A standout performance from Huw Jones was not enough for Scotland to avoid defeat as they pushed South Africa all the way in a thriller at BT Murrayfield.
Hendre Pollard finished with a personal points tally of 18 as South Africa triumphed 26-20 against Gregor Townsend’s troops, who scored two tries through Peter Horne and Hamish Watson.
Scotland came into the game on the back of a dominant showing against Fiji and managed to draw level three times, but they fell just short as they slipped to a first defeat at home in a year.
The Springboks hit the ground running and took an early lead when Jesse Kriel dived over for his 11th Test try following a fantastic break from Pollard, who added the extras.
But Scotland replied with an even better try as Jones offloaded out the back to Sean Maitland, before the Glasgow Warriors star followed up to send Horne over the line.
A breathless start to the contest continued when South Africa took to the front again, with Pollard dummying his way past Maitland to dot down and converting his own effort.
Pollard added to his personal haul moments later when Scotland were penalised for collapsing a scrum, but Greig Laidlaw cancelled it out with a penalty of his own almost instantly.
Scotland then levelled the scores again with a brilliantly worked move from the training ground – Stuart McInally feigning a long throw at the lineout and Hamish Watson taking it short to score.
Laidlaw’s conversion from out wide made it 17-17, but the Springboks edged in front just before the break when Pollard added another three points after WP Nel was penalised at the scrum.
The hosts were given further encouragement after the restart when Willie le Roux was sin-binned, with Laidlaw successful again from the tee to tie the scores once again.
But hands in the ruck allowed Pollard to kick the tourists back in front with just under half an hour on the clock, before another penalty from the fly-half minutes later hit the upright.
Jones continued to cause problems, with a stunning solo run cutting through the defence and pulling Scotland deep into Springboks’ territory, but the home side were unable to capitalise.
Adam Hastings conceded a penalty for holding on with less than ten minutes to go, allowing Elton Jantjies to punish Scotland and the Springboks held on to claim victory in Edinburgh.
Greig Laidlaw (Scotland captain): “It’s quite frustrating. We couldn’t really generate the speed of ball in the second half, but you have to credit South Africa and the way they defended.
“You have got to be brave to win Test matches. We had enough opportunities to put points on the board off the back of that. We just needed to execute.
“They went and scored again anyway so we’d have probably needed to score again ourselves. We are disappointed, but we need to look at ourselves and make sure we generate quick ball.”
Siya Kolisi (South Africa captain): “It was very tough, all credit to Scotland. You can see with their record, they’ve only lost one out of 10 games. We knew how big a challenge it was.
“We focused really hard and worked on all the things that didn’t go right last week [ v France]. We made a couple of plans and we stuck to them and I think we managed the period [when Willie le Roux was in the sin-bin] quite well.
“Each game he [Handre Pollard] is getting better, he is one of the leaders in the team, he helps me with a lot of things and we are really proud of him.”
PLAYER WATCH – HUW JONES
There were plenty of strong performances from Scotland across the field, but no one was more of a thorn in the side of South Africa than the outstanding Huw Jones.
The 24-year-old was almost untouchable throughout and produced two moments of magic in Scotland’s brilliant opening try, which was scored by Peter Horne.
Jones sliced through the Springboks’ defence and cleverly offloaded to Maitland, before racing on to the ball again and providing the killer pass to Horne to dot down.
He remained a threat in the second half and beat a horde of green shirts to almost set up another Scotland try, with another scything counter-attack from almost his own line.
While the first try showed more attacking flair, the second was a demonstration of how Scotland are implementing more invention from the training ground in their play.
It looked set up to be a classic driving lineout in the corner, just metres out from the South Africa tryline, but Stuart McInally’s lineout feigned long and actually went short.
Hamish Watson was on hand to grab the ball and leave a shell-shocked Springboks defence wondering what had happened as he dived across for an important score.
– Huw Jones ran 78 metres and beat four defenders over 80 minutes – The defeat was Scotland’s first at Murrayfield in a year – Both lineouts were dominant with Scotland winning 17/18 and South Africa 11/11 – Scotland made 111 out of 126 tackled (88 per cent) compared to 92/107