Allister Coetzee is confident that Eben Etzebeth will be fit to lead the strongest available Springbok combination against Italy this Saturday. JON CARDINELLI in Padua reports.
The Boks have already settled at their base some 10km outside the city of Padua. On Monday, Coetzee confirmed that the players were feeling a lot more upbeat following the 18-17 win against France.
The team will be hoping for more good news in the coming days with regard to the fitness of their captain. Bok team doctor Konrad von Hagen confirmed that Etzebeth sustained a knock to his lower leg during the latter stages of the Test at the Stade de France.
Etzebeth will be managed in training over the next few days. The medical team and the head coach are optimistic about his chances of facing Italy, though.
‘Eben is definitely positive about playing, and so are we,’ said Coetzee. ‘We’ve been speaking about the leadership group, and it’s a strong one. I don’t want to make an issue about the captaincy at this point in time.’
That said, if Etzebeth fails to recover, Duane Vermeulen is likely to assume the captaincy. Regular vice-captain Siya Kolisi has returned to Cape Town to be with his wife ahead of the birth of their second child.
Malcolm Marx went for an MRI scan on Monday, which showed no major damage to the shoulder injury he sustained in Paris. However, there was some soft tissue bruising and he will be given as much time as possible to recover.
Pieter-Steph du Toit has recovered from a concussion and should slot in on the blindside flank – in place of Kolisi – this Saturday.
The Bok coach confirmed that he will be picking his strongest available combination for the clash against Italy. The statement said much about where South African rugby is at the moment – in past tours, the game against Italy was used to blood new players and test different combinations – and about the team’s recent record of one win in the last six Tests.
‘The whole idea about this weekend is to play with the strongest possible team,’ said Coetzee. ‘What this side needs is the chance to build some momentum.
‘There will be opportunities [for the fringe players in the squad] to play in the final game against Wales, as that clash falls outside of the international window. Four players, namely Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Elton Jantjies and Franco Mostert won’t be part of the team next week. This week it’s all about building on the win against France and getting the right result against Italy.’
The Boks lost to Italy for the first time in history last November. In the end, the 20-18 scoreline flattered the more fancied South Africans. They were completely outmuscled by the Azzurri on that occasion.
‘Set piece will be crucial,’ said Coetzee at Monday’s briefing in Padua. ‘The Italians put Argentina under pressure at the scrum last week and forced the Pumas to concede penalties.
‘We’ve worked on adapting to referees. We will have Mr [Romain] Poite this weekend. We have to keep working on the discipline. There were one or two silly penalties last week that really put us under pressure.
‘These Test matches are all about keeping the opposition out,’ he added. ‘One way of doing that is by being very calculated in terms of not conceding penalties.
‘Italy have a very good driving maul. You can only use that when you get to the lineout, and often you get the lineouts when the other team concede penalties. That’s a massive focus for us.’
Coetzee also made mention of the incident at the Stade de France that saw the Boks letting a high ball bounce. France went on to regather possession and launch a counter-attack that culminated in a try.
‘The other step up we’d like to make is how we deal with contestable kicks,’ he said. ‘Every game we have conceded a try after not focusing on handling that high ball well. Dealing with it, killing it, making sure that those around the catcher are in a position to take charge.
‘We also need to work on a few things around our defence. It’s been good, but we need to work on our width from turnovers and from kicks.
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