuries.

Wales have more pressing concerns on the injury front with hookers Dewi Lake and Ryan Elias, second row forward Dafydd Jenkins and back-rower Taine Plumtree all picking up knocks during the August matches.

Gatland also has to make calls on number eight Taulupe Faletau and outside-half Gareth Anscombe, who did not feature in the three games.

On Faletau and Anscombe, Gatland said: “I think they are in contention because of their experience.

“If they were a young player it would be very, very difficult to select them, but given their vast amount of experience they will definitely be part of those discussions.

“Part of the thing we wanted to do was everyone take part in training this week to build confidence.

“When you have a defeat like that, it’s about how do you look at the positives when you are reviewing it as a group.

“There’s some easy fixes in terms of probably four or five of those tries are easy enough to stop and then all of a sudden there’s a different complexion on the game.”

Gatland was critical of the 34th-minute yellow card given to Rio Dyer when Wales trailed 12-9.

Dyer batted a loose ball away from Canan Moodie as he closed in on a try, but replays appeared to show that it had hit the hand of the Springboks wing first. A penalty try was awarded and South Africa scored 12 points with the wing off the field.

“I thought Rio Dyer was really unlucky to have a yellow card and a penalty try because the angles we’ve looked at we are 100 per cent certain it’s touched the green player,” said Gatland.

“For me that’s a pretty tough call and we’ve conceded straight away from the kick-off. It was an important moment in terms of the way the game went.”

South Africa find themselves in arguably the toughest World Cup pool with Ireland, Scotland and Tonga for company.

The Springboks start the defence of the trophy they won in Japan four years ago against Scotland in Marseille on September 10.

“We have to get better in France,” said South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber after his side’s eight-try show in Cardiff.

“We are on the side of the draw that is knock-out from game one. Just to get out of pool we have to be on form.”

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