Italy coach Conor O’Shea believes his side have the ‘heart and courage’ to challenge the Springboks in this Friday’s crucial Pool B clash at the Shizuoka Stadium.
The Italians kicked off their World Cup campaign with two bonus-point victories over minnows Namibia and Canada, and will be hoping to cause another upset by beating the Boks for only the second time in their history.
The Irishman, who has recalled veteran captain Sergio Parisse to his starting lineup to face the Boks, has preferred a 6-2 forwards-backs split among the Italian replacements for what he expects to be a gruelling contest up front.
Parisse will be flanked on either side of the scrum by the powerful Jake Polledri and South African-born Braam Steyn, in a loose-forward trio that will likely be a handful for Siya Kolisi and his side.
‘We’ve been looking at what’s the best group we could have,’ said the former Irish fullback after Wednesday’s team announcement.
‘We’ve specifically planned to play against South Africa and tinkered at various different things. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be physical, and we’ve picked players who can interchange, no matter what numbers are on their backs.
‘We did discuss going 8-0 on the bench because of what promises to be a forwards battle, but we’ll leave that for another day!’ joked O’Shea.
The Italians, who face the arduous task of clashing with the Boks and All Blacks on consecutive weekends, know that a victory – or perhaps even an unlikely draw – in Shizuoka will see them through to the quarter-finals.
‘You’ve lost the game before you’ve even started if you can’t front up physically,’ he continued.
‘It’s a war, South Africa, nothing else. I’m glad I’m off the pitch and not on against them. You need heart and courage to play South Africa and I know our team’s got them in spadefuls.
‘The pressure is firmly on South Africa. They are expected to win the World Cup. No one thinks we have a hope in hell, and we have to go out and prove them wrong.’