Italy won their first ever Test against South Africa with a 20-18 victory at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence on Saturday.
So, this is what rock bottom looks like. Or perhaps the Springboks were already there and didn’t realise it. South Africa’s downward spiral is now complete. Allister Coetzee must fear for his job.
Let’s not forget about Italy. They took 68 points against a second-string All Blacks side a week ago, but they were full of fight here, even if referee George Clancy allowed them to get away with murder when it came to their defensive lines at ruck time.
The truth is, the Italians deserved to win this game. The defensive work they have been doing with consultant Brenden Venter paid off on another dark day for Bok rugby. The sad reality for South Africa is there have been too many dark days over the last 18 months.
First it was a first ever loss at home to Argentina. Then the shock against Japan in the World Cup. That was followed by a first ever home defeat to Ireland in June and a first ever away defeat to Argentina in the Rugby Championship.
For months now Coetzee has insisted that the Springboks haven’t lost their aura. That argument no longer holds water. It has been a spectacular fall from grace.
The game was devoid of intensity and full of mistakes on both sides. The poor state of the playing surface nullified any advantage the Boks would have been hoping for at scrum time and their tactical kicking again was poor.
It was the visitors who started the game well when Bryan Habana went over in the corner. South Africa went through seven phases before Willie le Roux, who was dangerous throughout, hit a gap and fed Habana on his outside. The veteran winger did well to gather the ball which was almost behind him.
However, the hosts hit back almost immediately through Andries van Schalkwyk who crashed over from a driving maul. The conversion gave Italy a slight 7-5 lead before Damian de Allende wrestled it back.
The inside centre had his best game of the season and benefitted from another piece of clever play from Le Roux. The full-back created an overlap with a well-timed pass before De Allende beat his man on the outside for an easy run-in.
The half-time score of 12-10 for the Boks didn’t reflect their dominance in the first 40 as they squandered several chances. Italy’s defence were suspect in broken play, but they were well organised when defending from phase play and around the breakdowns.
They flirted with the offside line throughout the game which put pressure on the Boks’ attack. Italy also successfully slowed down South Africa’s ball at the breakdown, resulting in a difficult afternoon for Rudy Paige.
Italy started the second half on the back foot when lock Marco Fuser was sin-binned for taking a jumper out in the air for the third time. The Boks were hardly better playing against 14 men. Lambie slotted a penalty in the hosts 22 rather than kick for touch which summed up the lack of confidence among the players.
It was the only three points they managed in that 10-minute period.
Twice Italy were left off the hook when Bok attacks deep in the opposition 22 broke down due to poor passes. The first time Habana failed to get a proper pass away to the oncoming Ruan Combrinck. The second time Le Roux’s inside pass went to ground as another try-scoring opportunity went begging.
The momentum shifted in Italy’s favour when Giovanbattista Venditti exploited an overlap out wide to draw level before the conversion gave the home side a slight 17-15 lead.
Coetzee took off Lambie, Paige and both his props after 50 minutes but the changes made little impact. Elton Jantjies slotted a penalty to edge South Africa ahead 18-17, but Carlo Canna slotted a three-pointer from the kicking tee in the 65th minute as the lead changed hands again, but this time they didn’t surrender it again.
Italy dominated possession at the death and played all their rugby in the Boks 22. They looked to have sealed a memorable win with a driving maul just before full-time, but replays were inconclusive and the try was disallowed.
In the end it didn’t matter as Italy kept the ball and ended up making history.
Tries: Van Schalkwyk, Venditti
Cons: Canna, Padovani
Pens: Padovani, Canna
Yellow Card: Fuser
For South Africa:
Tries: Habana, De Allende
Pens: Lambie, Jantjies
Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Andries van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Sami Panico
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 George Fabio Biagi, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Tommaso Boni
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Teboho Mohojt, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Johan Goosen
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), David Wilkinson (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)