Assistant coach Matt Proudfoot says the Italy pack will push the Springboks to the limit in what will be a knockout game in Shizuoka. JON CARDINELLI in Omaezaki reports.
The Boks have switched gears since arriving in Omaezaki on Sunday evening. The best available team is expected to face Italy in Shizuoka on Friday and there is a lot of talk about why this is a ‘knockout’ game.
The loser of the clash is likely to finish third in Pool B and miss out on a playoff berth. The All Blacks, having beaten the Boks on the opening weekend of the tournament, are on track to top the group.
Proudfoot went out of his way to talk up the Italy pack at a media conference on Monday. A few eyebrows were raised when he compared the Azzurri forwards with those of England and New Zealand.
Italy were hammered by the Boks the last time the teams met in Padua two years ago. They haven’t won a Six Nations match in four years. To say that a win against the Boks at the World Cup would be an upset is an understatement.
Proudfoot, however, was part of the coaching team when the Boks suffered a historic defeat by Italy in 2016. He’s not about to underestimate the Italy players and coaches, regardless of the team’s recent form.
‘I’d put this forward challenge on a par with that of the All Blacks,’ he said. ‘I’d give them as much respect as the pack of England or New Zealand.
‘They’ve got a big boy in Braam Steyn playing for them and they’re probably got a similar approach to us. They try to take you on at the set phases. There’s no place to get away. You have to front up to that challenge.
‘[Italy captain] Sergio Parisse is a phenomenal player, but they will present a collective threat. A lot of work has gone into their pack and they are very smart. Our players have noticed a change [in the last few months] and we know that we will have to be prepared.’
Proudfoot singled out the influence of Italy head coach Conor O’Shea and forwards coach Giampiero de Carli.
‘We’ve got a lot of respect for their head coach and their forwards coach. They’ve had two years to prepare for this game. They’ve had eight days since their last World Cup game. They’re ready for this.
‘The Italians have got a culture of scrummaging and mauling. They put a lot of heat on your lineout contesting-wise.’
There’s been a lot talk about refereeing decisions over the past two weeks. The Boks called for a fair contest ahead of their battle with the All Blacks in Yokohama. Jerome Garces, the man with the whistle on that occasion, made some questionable calls at the breakdowns and scrums, though.
Wayne Barnes will referee the next clash between South Africa and Italy. The Boks have won 10 out of 13 Tests when the Englishman has officiated.
‘We won’t leave anything to chance,’ said Proudfoot. ‘I think that we have a good record when he refs because he’s a good referee.
‘There’s a good line of communication between us and him on the field. He’s the boss on the field. He’s the CEO. So we’ve got to give him what he wants.
‘It’s going to be a really good contest,’ he continued. ‘In terms of the breakdown, every referee has got his own idiosyncrasies about how he sees that picture. And that’s fine. We accept that. As long as there is consistency the players can adapt to that very quickly.
‘I thought that the ref in the Namibia game [Mathieu Raynal] was great at communicating what he wanted at the breakdown last week, and that it made it easier for us to adapt. Where we did concede penalties was for poor discipline.’
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets