Italy v South Africa: Springboks out to bury Azzurri demons
South Africa return to Italy for the first time on Saturday since their historic defeat by the Azzurri in Florence last year, which coach Allister Coetzee called the darkest moment of his career.
The 54-year-old Coetzee knows that his future could depend on how the Springboks perform in the north-eastern city of Padua.
At the time of Italy’s historic 20-18 victory, it had looked that Coetzee would not see out 2016, but he survived and has rebuilt a squad which contains just five survivors from last year’s defeat to Italy.
The Springboks arrive in Italy after bouncing back from a record 38-3 drubbing by Ireland two weeks ago by edging France 18-17 in Paris last Saturday.
But Coetzee knows how motivated Italy will be to prove that last autumn’s victory was no fluke.
“We respect the Italian side, they are well coached and I know the,y will be up for the challenge,” said Coetzee. “However, we focus on ourselves and a disciplined and clinical performance is what is needed this weekend.
“It would be important for our pack to again create a good platform of which to play from and therefore our set piece will be key in the expected wet conditions,” said Coetzee, who has won just ten of 23 Tests since taking the helm in 2016.
Skipper Eben Etzebeth will again lead the Springboks after the giant lock shrugged off a lower leg injury, which he suffered in Paris.
Flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit returns from concussion suffered in the Ireland mauling as Bongi Mbonambi makes his first start after 12 caps off the bench in place of Malcolm Marx, who has a shoulder injury.
Chiliboy Ralepelle replaces Mbonambi on the bench with uncapped back Warrick Gelant preferred to Damian de Allende among the replacements.
Azzurri coach Conor O’Shea, architect of the famous victory in his first year in charge, said he was not dwelling on his side’s famous result last time out.
“It’s part of our history,” said O’Shea. “I’m not interested in it. We are focused on our future and our future is South Africa on Saturday in Padua.
“It will be a very, very tough game. They are a better team than a year ago. But we are also ourselves.”
Italy ended a series of nine consecutive defeats going back to their win over South Africa by winning their opening November Test against Fiji 19-10 in Sicily but lost the second 31-15 in Florence to Argentina.
“I’m sure we can be very competitive on Saturday against the Springboks if our focus is the right one,” said the former Harlequins coach.
“The Springboks are a great team, a month ago they were about to beat the All Blacks. It is true that they have struggled a lot against Ireland but over the past week have defeated France.
“But, as always, we have to think about ourselves, our performance, and not the opponents: we have great players in every role, just like them. We will have to repeat the high-level performance last week, concretising in the right moments.
“We want to close this 2017 with a performance that will make our fans proud of this national team.”
Flanker Giovanni Licata will make his first start for Italy as O’Shea made two changes. Licata, who has won two caps off the bench, replaces Francesco Minto while the other change sees Angelo Esposito replace Leonardo Sarto on the right wing.
Under O’Shea they have won only four of 21 Tests and three of those were against tier-two nations.
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi; 1 Andrea Lovotti, 2 Luca Bigi, 3 Simone Ferrari, 4 Marco Fuser, 5 Dean Budd, 6 Giovanni Licata, 7 Abraham Steyn, 8 Sergio Parisse (c).
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Francesco Minto, 20 Renato Giammarioli, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Matteo Minozzi.
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ross Cronje; 1 Tendai Mtawarira, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 3 Wilco Louw, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 6 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter Steph du Toit, 8 Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Dan du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant.
South Africa travel to Padua to meet Italy on Saturday in their penultimate fixture of this year’s outgoing tour.
Considering the quality of the opposition and their recent form, this is a match Allister Coetzee’s men would have been eyeing as the easiest of the tour, but if their shock defeat in Florence last year is anything to go by, nothing is a given.
Besides Saturday’s tight win against France in Paris, the visitors’ form has left a lot to be desired. That victory ended a five-game winless streak which included heavy defeats to New Zealand and Ireland.
The hosts, on the other hand are coming off a 31-15 home defeat at the hands of Argentina, a game which was preceded by a 19-10 victory against Fiji, their first win this year.
For these sides the last six games makes for sorry reading – both boasting just one win – with South Africa’s twin draws against Australia giving their record a bit of a glow compared to their opponents.
Head to head
Up until Italy’s shock 20-18 win in Florence last year, a Springbok defeat in a clash between these two sides was almost unthinkable. That was the hosts’ first win in 13 encounters against the Boks.
The man believed to have plotted the Boks’ demise, Brenden Venter has since switched camps and is working as the his home country’s defence coach, but the Italians still boast another South African in their ranks in Marius Goosen, their head coach.
The South Africans have inflicted heavy defeats on the Italians including their heaviest in history, where Nick Mallett’s then defending world champions racked up 101 unanswered points in June 1999.
The most points Italy have scored against South Africa were in a losing cause where they managed to run in 31 points, only for their opponents to double that tally.
Italy – TBA
South Africa: Andries Coetzee, Dillyn Leyds, Jesse Kriel, Francois Venter, Courtnall Skosan, Handre Pollard, Ross Cronje, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Franco Mostert, Dan du Preez, Rudy Paige, Elton Jantjies, Warrick Gelant.
Kick off and live stream
Kick off is at 15:00 and the game will be broadcast on Supersport 1 (SS1).