The accuracy and attitude of the Springbok forward performance will determine the margin of victory over Italy this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI in Padova.
Heyneke Meyer has made only four changes to his starting side for this clash. The selections at tighthead and blindside flank are forced, as Jannie du Plessis has been ruled out with a leg injury, and Schalk Burger has returned to Japan.
Meyer has picked a starting XV that can physically overpower its Italian counterparts. He has also selected a bench that can pile on the points when the game opens up in the second half.
The good news for the Boks is that dry weather is expected at the Stadio Euganeo this Saturday. At the start of this week, the Boks trained in some particularly wet and heavy underfoot conditions. They are expecting a tough grind at the scrums and breakdowns. What will help their game plan in terms of execution and finishing is that no rain is forecast for Saturday.
Italy have struggled this past season, and are currently ranked No 14 in the world. They are coming off a loss to Argentina, and while there may be some talk of a backlash in some sectors, the Azzuri may battle to keep up with a Bok side that is second only to the All Blacks.
What they may succeed in doing this Saturday is stifling and frustrating the Boks and ultimately keeping the scoreline respectable. The last clash between these teams was in Durban, and culminated in a comfortable 44-10 win for South Africa. However, a contest in Italy's rugby heartland will demand more of the Boks’ physicality and resolve. And as is the case with every clash in the northern hemisphere, so much depends on the performance of the pack.
The Boks will win this Saturday. They will want to win by a convincing margin, and certain individuals will want to make a statement. Coenie Ooshuizen is one such player, as he will be looking to convince Meyer that he can play understudy to Du Plessis at next year’s World Cup.
On Wednesday, Meyer reminded reporters that Oosthuizen cannot be used as a loosehead prop because of his history of neck problems. Meyer said that the engagement on that side of the scrum puts Oosthuizen at risk of further injury. The Bok coach believes Oosthuizen’s career will be cut short if he switches back to loosehead.
Ooshuizen has started in just two of his 19 Tests. He impressed in his start against France in Paris last November, and another powerful performance in Padova this Saturday will give Meyer food for thought ahead of next year’s World Cup.
The pack as a collective will need to fire at the scrums and breakdowns. Italy may look to spoil at the rucks, and ultimately prevent the Boks from receiving the quick ball they need to release their dangerous backs. This is where Teboho Mohoje will be under scrutiny. Mohoje needs to produce a physical performance, and pick up where Burger left off last week.
Meyer has made note of Italy’s traditional strength at the scrum and breakdown, and the need for the Boks to dominate the gainline. This will limit the impact of Italy’s star No 8 Sergio Parisse, as well as the Italy halfback combination.
Johan Goosen will start at fullback for the Boks this weekend. Meyer said on Wednesday that Goosen’s positional play will need to be on point if the Boks are to cope with the kicking game of Italy flyhalf Kelly Haimona. And yet, if the Bok pack succeeds in pressuring Italy’s forwards and in turn the Italy halfbacks, then the hosts will struggle to implement their tactical-kicking game with any great accuracy.
Meyer’s selections suggest the Boks are aiming to secure the result in the first 40 minutes. Thereafter, we can expect to see the likes of Francois Hougaard, Handré Pollard, and the yet to be capped Nizaam Carr coming off the bench to inject some real pace into the game. If that comes to pass and the Boks take their scoring chances, then the Italians may concede 50 points or more.
It will be interesting to see how Meyer reacts if things don’t go according to plan in the first half. The first objective is to win, but Meyer needs to see what a few of those fringe players can do in a Test match. Regardless of the scoreline at half-time, the Bok coach must back the bench in the second half.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Springboks 11
In Italy: Springboks 4
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2013: Boks won 44-10 (Durban)
2010: Boks won 55-11 (East London)
2010: Boks won 29-13 (Witbank)
2009: Boks won 32-10 (Udine)
2008: Boks won 26-0 (Cape Town)
OOSTHUIZEN’S STATS THAT MATTER
19 – The number of Tests he has played for the Springboks
2 – The number of Tests he has started
2 – The number of Tests he has played at loosehead
17 – The number of Tests he has played at tighthead
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: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix