South Africa 18-3 Scotland: Springboks’ World Cup defence gets off to a winning start after Jesse Kriel controversially avoids red card

South Africa’s win over Scotland was shrouded in controversy after Jesse Kriel was fortunate not to be red carded after just 57 seconds. The incident, when he made contact with the head of Jack Dempsey, was missed by referee Angus Gardner and his team at the time.

It was brought up and analysed by former Scotland captain John Barclay who said at half-time on ITV he deserved to be shown a red card. It looked at least on a par with the challenge England’s Tom Curry made early on against Argentina that led to his ordering off yet on this occasion the South African got away with it.

Being a man down so early on could have been a game changer as Scotland put up a brave fight against a South African that didn’t look like world beaters. The Springboks went in at the break just six points to three ahead before upping their game in the second forty minutes.

Even then they looked ring rusty and lacking spark against a Scotland team that held their own against them. Finn Russell blew hot and cold and wasn’t consistent enough to cause them enough problems.

Scotland did have their chances- winger Darcy Graham not passing to an unmarked Duhan van der Merwe when he was outside him a golden opportunity – but it was all a bit flat from both sides.

Kurt-Lee Arendse scored the Springboks’ second try in their 18-3 win over Scotland

The winger crossed just minutes after Pieter-Steph du Toit scored early in the second half

The winger crossed just minutes after Pieter-Steph du Toit scored early in the second half

After losing their opening games in the 2015 and 2019 World Cup there was no danger of South Africa naming a weakened side. Eleven of the players who started in their emphatic 35-7 victory over New Zealand at Twickenham were named to face the Scots.

Jasper Wiese came in at number eight and winger Cheslin Kolbe returned on the left wing. Scrum-half Faf de Klerk made his 50th appearance for South Africa while Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel formed the centre partnership.

De Allende, De Klerk, flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, lock Eben Etzebeth, prop Frans Malherbe and captain Siya Kolisi remained from the 2019 final victory, while Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff and Franco Mostert all came off the bench that day against England.

Willie le Roux, Duane Vermeulen and RG Snyman were the World Cup winners among the replacements, with a 6-2 split between forwards and backs.

Scotland may have gone into the match as massive underdogs but at least had the luxury of going fully loaded with no injuries after winger Darcy Graham was passed fit.

They had also had fans favourite Finn Russell, who got the biggest cheer when the announcer was reading out the teams, in the side. His instructions were to inject pace into the game straight from the kick-off.

The Stade de Marseille was mostly in shade although it was still clammy in the arena when South Africa started the match. The orders from Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was not to let the Springboks make a good start.

Blair Kinghorn, who didn’t take the kick off cleanly and Russell, who nearly had a clearance kick charged down, clearly didn’t get the memo.

Jesse Kriel (left) escaped sanctions after clashing heads with Jack Dempsey

Jesse Kriel (left) escaped sanctions after clashing heads with Jack Dempsey

Referee Angus Gardner and his team missed the team and Kriel remained on the pitch

Referee Angus Gardner and his team missed the team and Kriel remained on the pitch

Just 57 seconds in there was immediate controversy when it looked like centre Jess Kriel had went in high on Jack Dempsey. 

Replays showed he had made contact with the head of the Scotland number eight but referee Angus Gardner took no action.

It was a shaky start from the Scots who took a good five minutes to settle. Whether Richie Gray needed to do up his laces didn’t matter as it bought his team a few extra moments to calm down.

When Pierre Schoeman gave away a penalty at the scrum it was a case of trying to get their first points on the board for the South Africans after all their domination. It was well within the range of Manie Libbok but he pulled it wide but made up for it a few minutes later with one from in front of the posts.

