The Springbok forwards bossed the set pieces and collisions to power their side to a 35-6 victory over Italy on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI at Stadio Euganeo reports.
The conditions could not have been more challenging. A heavy mist hung over the modestly-sized ground for most of the afternoon, and the lights were turned on well before the 15:00 kick-off. The rain grew in intensity as the contest progressed.
This game was never going to witness an exhibition of running rugby. And for 20 minutes or so, the conditions suited the limited, yet spirited hosts.
The partisan crowd certainly did its part in the opening quarter. The Boks started poorly, slipping tackles and dropping high balls as they had done for much of the 2017 season.
Chants of ‘It-ah-lia! It-ah-lia!’ rang out around the ground. Maybe the locals felt that a second-straight win against South Africa was in the offing. Italy skipper Sergio Parisse, a legend of the rugby world and a god in his own country, had the Bok defence under all sorts of pressure at that stage.
The visitors made a statement, though, when they stopped a maul on their own tryline. Earlier in the week, the Boks had highlighted this area as game-shaping. On the day, they were more than equal to the task.
The conditions contributed to a series of handling errors. That said, fullback Andries Coetzee was guilty of a few unforced errors when kicking for field position.
The Bok forwards were far more accurate. Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen were immense at the collisions and lineouts. Francois Louw was a menace on the ground, stealing possession and killing the momentum of the Italy attack on several occasions.
The Boks scored three tries in the first half. The first was the product of a direct, yet effective approach. The second came from a successful lineout and maul, with Bongi Mbonambi – in his first start for the Boks – getting the touchdown.
The Boks struck a crucial blow right before half-time. Referee Romain Poite put his hand out to signal a penalty advantage for the visitors. Handré Pollard launched the ball up into the stormy sky as the Bok backs chased. Italy failed to deal with the high ball, and an alert Francois Venter made them pay.
Pollard delivered a much-improved performance under testing conditions. After missing four attempts on goal last week, the Bok flyhalf nailed three-from-three in the first stanza to give his side a 21-6 half-time lead.
Italy came into this game with a record of 10 losses in their last 11 Tests. They played with fire and passion in the first 20 minutes. Their accuracy and discipline thereafter, however, left a lot to be desired.
Steven Kitshoff, on for the injured Beast Mtawarira, scored in the 45th minute after yet another successful Bok lineout deep in Italy territory. Pollard’s accurate conversion put the Boks well in charge at 28-6.
Failure to control the high ball, though, saw the Boks spending much of the latter stages in their own territory. The defence fought hard to keep Italy out, and the home fans voiced their frustration whenever an Azzurri player dropped the ball or was hammered backwards in the tackle.
Warrick Gelant came on for wing Courtnall Skosan in the final quarter to make his Test debut. The Bulls fullback battled to make an impression on attack, though. The Boks had to struggle to win territory at that stage, and conditions made a long-range ball-in-hand surge all but impossible.
The Boks did manage to land one more brutal blow, though. Franco Mostert charged through the defence from close range to score in the 78th minute.
The result marks the Boks’ second win in seven Tests. After losing 38-3 to Ireland two weeks ago, they’ve won two on the bounce, and will be looking to make it three-from-four when they tackle Wales in Cardiff on 2 December.
Italy – Penalties: Carlo Canna (2).
Springboks – Tries: Francois Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Francois Venter, Steven Kitshoff, Franco Mostert. Conversions: Handré Pollard (4), Elton Jantjies.
Italy – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Giovanni Licata, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Francesco Minto, 20 Renato Giammarioli, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Matteo Minozzi.
Springboks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Dan du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant.
Photo: Gabriele Maltinti/Gallo Images