Springboks get smart to shut down flying Scots

South Africa celebrate their sixth consecutive victory over Scotland, but rarely have they had to work so hard for a win in Edinburgh. ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

After a first half between Scotland and South Africa that was as open, breathless and free-flowing as you are ever likely to see at the top level of international rugby, the Springboks slammed on the brakes and said enough was enough.

The tourists were up by three but it was Scotland who were on top, the home fans buoyed by their team's attacking display, the scintillating performances of Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg and the prospect of extending their impressive run at Murrayfield -- just one defeat in their previous nine outings.

And when South Africa full-back Willie Le Roux was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on, an already noisy crowd built to a frenzy, as Scotland sensed their opportunity to take the lead for the first time.

In response, South Africa pulled down the shutters and stifled one of world rugby's most entertaining sides, just as it looked as if they were going to reach another level.

With 14 men, the Springboks had their best spell of possession and ground Scotland's game to a halt. Greig Laidlaw's penalty brought the home side level, but it proved to be Scotland's only points of the second half as South Africa quickly went back in front through the boot of man-of-the-match Handre Pollard.

"I think that's where we won the match, " head coach Rassie Erasmus reflected afterwards. "If they got a roll on there we were in trouble. When we got our points they couldn't really use the crowd."

This was a special occasion between two of world rugby's brightest sparks. Scotland were brilliant in spells, demonstrating again why they are now always worth watching, but South Africa showed that they're a step above. This isn't about potential or promise any more, for either side.

The Springboks have now been to Wellington and won, they went to Paris last week and stole the match in stoppage-time and on Saturday they became the first away team to win in Edinburgh since New Zealand last year. "I think we won today because of the maturity we have been building," Erasmus said. "We weren't better than Scotland today. If we played them tomorrow you wouldn't [be able to predict] the winner. But we are learning how to close games out."

Scotland entered the match with a swagger as they looked to add South Africa to their list of home scalps picked up over the last 18 months under head coach Gregor Townsend. The lights were switched out before kickoff at Murrayfield, creating a crackling atmosphere and an expectant home crowd.

But the Scots were never ahead at any point. Even as South Africa were reduced to 14 men for the second time late in the game and Scotland kicked into touch to set up a grandstand finish, the Springboks stood strong as they forced back the driving maul.

"I know they are ranked fifth in the world but the way they have been playing they are a top side," Townsend said of South Africa, suggesting they deserve to be higher. "If we managed to get more possession in the last 15 it would have helped us. They turned it on defensively with that lineout."

Scotland under Townsend are a team that need to play fast to win but South Africa disrupted their rhythm. "You've got to give credit to them and the way they defended," Laidlaw admitted. "They slowed the ball up front and made it a difficult second half. We're disappointed because we were right in the game."

South Africa's first half couldn't have been more different. Rather than controlling and containing Scotland, they played off them, exploiting their opponent's errors and countering ruthlessly.

Jesse Kriel touched down early on following a series of brilliant offloads, as South Africa turned defence into attack in a blink of an eye. Pollard started the move as he broke clear with Embrose Papier, RG Snyman and Steve Kitshoff all involved.

The try signaled the start of what was a fun, fluid half, which peaked with the sublime circus skills of Scotland's Jones. After being questioned in the buildup to the match following his performance in Cardiff earlier this month, Jones produced two magical behind-the-back passes in the same flowing move from Scotland's own half, the second offload setting up Peter Horne, who crossed the line to the disbelief of everyone inside Murrayfield.

That South Africa went straight down the other end and scored their second try of the game through Pollard is a statement in itself, as is the way the fly-half put his side back into the lead following Mark Wilson's score shortly before the break; the Springboks were always one step ahead.

And when it mattered most, South Africa held on, the jubilant scenes at full time a sign of how seriously they took the Scots. Another important challenge passed, and another statement win ahead of the World Cup.