The Springboks look set to score their first win in four matches when they front a struggling Italy side in Florence on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
South African rugby is in trouble. The decisions taken by administrators with regard to the the country's rugby structures continue to do more harm than good. The tactical decisions taken by coaches at Super Rugby and national level continue to limit the development of the players and ultimately the potency of the respective teams.
South African rugby fans desperately need a reprieve from a seemingly endless 2016 season that has witnessed one disappointment after another. A fixture against an unimpressive Italy side will present the Boks with an opportunity to win and encourage optimists to believe that not all hope is lost.
The pessimists, however, will remind you of what transpired against Japan just over a year ago. 'Never say never,' they will instruct those who suggest that a loss to Italy is impossible.
They might be inclined to draw a parallel or two between the Boks' plight and that of Dante Alighieri, arguably Florence's most famous son, in the Divine Comedy. Right now, the Boks are circling the lower reaches of the Inferno. At least Dante had Virgil to guide him through the Malebolge and on to Purgatory and Paradise. Unfortunately, the Boks don't boast the same quality of leadership.
Do the Boks need to be at their fearsome best to beat a struggling Italy side, though? Probably not. Italy lost all five of their Six Nations matches this year, and battled to put away USA and Canada in June. They missed 45 tackles and conceded as many as 10 tries in their 68-10 loss to the All Blacks last week.
The Boks have a great chance to win this weekend and to provide South Africa rugby fans with a reason to smile. It's an opportunity that needs to be taken. They haven't won a game since that uninspiring victory over the Wallabies in Pretoria on 1 October.
Since then, they've suffered a humiliating 57-15 defeat to the All Blacks. They've drawn 31-31 against a weak Barbarians side, and have sustained a monumental 37-21 loss to England. Not many will be betting on the Boks in the clash with Wales in Cardiff on 26 November.
Coetzee's Boks need to beat Italy to ensure that they come away from this tour with at least one victory. They need to win in Florence to ensure that they claim at least one victory away from home in 2016.
The Boks boast a perfect winning record against Italy. They have won 12 out of 12, and the smallest winning margin has been 16 points.
Incidentally, the Boks won by this margin when they faced Italy in Padua two years ago. That scoreline flattered the Boks, though, who failed to win the gainline battle and control the breakdowns.
Coetzee has not made many changes for the match in Florence this Saturday. He will know that Italy, despite their patent limitations, need to be respected at the tackle.
The Boks need to ensure that their kicking game is on point. They lost the territorial game against England last week, spending just 40% of the contest in opposition territory.
The back row should have a point to prove at the tackle. The Bok defence lacked punch at Twickenham and they missed an opensider with the ability to influence the breakdowns.
At present, Nizaam Carr is the only man on tour who has some experience in the fetcher position, having played there for the Stormers during the 2014 Super Rugby tournament. Whether he is the right man for a physical Test match scrap in northern hemisphere conditions is debatable. But to reiterate, the Boks are out of options.
One would hope for a more determined lineout showing. The Boks did not contest at the lineout last week. As a result, England won all 15 on their own throw and implemented their kicking game to great effect.
Both of the Boks' tries against England were scored late in the second half. It will be interesting to see how the Italy defence – which has been shaped by the decorated South African player and coach, Brendan Venter – approaches this contest. The Boks may be in for a fight in the first half.
It's in the second stanza, however, where the Boks should pull away. They should have too much power and pace for this Italy side, and they should do enough to claim a comfortable win.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Italy 0, Springboks 12
In Italy: Italy 0, Springboks 5
Italy – 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 Andries van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
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.
Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP