The Springboks fought tooth and nail for a 22-6 win against a fiery Italy side on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI at Stadio Euganeo.
For 60 minutes, Italy were in this contest. They bullied the Boks at the scrums, overpowered them at the breakdowns, and absolutely dominated the collisions.
Their line speed was good, almost too good, and at times they appeared offside. They got into the South Africans’ faces, and niggled at the visitors off the ball.
It was Italy who adapted better to referee Jerome Garces’ officiating at the breakdown, especially on defence. The partisan crowd urged the home side on, and the players certainly did the Italian nation proud with a physical if not a winning performance.
Had flyhalf Kelly Haimona converted all four of his attempts on goal, Italy would have led 12-8 in the 57th minute. They had repelled many a South African attack and deserved reward for their excellent approach and attitude.
The visitors battled for front-foot ball, and the halfback combination of Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie were forced into a series of errors. Had Lambie completed a long pass to JP Pietersen on the stroke of half-time, the flow of the game may have been different.
As it was, the scoreline read 8-6 at half-time. It was only when Heyneke Meyer made several changes after 50 minutes that momentum really shifted in the Boks’ favour.
Italy went a step too far when they niggled at Bismarck du Plessis. The replacement hooker took it personally, and when he next received possession, he ran at the Italians with a patent intent to inflict damage. It took all of four defenders to bring him down.
In the same move, Nizaam Carr provided the moment of magic that broke the shackles. The reserve loose forward broke the line, and then showed the presence of mind to wait for his support, and deliver an offload. Reinach took the ball at pace, and finished under the posts.
Another replacement in Handré Pollard sparked the Boks’ third try. The young flyhalf scythed through the Italian midfield, and then sent a long spiralling pass to Bryan Habana’s wing. The veteran completed his 57th Test try, and Pollard’s conversion took the Boks’ tally to 22.
It was a game the Boks were always expected to win, and win well considering how few changes were made after the game against England. However, Meyer will feel disappointed with the performance at the breakdown and attack. The Boks’ composure in contact as well as their ability to finish just wasn’t up to standard.
There is much to rectify ahead of the game against Wales, who will also attempt to pressure the South African pack and rush the Bok halfbacks.
Carr was excellent on debut and fullback Johan Goosen looked good when he came into the backline on a couple of occasions. But overall, it was far from a convincing performance.
Italy – Penalties: Kelly Haimona (2).
Springboks – Tries: Coenie Oosthuizen, Cobus Reinach, Bryan Habana. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalty: Pat Lambie.
Italy – 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Samuela Vunisa, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Matias Aguero.
Subs: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Giulio Toniolatti.
Springboks – 15 Johan Goosen, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Willie le Roux.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images