Boks out to regain top billing against Scotland
A win in Newcastle would put the Boks back on track to qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament.
LONDON - Twice world champions South Africa seek to reassert their standing as a pre-eminent power when they take on Scotland in their Rugby World Cup crunch game on Saturday.
A win in Newcastle would put the Springboks comfortably back on track to qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament, continuing their redemption after the shock defeat at the hands of Japan in their opening Pool B match.
The Springboks restored a measure of pride with a 46-6 win over Samoa, but the potential for another slip against the Scots and the prospect of an ignominious early exit is not lost on hooker Schalk Brits.
"For us, it's our final," Brits said this week. "We are in this position and we're ready to fight and make our country proud."
Scotland lead Pool B with maximum points from victories against Japan and the United States, twice overcoming shaky starts with displays of such attacking verve that even Brits was moved to admit his fondness for watching them play.
"They're playing some very good rugby," the Springbok forward said, adding that the Scots' Kiwi coach Vern Cotter has instilled a compelling combination of discipline and attacking freedom.
Recent history points to South Africa as firm favourites, with four wins in their past five meetings, the most recent of which was last year's 55-6 drubbing in Port Elizabeth.
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw is under no illusions about the task facing his team.
"It's going to be a hugely physical contest, a tough game," he said. "They blew a physical Samoan team off the park. We understand how tough the challenge is but it's one we're ready to take."
Defeat on Saturday would not be the end of the world for the Scots. Victory in their final game against Samoa would secure a place in the quarter-finals, though that would be no foregone conclusion against the proud Pacific Islanders. Samoa have claimed notable top-tier scalps in the past and could still be in the hunt for a place in the last eight going into that game.
The combative nature of the tournament continues to take its toll, meanwhile, with South Africa and Scotland no exception.
Springboks captain Jean de Villiers broke his jaw against Samoa and has called time on his international career, while Scotland lock Grant Gilchrist misses the rest of the tournament because of a groin injury.
Another blow for Scotland is an ankle injury that keeps flyhalf Finn Russell out of Saturday's side, the 23-year-old playmaker replaced by Duncan Weir among Cotter's 10 changes from the side that beat the United States.
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has made three changes from the starting line-up against Samoa. Bismark du Plessis steps in for Adriaan Strauss at hooker, Lodewyk de Jager replaces Victor Matfield in the second row and fit-again Jesse Kriel comes in for De Villiers at outside centre. Scrum-half Fourie du Preez takes over the captaincy. Visit the Eyewitness News special Rugby World Cup 2015 portal.
Visit the Eyewitness News special Rugby World Cup 2015 portal.