Neils Natter: Scottish Rugby can take positives from that defeat.

It’s very possible that this defeat to South Africa will be one of the happiest defeats that Gregor Townsend has ever had.

In going toe-to-toe with the Springboks at BT Murrayfield, ever the show-stopping set-piece, Scotland emerged with their credentials firmly renewed for the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

Against one of the best teams in world rugby, the Scots were up against a team with mountains of experience and physical nous.

Suffocating the Scotland pack in the scrum, it didn’t take long for Jesse Kriel to take advantage and skip beyond the try line to make it 5-0.

In an epic test, Scotland hit back with an epic Hamish Watson try, and so it continued.

Finishing 20-26, the positives for Townsend will chiefly manifest itself in the impressive performances of Sean Maitland and Huw Jones – whilst departing Glasgow Warriors star Stuart Hogg returned to the fray after recovering from foot surgery.

The explosive ingenuity of Scotland’s backs were clear to see, with Greig Laidlaw leading the attack in typically bombastic style.

The telepathic talents of Maitland and Jones is truly a joy to watch, and the glorious Horne try crafted by the two was the kind of sight that had Murrayfield roaring and dancing in a frenzied tartan dance.

At line-outs, one clever bit of deception from Ben Toolis and Hamish Watson had the Springboks on the canvas.

It’s these sort of improvements that has Scotland fans genuinely excited at the prospect of going toe-to-toe with the big boys at the World Cup in Japan.

This wasn’t all hugs and kisses though, and Racing 92 fly-half Finn Russell had one of his poorest showings in a dark blue jersey.

Caught in the maul, robbed of possession and a general night of poor decisions made disappointing viewing.

For a man that so often has proved to be the focal point in attack, a player relied upon for his intelligence and guile, this was a worrying step backwards.

Townsend now has a better idea of his squad’s condition as the Six Nations looms, meanwhile domestic action resumes. In particular, the Scotland set-up will be at Scotstoun as Glasgow Warriors square off against Cardiff Blues in the Pro14.

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