South Africa vs. Scotland: 5 Key Battles for Port Elizabeth Test

Jack Fairs@fairzy7Contributor IIIJune 26, 2014

South Africa vs. Scotland: 5 Key Battles for Port Elizabeth Test

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    Scotland vs South Africa forms the final fixture of Scotland's summer tour. It is also the only barrier standing between the Scots and a clean sweep of wins from these four games.

    The South Africa game in Port Elizabeth undoubtedly provides coach Vern Cotter's sternest test yet. Previous tour wins have come against USA, Canada and an under-strength Argentina. South Africa, buoyed by their last-gasp win over Wales, will present an entirely different proposition.

    Scotland captain Grant Gilchrist knows that Scotland will need to improve from the Argentina game to challenge the Springboks.

    "Next week's the biggest challenge of the tour and we'll need to be up again another few levels if we want to compete."

    South Africa have released seven senior overseas-based players ahead of the game. This list of players includes: Bryan Habana, Wynand Olivier, Bakkies Botha, Francois Louw, Gurthro Steenkamp, Schalk Brits and Morne Steyn.

    Scotland have themselves called up three Glasgow players to bolster their squad ahead of the final game. Euan Murray, Tyrone Holmes and Adam Ashe are all included for the Port Elizabeth Test. 

    Scotland have never beaten South Africa on their own turf. It would be a huge surprise if Vern Cotter's side managed to change this statistic on Saturday. Here are the battles they must win if they are to do so.

Stuart Hogg vs. Willie Le Roux

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    Stuart Hogg is the most exciting player in Scottish rugby. The Glasgow full-back is quick, strong under the high ball and possesses an eye for a gap. He is a beautifully balanced runner with the ability to step off both feet.

    With the Matfield-marshalled South African lineout game a fearsome force, expect Hogg to be inundated with kicks to cope with. How Hogg deals with these opportunities to counter-attack could shape the game. Certainly the Springboks will know their kick-chase must be strong to remove Hogg's room to run.

    South Africa have a fine no. 15 of their own in Willie Le Roux. The 24-year-old from Free State Cheetahs has made an impressive start to his international career. He has now scored six tries in 14 games. He tore Wales to pieces at times in their two-Test series.

    Le Roux was instrumental in the Springbok 28-0 destruction of Scotland at Murrayfield in 2013, scoring one try and setting up another. He is a huge talent who has the footwork and finishing of a winger, combined with the vision of a fly-half. When Le Roux breaks the line he has the awareness to link well to keep the try-scoring opportunity alive.

    Both full-backs are a joy to watch with ball-in-hand but Le Roux should edge this one. He is fast becoming the premier No. 15 in the world and will pose the Scots a range of problems on Saturday.

Grant Gilchrist vs. Victor Matfield

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    Twenty-three-year-old Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist had only four Scotland caps before this summer tour. Three games into it and he finds himself named captain. He will lead out a young Scotland side in Port Elizabeth, against one that will be led by one of his heroes.

    In Victor Matfield, South Africa have one the greatest locks of modern times. The 37-year-old Bulls player dominates the set piece. It was no surprise that it was through Matfield and the driving maul that the Springboks found a way back into the game against Wales last week.

    The Test in Port Elizabeth will pit these players at opposite ends of their respective careers against each other. If Scotland are to challenge the Springboks, they will need a solid set piece from which to work. This means keeping Matfield's mitts off their lineout ball. 

    What better way to lead by example than to outplay the South African talisman that is Victor Matfield? This will have to be Gilchrist's goal on Saturday. Whether it is an achievable one is another issue. 

Duncan Weir vs. Ruan Pienaar

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    The Scotland No. 10 shirt has long proved problematic. Dan Parks, Phil Godman and Ruaridh Jackson have all had their shot at it. The challenge now falls to 23-year-old Glasgow fly-half Duncan Weir. 

    The Scottish coaches have been impressed by Weir's kicking game, and why wouldn't they be? His last-minute drop-goal in the Six Nations gave Scotland their first win over Italy in Rome since 2006. His tactical game is improving as well, and it will need to if he is to cement his position as an international stand-off.

    Weir will face off against Ulster's Ruan Pienaar on Saturday as Morne Steyn makes way. The versatile South African half-back is a near complete rugby player. He runs well with the ball in two hands, commits defenders and has a support game that reaps five-point rewards.

    Perhaps the most memorable feature of Pienaar's play is his long and unrelenting kicking game. Scotland know that Pienaar will punish them with penalties from anywhere up to 60 metres. Cotter's side will need the discipline to restrict Pienaar's shots and will require Weir to land all of their own.

Ross Ford vs Bismarck Du Plessis

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    Ross Ford is something of a senior figure in this young Scotland side. At 30 years of age, he still has plenty of good years to give to this new era of Scottish rugby under Vern Cotter.

    The Scotland and Lions hooker will need to lead from the front row. He must match the Springbok physicality at the scrum and remain unerringly accurate at the lineout. A mobile hooker, Ford must make his presence felt around the field in Port Elizabeth. He is now the most capped hooker in Scotland's history. This is the stage to make that show.

    There are some striking parallels on paper between Ford and his opposite number Bismarck Du Plessis. Both men are 30 years old, 18 stone and over 1.85 metres in height.

    On the pitch, however, Du Plessis makes every inch of his physical attributes count. He is a hooker with the work-rate of an open-side flanker, turning over ball brilliantly. The pain of his forearm-fend will no doubt become a familiar feeling for Scottish tacklers on Saturday. It is this physicality and dynamism that sets him apart from most hookers in the world. Ford will do well to compete. 

Blair Cowan vs. Willem Alberts

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    Blair Cowan's route to the Scotland side is an interesting one. Born in Wellington, the back-rower has played in England since 2009 and qualified for Scotland through his Scottish mother. 

    This summer tour has afforded Cowan his Scotland debut, coming in the win over USA. He hits tackles hard and just short of high. Cowan will play a crucial role if Scotland are to match the Springbok physicality.

    He carries just as strongly and has the ability to release well-timed offloads out the back of his hand. When David Denton returns, the pair of them could form a mobile and powerful Scottish back-row.

    Neither Scot, though, has the power to match Willem Alberts. The Sharks openside is a near 19 stone tower of strength. He will suck in three Scottish tacklers at a time, providing a real test of their defensive organisation. 

    When he is not puncturing defensive lines, Alberts is puncturing lungs with his stone-wall defence. He gets off the line quickly and will look to pin Scotland behind the gainline. Cowan is inexperienced in international terms. This encounter with Alberts will certainly provide a lasting lesson of the challenges of the global stage.