No matter how you spin it, Italy are in for an almighty hiding at Newlands.
Nick Mallett’s been in the media this week talking about development. He’s also had a few (valid) gripes about his current situation. Playing the world champions at Newlands with a third-rate Italy doesn’t even equate to bringing a knife to a gunfight. As a collective, Italy’d have better luck bludgeoning a rabid 200kg lion to death with a beetroot.
The home win is inevitable, and as passionate as they are, every Italian player will know that. For the Springboks, the obvious question is what sort of scoreline denotes success.
Peter de Villiers has refused to write off the opposition despite their overwhelming underdog status. It’s true the Boks should be looking at this game as a dress rehearsal to the Tri-Nations (shadow rugby would be a tad harsh), and De Villiers will also be keen to assess the synergy of a few new combinations. They can’t afford to be too loose.
The Bok coach admitted on Thursday he already has a good idea about the starting side for the first Test against the All Blacks. The second string is less certain. This is where the fixture at Newlands should be of some interest.
The back row unit of Luke Watson, Juan Smith and Ryan Kankowski boasts speed and skill aplenty, and given the Boks’ certain dominance in the tight phases, they should have acres of room to work their magic. Kankowski in particular is going to be a key figure. Although he won’t get as much space against the Australasians, it can only benefit the squad to give him some game time ahead of the Tri-Nations.
But the primary focus will be on the performance of Frans Steyn at No 10. He was found wanting in this channel when up against the All Blacks last year. The Italians won’t apply nearly the same pressure, but playing between Ricky Januarie and Jean de Villiers will be beneficial if he is a realistic flyhalf option for the future. The Bok coach would do well to experiment in the second half, shifting Steyn to 12 and De Villiers to 13, with Peter Grant having a run at pivot.
The Stormers midfield of De Villiers and Gcobani Bobo find themselves together at the highest level, and one wonders if they’ll interchange as much as they did for the Cape franchise. For Bobo, it’s a great opportunity after four years in the international wilderness. The Stormers centres have complemented each other this past season, and you’d expect them to rip through the Italian defence.
There has been talk that the rain will spare a few Azzuri blushes, but this should only be a minor deterrent. The wet weather will amount to more mistakes, but the Boks have the power to play it tight and simply bulldoze the opposition. The kicking game of Januarie, Steyn and Conrad Jantjes will also come into play, and although it may not amount to a spectacle, these tactics should prove highly effective.
Boks by 60
By Jon Cardinelli