The Springboks fired late to beat a 14-man Italy 49-3 and strengthen their claim for a World Cup playoff berth, writes JON CARDINELLI at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa.
The Boks have been building toward the match against Italy since the loss to the All Blacks two weeks ago. Rassie Erasmus and his coaches described it as a desperate situation, with the loser of the fixture in Shizuoka set to miss out on the playoffs.
The result on Friday would have pleased Erasmus. The performance, however, was frustratingly inaccurate at times and would have done nothing to challenge the perception that this Bok side is a work in progress.
The Boks enjoyed dominance at the set pieces. They played against 14 men for 38 minutes – after prop Andrea Lovotti was shown red for a spear tackle on Duane Vermeulen – yet failed to inflict maximum damage.
Italy lost both of their tighthead props – Simone Ferrari and Marco Riccioni – to injuries in the first 20 minutes of the game. This led to uncontested scrums for the final hour of the contest and robbed the Boks of one of their primary weapons.
Who knows how the game may have flowed if Beast Mtawarira and company were allowed to hammer into the Italian scrum for the full 80? The Boks may have destroyed Italy by a greater margin.
The Boks were comfortably better than Italy on the day. The final scoreline wasn’t a true reflection of their dominance, and if their passing and catching wasn’t so below par they may have really put the Azzurri to the sword.
As it was, they were often guilty of firing passes behind the supporting player or dropping the ball cold after breaking the line. When Cheslin Kolbe butchered a two-man overlap in the first half, the big screen at the stadium showed Erasmus in the coaches’ box slamming the table in disgust.
There were plenty of strong individual performances. The aforementioned mistake aside, Kolbe produced several sublime attacking touches. Eben Etzebeth and Vermeulen were colossal on defence.
Collectively, however, the Boks battled to click.
The Boks were 17-3 up when the half-time gong sounded. The complexion of the game changed two minutes after the break when Lovotti upended Vermeulen near the Bok tryline. Referee Wayne Barnes produced the red card that put paid to Italy’s chances of claiming any log points in the fixture.
The Boks proceeded to score 32 unanswered points thereafter. Kolbe’s second try in the 53rd minute proved the catalyst, and it wasn’t long after before Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi and RG Snyman were also on the scoresheet.
The pack had the final say, with Malcolm Marx scoring after yet another well executed Bok maul.
South Africa – Tries: Cheslin Kolbe (2), Bongi Mbonambi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, RG Snyman, Malcolm Marx. Conversions: Handre Pollard (4). Penalties: Pollard (2).
Italy – Penalty: Tommaso Allan.
South Africa – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn.
Italy – 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Jayden Hayward, 11 Michele Campagnaro, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebald, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Braam Steyn, 5 Dean Budd, 4 David Sisi, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Sebastian Negri, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Carlo Canna.
Photo: Warren Little – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images