Scotland Rugby World Cup: Jamie Ritchie admits there is no margin for error now as Gregor Townsend laments mistakes
The captain was left frustrated by his team’s inaccuracy at times during a bruising match played in hot, sticky conditions at the Stade Velodrome. Playing the defending champions was never going to be an easy way to start their campaign and so it proved, with Scotland struggling to find a way past the Springboks’ rush defence. But they were also guilty of self-inflicted errors, particularly at the lineout where South Africa were able to steal a couple of throws to the tail.
A Finn Russell penalty just before half-time reduced the holders’ lead to 6-3 at the break but the Boks came out firing early in the second half and scored two quick tries through Pieter-Steph du Toit and Kurt-Lee Arendse, eventually winning 18-3 with Faf de Klerk adding a conversion to Manie Libbok’s two first-half penalties. Scotland’s second game in Pool B is against Tonga in Nice in a fortnight, and then they face Romania and Ireland, in Lille and Paris respectively. They will need to win all three to have a chance of reaching the quarter-finals.
“We still feel we’ve got a lot to play for in this group,” said Ritchie. “It's obviously three massive games now where we can’t afford to slip up so the pressure is on us to perform. Like I said to the guys afterwards, although we’ve put a lot of work into this game and it’s a bit of a setback in terms of the result, the good work we’ve done over the last couple of months hasn’t disappeared, it hasn’t gone away. So if we get back to our process, we’ll be looking to hit the ground running in a couple of weeks’ time.”
Speaking immediately after the game, Ritchie said his emotions were “a little bit mixed”, adding: “I’m really proud of how we fronted up physically but our accuracy at times just wasn’t there. Full credit to South Africa, they put us under a lot of pressure and we didn’t execute under the pressure. It’s all things we can control, like a missed call in the lineout off the top of my head. These are things that are in our control and easy to fix.”
Gregor Townsend, the Scotland coach, felt his team were slow out of the traps but managed to work their way back into the game towards half-time, only to be unpicked in those fatal moments at the start of the second period. “I am really disappointed, we were slow to get going in the first half and there was a bit of inaccuracy in our play,” said Townsend. “We built into the game and I felt physically we were more than up for the challenges which comes from the way they play.
"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.”