EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — South Africa rested five front-line players for next week's rugby tour closer in France, but has paid Scotland nothing but compliments going into their test at Murrayfield on Sunday.
The Scots earned them. Murrayfield has been a headache for the Springboks in recent years. The last time they won with any authority in Edinburgh was in 2007 in the buildup to the World Cup they won that year.
In 2008, the world champions had to come from 10-0 down at halftime to win 14-10, in 2010 they lost in the rain — their only defeat to a home union side in the last four years — and in 2012 they again flattered in a victory. Scotland then travelled to Nelspruit in June and led 17-6 into the second half by dominating ruck ball, and for them the match turned when lock Jim Hamilton was sin-binned for the crime of pushing Eben Etzebeth. The Boks won 30-17 but they were roasted for having to engineer an escape.
"They are a phenomenal side," said lock Bakkies Botha, back in a Springboks jersey for the first time since the 2011 World Cup. "The Scottish are very physical at the breakdowns and, definitely, when their tails are up it's a difficult side to keep with on the day."
Hooker Adriaan Strauss added, "The rucks are a difficult aspect of the game when you play against them. They are able to spoil your ball and also get good clean ball themselves. We have been working particularly hard this week at combating that aspect of their play and it is going to be a good test for the progress we have made."
Scotland pushed the Boks hard in June without their four British Lions and the likes of hooker Ross Ford, flanker John Barclay, the man of the match in the 2010 win, and centre Nick De Luca. This time, all but injured Lions fullback Stuart Hogg are on board, and looking forward to backing from 65,000 supporters.
Lions lock Richie Gray could play with his 19-year-old brother Jonny, another beanpole who is set to make his test debut from the reserves. The five-year age gap, and Richie's move to Castres means the brothers could play together for the first time.
"The last time we maybe played a bit of muck-around rugby was in my dad's back garden," Richie said. "He was a bit younger so I still thought maybe I can throw him about, but I think he put a hit on me and ended up driving me back about 10 metres.
"Over the years people said, 'Maybe it will be you and your brother playing for Scotland together,' and you kind of laugh it off. But now, potentially the time has come and I'm very proud and very honoured."
The match will also be a milestone for Boks winger JP Pietersen, his 50th. Flanker Willem Alberts will be subject to a fitness test on Saturday on his shoulder.
Scotland: Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Nick De Luca, Duncan Taylor, Sean Lamont, Ruaridh Jackson, Greig Laidlaw (captain); David Denton, John Barclay, Alasdair Strokosch, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Moray Low, Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson. Reserves: Scott Lawson, Ryan Grant, Geoff Cross, Jonny Gray, John Beattie, Chris Cusiter, Duncan Weir, Max Evans.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Pat Lambie, Fourie du Preez; Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts or Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Flip van der Merwe, Bakkies Botha, Frans Malherbe, Adriaan Strauss, Gurthro Steenkamp. Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Eben Etzebeth, Marcell Coetzee, Ruan Pienaar, Morne Steyn, JJ Engelbrecht.