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Scots make Butler smile, but menacing Boks await – BBC Sport

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  • By Tom English
  • BBC Scotland at Murrayfield

Image caption, Gerard Butler eventually had plenty to smile about at Murrayfield

As the 34th man in Scotland’s World Cup squad, Gerard Butler was at Murrayfield on Saturday, a Hollywood luminary sitting in the stand with a smile on his face despite the dreariness of the action in a tepid opening half, an acting performance so convincing it might go down as one of his finest since Machine Gun Preacher.

This was supposed to be Scotland’s tumultuous farewell to Edinburgh before storming off to France but it was not exactly that. It improved considerably as Georgia grew tired and Scotland’s fitness, accuracy and power took hold and there was a lusty goodbye from the fans, who never stop dreaming.

But if South Africa were watching, ahead of the big one in Marseille on 10 September, they likely had their feet up and cigars out.

They will show respect and all that but will believe they have nothing to fear from Scotland. That will not be exclusive to Scotland, of course. After their humbling of New Zealand on Friday night at Twickenham, the Springboks will not be sweating it all that much, no matter who’s down the other end. Scotland, Ireland, France, New Zealand again. Whatever.

If there was a hope before Friday that Scotland might catch the Boks cold in game one of the World Cup then the Boks trampled that notion underfoot against the beleaguered All Blacks. It was as big an evisceration as can have been seen between two major nations, a historic shoeing, a display of unbelievable power that sends South Africa to France with an increased aura while ensuring that the previously buoyant Kiwis turn up like lost lambs.

If New Zealand are being blasted to the highest heavens by this lot then how on earth can Scotland compete? South Africa’s game has evolved. They have monsters but they also have mavericks, players in the back line with pace and devilment and a licence to play. They look a terrifying prospect with and without the ball. A complete side that look to be timing their run just right.

In that context, there was not a lot that Scotland could do against Georgia that would have worked as a statement to South Africa. A 50-pointer would hardly have made the Boks blink. What have you got to be worried about when you have eight world-class forwards starting and another seven on the bench?

Scotland take small step back

Scotland took a long time to get going against Georgia, which was worrying. They have played some wondrous stuff in two games against France in recent weeks but there was none of that here until early in the second half when they started to turn the screw.

It was disjointed and a distance away from anything resembling their best stuff. Two visits to the Georgia 22 in the first 40 minutes and zero points, problems at the breakdown, 46 minutes to land their first blow – if it was a Butler movie it was less The Game Of Their Lives and more The Ugly Truth.

Image caption, Duhan van der Merwe scored two tries in Scotland’s win

Everything that Scotland did – a close to first choice 23 at that – had to be seen in the context not of Georgia but of South Africa. Scotland’s performances have improved game on game, from Italy to France at home and then France away.

This was a small step back despite the five-try, 33-point second half, Duhan van der Merwe scoring his 19th and 20th Test tries and Kyle Steyn scoring his ninth in only his 13th Test.

There was lots of good in it, lots to reinforce the view that Scotland are progressing, which they unquestionably are. Put them in the other half of the draw and they could make the World Cup semi-finals.

But one cannot get away from the wretchedness of that draw – the self-defeating lunacy of World Rugby conducting it years before they had to, thereby ensuring the best sides on the planet are on one side of it and the rest are on the other.

If Uefa and Fifa can make a draw for their major tournaments less than a year out then why not World Rugby? It’s a spilt milk argument now.

Rugby assassins South Africa lie in wait

That first half was troubling at Murrayfield. Repeat it against the Boks and the game is over. It just is. They are rugby assassins. They have no mercy. When they launched, in unison, their seven new forwards from the bench five minutes into the second half against the All Blacks they may as well have played out an evil laugh over the public address system at Twickenham because that’s what it was. A tactic designed to humiliate – and it worked.

Scotland are next on South Africa’s radar. Gregor Townsend’s template is All Black-esque, that’s the way he wants to play – at pace, with dynamism and skill and unpredictability. Can that succeed in the land of the beasts? Can the Scots do what the All Blacks could not?

There were, of course, only 14 All Blacks for large parts of Friday night, but the tone was well set when it was 15 versus 15. Dominance had been established. The Boks were always winning, it was just a question of by how many.

So, next stop Nice for Scotland, then onwards to Marseille and what many will see as rugby’s current version of Mission: Impossible.

The fans will travel with a hope laced with reality. It was ever thus. But miracles happen, right?

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