Scotland wilted under the unrelenting pressure of the South Africans as the world champions ground out an ultimately comfortable 30-15 win at BT Murrayfield.
The Scots had short spells when they looked to make it a fair fight, just before half-time and midway through the second half when they seemed capable of building momentum.
But they had a 10-minute spell after half-time when they fell out of the game. They lost lineouts when they had the Springboks under pressure, and conceded simply too many penalties.
Makazole Mapimpi’s two tries gave South Africa the foundation. But it was the six penalties kicked between Elton Jantjies, Handre Pollard and Fran Steyn that really hurt the Scots.
Hogg equals the try-scored with a brace
Captain Stuart Hogg scored twice to equal the all-time Scottish record of 24. But other than that there were slim pickings and the Scots never looked too safe even on their own ball. The penalty count was an issue for the Scots, a lot of it coming from the scrum.
But in total this was a crushing disappointment and a reality check for a Scots side who thought they were on the verge of joining the real elite of World Rugby.
Instead they looked a little short again of the physicality required. Almost perfect rugby is needed to even get close to the Springboks or All Blacks, and this was some way short of that.
After legend Tom Smith got a rousing standing ovation for delivering the match ball, Scotland barely got a sniff of it for the first quarter.
Scots turn pressure on Boks to lead 10-8 at half-time
What. A. Try.
Captain Stuart Hogg goes over for Scotland after lovely build-up play.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) November 13, 2021
An early fumble by Russell surrended possession to the Springboks and they held on to it with a mixture of penalties and Scottish mistakes, most of the play inside the Scots’ 22.
But the defence was sound, Sam Skinner disrupted lineout ball and Pierre Schoeman wrestled it away a couple of times.
The Scots were under severe pressure but somehow took the lead on 16 minutes when Russell was snared on his own line but got away a pass to van der Merwe.
The wing led a thrilling charge from his own line to halfway, the Boks infringed and were marched back ten for disputing it. Russell kicked the penalty for the first score.
They had another chance within two minutes when Ritchie snared Willie le Roux, but Russell was off target from the angle.
The Scots were penalised another twice and were warned by referee Angus Gardner. Elton Jantjies levelled the scores with an easy penalty as the Springboks finally went for the posts.
But just before the half-hour they struck, as usual from a counterattack of turnover ball. Duane Vermuelen wrestled it from the Scots on halfway and South Africa attacked the Scottish right. Captain Kolisi superbly drew Rufus McLean and released Makazole Mapimpi to scamper away and score.
It went unconverted but the Scots rallied with their best spell of the game, and through chaos produced a try of their own.
Russell’s two cross-kicks seemed as much in desperation as anything, but the second saw van der Merwe and Hogg fashion a gap wide on the left. Skinner and Harris joined in the move, and although the centre’s inside pass hit the retreating Herschel Jantjies, Hogg was there to sweep up the ball and score.
Russell converted, but a penalty right on half-time from the stand-off went wide.
South Africa dominate after half-time
— Springboks (@Springboks) November 13, 2021
Those missed points might have given the Scots a decent cushion, but they were too passive after the break anyway and South Africa took full advantage.
A botched kick-off almost cost them straightaway, but for a South African infringement. But another high kick was recovered on the right. The Springboks swept it left immediately for Mapimpi to get outside McLean again and score.
Jantjies converted and added two penalties as the South Africans stretched away to 21-10.
Scotland needed something quick in reply now. With Hamish Watson on, the South Africans were penalised for a high tackle in midfield.
Russell went to the corner, and the Scots worked a decent move with van der Merwe holding the defensive line long enough to put Hogg in for his second try.
Brief momentum is lost at lineouts
A record-equalling try by our captain, @StuartWHOGG_ 🙌
He's now our joint highest men's try scorer of all time.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) November 13, 2021
The conversion went wide but Hogg’s monster clearance kick put the Scots right back in the Springbok 22. But they couldn’t secure ball from three lineouts on their throw and momentum was lost.
Handre Pollard, on for Elton Jantjies, missed one makeable penalty. But he settled any South Africa nerves with good strike after the Scots infringed again on their own ball.
On the next Scottish possession, Marx won yet another turnover. Veteran Fran Steyn booted the Springboks away and clear from just inside halfway.
Pollard landed a final penalty strike as the Scots made mistakes in desperation for a breakout.
Scotland: S Hogg (Exeter, capt); R McLean (Glasgow), C Harris (Gloucester), M Scott (Leicester), D van der Merwe (Worcester); F Russell (Racing 92), A Price (Glasgow); P Schoeman (Edinburgh), S McInally (Edinburgh), Z Fagerson (Glasgow); S Skinner (Exeter), G Gilchrist (Edinburgh); N Haining (Edinburgh), J Ritchie (Edinburgh), M Fagerson (Glasgow).
Replacements: E Ashman (Sale for McInally 62), J Bhatti (Glasgow for Schoeman 62), O Kebble (Glasgow for Z Fagerson 69), J Hodgson (Edinburgh for Skinner 72), H Watson (Edinburgh for Haining 52), G Horne (Glasgow for Price 72), A Hastings (Gloucester for Scott 72), B Kinghorn (Edinburgh for McLean 52).
South Africa: W le Roux; J Kriel, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; E Jantjies, H Jantjies; O Nche, B Mbonambi, T Nyakane; E Etzebeth, F Mostert; S Kolisi (capt), K Smith, D Vermuelen.
Replacements: M Marx for Mbonambi 40, S Kitshoff for Nche 40, V Koch for Nyakane 40, L de Jager for Mostert 62, J Wiese for Vermuelen 75, C Reinach for H Jantjies 40, H Pollard for E Jantjies 62, F Steyn for le Roux 65.
Ref: A Gardner (Rugby Australia)