Rugby World Cup 2015: Bruised Bok behemoths lie in wait for Scots

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Jean de Villiers in action for South Africa
South Africa captain Jean de Villiers has made 109 appearances for the Springboks
Rugby World Cup Pool B: South Africa v Scotland
Venue: St James' Park, Newcastle Date: Saturday, 3 October Kick-off: 16:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland & 5 live; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

For South Africa, salvation came at a cost.

The news that captain Jean de Villiers, who subsequently announced his retirement from the game, had been invalided out of the World Cup having broken his jaw in their powerhouse victory over Samoa on Saturday came as no surprise to anybody who saw the state the centre was in when he left the field.

Nobody from the Scottish camp will admit it, but they must have quietly revelled in what they saw at Villa Park. The attrition was incessant, as everybody knew it would be.

The Samoans didn't just hit hard, they hit often and, on occasion, hit dangerously.

There is a strong element of the kamikaze about Samoa in the collision. Their unique delights await the Scots, whose coach Vern Cotter could have been excused if he basked in the brutality of the battle while counting the Springbok casualties as they happened.

Walking wounded

The wince-inducing moments didn't begin and end with De Villiers. In restoring some of the dignity lost in their defeat by Japan, the Springboks shipped some serious physical punishment.

Samoa and South Africa clash
Samoa were physically punishing opponents for South Africa

When asked later how long his casualty list was, coach Heyneke Meyer turned the question back on the questioner. "How long have you got?" he asked. "How long does this press conference last?"

In the countdown to the Scotland game on Saturday, Meyer has a potential crisis in his midfield. De Villiers is out and his midfield partner, Damian de Allende, is a doubt with an ankle injury.

De Allende was forced off early in the second half against the Samoans and was replaced by the young rapier Jesse Kriel, who, in turn, went off after getting a bang in the face and was replaced by De Villiers, the captain forced to retake the field despite the pain he must have been in.

It's too early for the medics to make a definitive call on De Allende and Kriel but already Jan Serfontein, the Bulls centre, is on his way to Newcastle to meet up with the Springboks.

There is speculation now of an emergency Springbok midfield for the Scotland game - Handre Pollard, a 10, could be put in at 12 instead of De Villiers and either JP Pietersen, a try-scoring wing against Samoa, or Bryan Habana, his world-class opposite wing, could be selected at 13.

JP Pietersen scores for South Africa
JP Pietersen could move into midfield from the wing to face Scotland

Boks believing

All of this is a concern for the South Africans, but underlying it is the enormous relief that came with Saturday's performance. They might be bruised, but the clear message from Birmingham is that the Boks are back.

To listen to Meyer and the totemic Victor Matfield in the aftermath was to know what kind of week the Springboks endured after the loss to Japan. This was heart-on-the-sleeve stuff in the news conference, not to mention on the pitch.

It was painfully honest and emotional at times. At one point Meyer thanked the Lord for blessing his players and staff with the strength to get through the turbulence. What was deeply impressive about the Boks in dismissing the Samoans was their controlled fury.

Clearly they were an angry team. Clearly they were under mind-altering pressure. Clearly they had to win. The way they channelled all their anger and determination was immense. They were utterly clinical in dismantling Samoa's line-out and totally ruthless in driving home their advantage.

This was a thunderous reminder that, though these Springboks are an ageing squad, they're still powerful when they get it right. It was written by the South African media that Schalk Burger was a beaten docket at 32 but he carried as much ball as anybody on the field, made more tackles than any Springbok and scored a try in a performance that was redolent of his early, barnstorming days as a Bok.

Schalk Burger scores for South Africa
Schalk Burger scored for the Boks in a redeeming performance

Matfield, too, was reborn, at 38, as a line-out wrecking ball. Fourie du Preez whose powers were said to be on the wane, directed things from scrum-half with the authority of old.

Leaving the stadium, the thought occurred that losing to Japan might have been the best thing that could have happened to the Springboks.

They spoke, after Samoa, about how much closer they had become following their catastrophe in Brighton. Matfield said they now had an attitude whereby they treat every game as the World Cup final.

Unquestionably, their unrelenting intensity at Villa Park backed up what Matfield said.

Scotland have these behemoths to face in Newcastle. South Africa will spend the early part of their week checking on their casualties while also knowing in their hearts that they have drawn themselves back from the abyss and are, once more, serious contenders at this World Cup.