Finn Russell kicked Scotland's only penalty of the game, just before half-time

Finn Russell kicked Scotland’s only penalty of the game, just before half-time

Scotland's best chance came in the first half as Darcy Graham (middle) made a nice break but couldn't apply the finishing touch as the Boks survived

Scotland’s best chance came in the first half as Darcy Graham (middle) made a nice break but couldn’t apply the finishing touch as the Boks survived 


South Africa

  • Tries : du Toit, Arendse
  • Cons : de Klerk
  • Pens : Libbok (2)


South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse – 8, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse – 8, 13 Jesse Kriel – 6, 12 Damian de Allende 7.5, 11 Cheslin Kolbe – 7.5, 10 Manie Libbok – 8.5, 9 Faf de Klerk – 7.5, 1 Steven Kitshoff – 6.5, 2 Malcolm Marx – 7, 3 Frans Malherbe – 6.5, 4 Eben Etzebeth 7, 5 Franco Mostert – 8, 6 Siya Kolisi – 8, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit – 8, 8 Jasper Wiese – 7 

Replacements: Snyman (for Etzebeth 26), Mbonambi (for Marx 48), Nche (for Kitshoff 53), Nyakane (for Malherbe 53), Vermeulen (for Wiese 60), Van Staden (for Kolisi 64), Le Roux (for Libbok 68), Williams (for De Klerk 75)

Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn – 6, 14 Darcy Graham – 6.5, 13 Huw Jones – 7, 12 Sione Tuipulotu – 6, 11 Duhan van der Merwe – 6, 10 Finn Russell – 7, 9 Ben White – 7, 1 Pierre Schoeman – 7, 2 George Turner – 6.5, 3 Zander Fagerson – 7.5, 4 Richie Gray – 6.5, 5 Grant Gilchrist – 6.5, 6 Jamie Ritchie – 6.5, 7 Rory Darge – 7, 8 Jack Dempsey – 7.5 

Replacements: Cherry (for Turner 56), Nel (for Z Fagerson 56), Bhatti (for Schoeman 56), Cummings (for Gilchrist 56), Smith (for Graham 68), Redpath (for Tuipulotu 68), M Fagerson (for Darge 65), Price (for White 67).

A few twists and turns from Russell showed he was in the mood but he was trying to force it took much with a kick ahead travelling only a few metres before being intercepted by the Springboks defence. 

A fight broke out on the touchline involving wingers Kurt-Lee Arendse and Graham after Damian de Allende was bundled into touch but referee Angus Gardner took no action.

Knowing they had to keep the scoreboard ticking over rather than kick to the corner they gave the ball to Libbok to put over his second penalty after a Scotland infringement at the breakdown.

The Springboks lost one of their most influential players when second row Eben Etzebeth had to go off injured with just 26 minutes on the clock. He was replaced by RG Snyman.

Scotland’s first attack came immediately after he left the field with Russell feeding the ball out to Graham who cut inside but was stopped short. 

The Scotland fly-half was lucky not to get a yellow card for what looked like a no arms tackle.

Their best chance to get an opening try was blown by Graham from a quick free-kick. 

Russell played him the pass and although he had two men over -one of which was the powerful Duhan van der Merwe- he tried to go it alone and was stopped in his tracks. 

It was a golden opportunity missed.

Winning two penalties in a row at the scrum -both thanks to Zander Fagerson- would have done wonders for the confidence of the Scotland pack that had been matching the physicality of the Springboks. 

The second saw Russell put over a long-range penalty.

The talk at the break was of how Scotland were handing the physicality of the Springboks well and why centre Jesse Kriel was not at the very least yellow carded or possibly even shown a red, for contact to the head of Jack Dempsey early in the first half. 

The Springboks' physicality proved too much to handle for Scotland in the second half

The Springboks’ physicality proved too much to handle for Scotland in the second half

Gregor Townsend's men started well but faded away badly in the second half

Gregor Townsend’s men started well but faded away badly in the second half 

After the Springboks won a penalty at the scrum Libbok made a half-hearted penalty attempt from within his own half never looked like going over.

The first try of the match came through sheer power play from back row Pieter-Steph Du Toit who bludgeoned his way over the line. The second came from clear play from Libbok whose perfect cross kick fell into the arms of winger Kurt-Lee Arendse who ran in to score.

Scotland thought they had pulled a try back through Graham who went over in the corner but the match officials ruled he did so with the wrong ball – the match one was off the park following a quick line-out- and disallowed the score.

It was all a bit harem-scarem in the end with not much structure or quality to the play of either side. Still South Africa did start their World Cup campaign with a win for the first time in three tournaments so will be pleased with that.