The Springboks are in a dark place. Despite the more respectable-looking final scoreline, it’s hard to deny the men in green had a woeful performance against England. Not since 2006 has South Africa’s international Test win record been so low. Of course, the Springboks went on to win the 2007 World Cup one year later, but a polarising turnaround isn’t looking likely at this stage.
Taking a positive spin on the current situation, the Springboks’ next opposition is that of the Azzuri – a team which historically hasn’t ever posed too much of a problem for the Springboks, and not too much should change this time around.
Given the poor performance from the squad and management last week, you’d think there’d be some wholesale changes to the side, giving the younger, more inexperienced players a chance to play Italy. That logic doesn’t prevail for the Springbok management.
The only notable changes include record try-scorer Bryan Habana being put back at left wing (snubbing the in-form Sergeal Petersen and Jamba Ulengo), while Nizaam Carr will get his first start for South Africa against the same opponents he made his Test debut against two years ago.
In a third change to the starting team, Pieter-Steph du Toit, the 2016 SA Rugby Player of the Year, will move back to lock in the place of Eben Etzebeth, who was not considered for selection because of the concussion he suffered against England. This brings to an unfortunate end an impressive run of 31 consecutive Test matches for the Springboks by Etzebeth.
Du Toit’s move to lock, where he will partner Lood de Jager, opened up a position in the back row, where Carr will start following his stint off the bench last week at Twickenham.
The rest of the team that played England in London was kept unchanged, but Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has made three changes to the bench, with Trevor Nyakane (prop), Oupa Mohoje (loose forward) and Elton Jantjies (flyhalf) all returning to the match 23.
Coetzee said his team had a good training week in Florence and is looking forward to an improved performance from his side.
“The players are working extremely hard during training, and there is no lack of effort on their part,” said Coetzee.
“We’ve had a good, hard look at the areas we must improve on and we realise Italy will be a tough side playing at home.”
Coetzee said Habana is fully fit after it was decided not to select him against England.
“It was the right decision not to risk Bryan at Twickenham. He has been training hard all week and without any discomfort, so he is good to go,” said the Bok coach.
“Pieter-Steph has an impressive workrate and I am expecting him to deliver the same at No 4 against a lively Italian pack of forwards. With him moving to lock, we felt Nizaam was the right person to start in the No 6-jersey as he did well when he came off the bench against England. Apart from his speed, he also makes the right decisions at the breakdown.
“Our set-piece is operating very nicely at the moment and we were outstanding in the scums and line-outs last week. However, we must improve in other areas because we had several soft moments at Twickenham, which we got punished for.
“Although they played together for the first time as a combination, I thought that our midfield pairing of Damien de Allende and Francois Venter performed well last week. They will improve as a combination by playing together.
“Apart from the few changes, we have gone for continuity, taking into account that this current squad have only been together for one week before the match against England. I would also like us to build longer periods of sustained pressure, to execute better and to convert our scoring opportunities into points,” explained Coetzee.
“Italy will be determined to bounce back after their loss to New Zealand, they have a few South Africans involved in their set-up so they understand we way play and our mentality. I have said before that there is no easy Test, and we expect a tough battle on Saturday from Italy.”
Meanwhile, prop Tendai Mtawarira will play in his 90th match in the Springbok jersey and will earn his 86th Test cap for South Africa.
The Test between the two sides will be played at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, a football stadium in Florence, and it will be the first time that South Africa will play at this venue.
Italy – 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Andries van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Sami Panico.
Subs: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 George Fabio Biagi, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Tommaso Boni.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Johan Goosen.
Prediction and thoughts:
Even with the Springboks’ defensive shortcomings, South Africa should have too much calm and experience to let Italy slip past them. Although, Allister Coetzee and his men will not want feel complacent against an Italian side who has downed France twice in the past 5 years. With that said, though – Springboks by 13.