South Africa got the job done against Italy in Witbank on Saturday – winning 29-13 – but failed to live up to their own high standards.
South Africa got the job done against Italy in Witbank on Saturday – winning 29-13 – but the world champions failed to live up to their own high standards.
The score might suggest a lopsided encounter, but the action on the field was far more evenly balanced.
The Springboks lacked cohesion that saw them dominate France last week, which was perhaps unsurprising considering the number of changes to the side made both before and during the game.
The scoreline is Italy's best ever result against South Africa, not what one would have expected from the Springboks at home.
In stark contrast to their performance at Newlands, the home side made a number of handling errors and failed to impose their own rhythm.
The Springboks visited the Italian 22 just three times in the first half – but crossed the whitewash on every occasion!
With the wind at their backs in the second period, the home side made sure that the result went their way, despite being outscored after the break.
Italy had hoped to rely on their strong scrum, but the Springbok starting front row will consider themselves victors of the set-piece battle.
GurthrÃ¶ Steenkamp in particular can hold his head high after an impressive display of power. Martin Castrogiovanni's early departure didn't help the visitors although he wasn't able trouble his opposite number from the Bulls in his 20 minutes on the field.
Italy enjoyed plenty of early possession and territory, camping in the South African half for most of the first 40 minutes. Mirco Bergamasco duly opened the scoring from the kicking tee with an easy penalty to reward the Azzurri for their strong start.
The hosts' reply came soon after the restart however as MornÃ© Steyn leveled the scores with his metronomic boot.
The first try would come from turnover ball as the Italians looked to keep the pressure on. Butch James linked with Zane Kirchner whose chip ahead bounced perfectly for a flying Bryan Habana to coast over.
The Springboks' second visit to the Italian 22 resulted in their second try, as the green-clad pack produced a solid maul from which Francois Louw broke away for his second try in as many weeks.
Steyn got the home team's third try with a neat step and dart to which he added the conversion to give South Africa a 22-3 lead at the break.
The Boks finally managed to build on some continuity and phase play in the second half, producing a try for Kirchner out wide, arguably the pick of the day's scores.
James was sent to the bin for a silly high tackle and Italy used the extra man to put skipper Sergio Parisse in for well-worked try.
James returned to take up the fly-half position with Ruan Pienaar on his inside but failed to ignite a back line that had flattered to deceive on attack for much of the afternoon.
Italy pulled three more points back with Bergamasco's second penalty.
The visitors finished well, turning the tables around on the Springboks' replacements in the scrums.
Italy piled the late pressure but were unable to crack the South African defence – which was one of the few areas where Peter de Villiers' side was up to scratch.
Man of the match: Impressive at scrum time, GurthrÃ¶ Steenkamp had another big game.
Moment of the match: The result was already done and dusted, but credit to Italy for Sergio Parisse's try and for fighting back despite being way behind on the scoreboard.
Villain of the match: James' tackle was silly, but not malicious, so no villain this week.
For South Africa:
Tries: Habana, Louw, Steyn, Kirchner
Cons: Steyn 3
Pens: Bergamasco 2
Yellow card: James (SA – 53rd min – High tackle);
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 Butch James, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 FranÃ§ois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 GurthrÃ¶ Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Bjorn Basson.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Kaine Robertson, 13 Andrea Masi, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Craig Gower, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Simone Favaro, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Valerio BernabÃ², 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Lorenzo Cittadini, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Simon Picone, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Gonzalo Canale.
Venue: Puma Stadium, Witbank
Referee: Andrew Small (England)
Assistant referees: Keith Brown (New Zealand), David Changleng (Scotland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)