The Springboks head in to Saturday’s Test against Italy with their backs to the wall after several underwhelming showings in 2016.
Head coach Allister Coetzee and his charges are yet to deliver a dominant display this year and after winning just four out of 10 fixtures so far this year, the Azzurri will fancy their chances of notching their first ever victory over the two-time world champions.
South Africa are yet to hit their straps under Coetzee’s guidance but will look to do just that after being comprehensively outplayed in last weekend’s 37-21 defeat to England at Twickenham.
The Azzurri side have gained a reputation for their forward play over the years but that’s a facet of play which are one of the Boks’ traditional strengths and despite their poor form, they have been competitive up and even dominated several tussles up front this year.
Italy had the uneviable task of facing the All Blacks in their first match after their shock defeat to Ireland a fortnight ago and as expected their was a severe backlash with the Azzurri suffering a 68-10 defeat to the world champions in Rome last weekend.
But despite that result, Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan expects a tough challenge this weekend.
“Italy will be a tough opponent at home, playing with a lot of pride and passion and they will be looking for an improved performance against the Springboks,” he said.
“We want to be technically and tactically better against a side that is playing at home and eager to show improvement.”
In Conor O’Shea, Italy have a relatively new coach, who is in his first year at the helm, and despite losing all their matches in this year’s Six Nations and suffering that heavy loss to the All Blacks, he is optimistic about his team’s future.
“I know it may sound strange, after a result like the one on Saturday, but against the All Blacks we laid important foundations of the work they intend to develop,” said O’Shea.
“There are guys with a future ahead, in this team, and we are working to build this future. Not forgetting, of course, the results we want to achieve in the short term. ”
O’Shea believes the future is bright for the Azzurri and is optimistic his troops will deliver a competitive performance against the Boks.
“I’m looking forward to playing South Africa,” he added.
“For me, the glass is always half-full. If we stick to our plan, the results will follow. If we don’t, they won’t.”
Players to watch:
For Italy: South African-born Dries van Schalkwyk faces his former countrymen for the first time and will be keen to leave his stamp on this match with a solid display in the forward exchanges. Van Schalkwyk usually plays in the back row but packs down at lock and faces a stern test against Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager, who were crowned South Africa’s Player of the Year in 2016 and 2015 respectively.
For South Africa: After an impressive start, Springbok fly-half Pat Lambie went off the boil against England at Twickenham. Lambie failed to get the best out of his outside backs and his tactical kicking also left a lot to be desired. With Elton Jantjies and Johan Goosen – who did well off the bench against England – amongst the replacements, Lambie must deliver a dominant display if he wants to hold on to the Boks number 10 jersey for their final Test of the year, against Wales in Cardiff on 26 November.
Head-to-head: Both sides have inexperienced scrum-halves who are trying to cement their place in their respective sides. Italy’s Giorgio Bronzini made his Test debut against the All Blacks last weekend while Rudy Paige played only his sixth Test against England. Both players will be keen to get their outside backs onto the front-foot with their service from the base and their decision making could play a crucial role in the game’s outcome.
2014: South Africa won 22-6 in Padua
2013: South Africa won 44-10 in Durban
2010: South Africa won in East London
2010: South Africa won 29-13 in Witbank
2009: South Africa won 32-10 in Udine
2008: South Africa won 26-0 in Cape Town
2001: South Africa won 54-26 in Genoa
2001: South Africa won 60-14 in Port Elizabeth
1999: South Africa won 101-0 in Durban
1999: South Africa won 74-3 in Port Elizabeth
1997: South Africa won 62-3 in Bologna
1995: South Africa won 40-21 in Rome
Prediction: Don’t be surprised if this is the closest Test of the weekend. Italy will give a good account of themselves but the Boks will sneak in by five points!
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
Date: Saturday, November 19
Venue: Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), David Wilkinson (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)