Forwards coach Matt Proudfoot is confident that the Springboks will make the necessary adjustments when coming up against Italy and referee Romain Poite on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
On Tuesday the Boks enjoyed a particularly intense training session at the Valsagana Rugby Club in Padua. Afterwards, Proudfoot declared himself satisfied that the players, and in particular the forwards, are in the right mental and physical space ahead of the clash at the Stadio Eugaeno.
The same cannot be said of Italy. The Azzurri have lost nine out of 10 Tests in 2017, and are currently at No 13 in the World Rugby rankings.
That said, the Boks have not forgotten about what transpired in Florence last November. Italy got on top of the Boks at the set pieces and breakdowns. They powered their way to a historic 20-18 win, and in the end the scoreline flattered the visitors.
This Italy side, as seen last November, has the ability to beat the Boks one week and lose to the likes of Tonga the next.
On Tuesday, Proudfoot said that the coaching staff – which has been reduced from five to three since the departure of lineout guru Johann van Graan and defence specialist Brendan Venter – has been doing a lot of work around the scrums, mauls and breakdowns.
The referee is also a focal point. Proudfoot said that the Bok coaches will meet with Poite before the match to gain a better understanding of what the official is looking for in the game on Saturday.
‘Every person has a perspective on everything. You and I look at the Mona Lisa, and we see different pictures,’ said Proudfoot in his explanation on how different referees may have different interpretations of scrum and breakdown laws.
‘That ability to understand the way the referee sees and manages the game is important. We can’t be naive enough to say that our way is the right way. We’ve got to have an understanding of his picture.
‘Last week, Nigel Owens explained that picture to us before the game and we took it to the team. There was a response. So we’ll do the same this weekend.
‘The big focal areas for us will be the set phases,’ he added. ‘I always say it takes three entities to have a good scrum: Two sides that want to scrum and a referee that manages it well.
‘So I’ll do my homework on Romain. I have a good relationship with him, I’ll take what he says and take it to the team.’
The Boks look set to name an unchanged tight five. Given that Coenie Oosthuizen left the field during the early stages of the first tour clash against Ireland, the Boks effectively started with Beast Mtawarira, Malcolm Marx, Wilco Louw, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager against Ireland and France. If Marx and Etzebeth pass their respective fitness tests, the same tight five will front Italy.
‘Continuity in the pack is crucial,’ Proudfoot said. ‘They grind it out and they learn. That’s how you breed success on the field.
‘You’ve got to balance the equation, all the energy you get from the young guys coming in and incorporate it into the pack. And it got feisty at training today,’ he added. ‘It was great. You could see guys growing, making better decisions. When the pressure comes, and the pack can make the right decisions, that’s alignment.
‘Set phase is so important in these parts. Down south, general play is a lot more important. Up here, it’s all about how the opposition tries to squeeze you at set phase, and how you push back and try to gain ascendancy.
‘Since Dublin, things have been a lot better. France were squeezing and squeezing in Paris. That’s what you want, a pack to stand together no matter the level of ferocity of the opposition. In the southern hemisphere, breakdown and general attack and defence are the big focal points. Then you need the forwards to move across the field.’
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