Beleaguered Springboks need confidence boost with Wales encounter looming next
Normally there would be very little for the Springboks to gain from a match against Italy, but in the context of the season they have endured, tomorrow’s clash at the Artemio Franchi Stadium is vital.
With only four wins from 10 tests this year, and just one victory in their last six tests, a simple win over the Italians will be an immeasurable boost of confidence for the beleaguered team.
WithWales to come next weekend, the Boks need every ounce of confidence they can draw from what could be a tricky match, which is expected to be played in drizzling conditions, before heading to Cardiff.
Coach Allister Coetzee made two changes in the starting lineup of the team that lost 37-21 to England at Twickenham last week and three on the bench.
Veteran wing Bryan Habana returns after injury and flank Nizaam Carr will start for the first time, at openside.
Carr will be a central figure as the Boks have identified the breakdown as a key battleground.
“We’ve got to win the race to the ball,” Coetzee said.
“Italy tackle around the legs with the first man coming in hard over the ball. So we have to make sure we win that race. “Nizaam should do well in that department in securing possession to build continuity for us.”
The All Blacks thrashed Italy 68-10 last weekend, scoring 10 tries, but Coetzee was not reading much into that considering his side’s own problems.
“It would be a mistake to compare ourselves with New Zealand,” he said.
“They’re a well-oiled machine and there’s continuity in their group. “[Italy coach] Conor O’Shea is starting with a new group of players, and I know what it’s like trying to get a team to gel.”
“He’s trying to get a system in place, looking for the right players and continuity. “We ’re expecting the Italians to come out hard. We know what to expect, we never underestimate any team.”
“We really want to improve drastically with our basics.”
With Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager reunited at lock due to Eben Etzebeth’s concussion, the lineout should not suffer, while the scrum should not be underpowered either.
The set piece has been a positive area of the game for the Boks, but it is away from structure where they have struggled.
Defensively, the Boks have been poor, conceding 31 tries in those 10 tests.
Habana, who will win his 124th test cap for the Boks, sat in the coaches’ box at Twickenham last week and found it stressful.
“I’ve only sat in the coaches’ box twice before in my career [in 2004 and 2011] and it was a weird feeling,” Habana said.
“I always want to be on the field and for every player sitting on the sidelines, holding tackle bags is not easy for anyone.”
“Sitting where I was at Twickenham, there was a lot of frustration seeing how well we played for 30 minutes and then making three or four mistakes that England capitalised on.”
“We are in a tough situation, but there is no one that is going to get us out of it but ourselves.”
“Hopefully, my experience and what I bring in terms of leadership can give the guys around me more opportunity to play rugby,” he said.
Springbok squad: 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 (capt), 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: 16-Bongi Mbonambi, 17-Steven Kitshoff, 18-Trevor Nyakane, 19-Franco Mostert, 20-Teboho Mohoje, 21-Faf de Klerk, 22-Elton Jantjies. 23-Johan