Springbok debuts don’t come much tougher than fronting Martin Castrogiovanni, and Wian du Preez is acutely aware of this.
The Italian powerhouse tighthead decimated the Springbok scrum while playing for Leicester a fortnight ago, and followed that with a commanding performance against the All Blacks last weekend.
He has built a reputation as one of the pre-eminent tightheads in world rugby, and the Springbok tight five, whose scrum woes continued against France and Saracens, will have to provide their rookie No 1 with sufficient support to counter the immense Castrogiovanni.
‘It’s going to be a challenge, I saw what he did against the All Blacks and it’s a real baptism of fire,’ Du Preez said. ‘Its up there, it’s my first experience of international rugby so it’s going to be a big test.
‘The Italians are a big physical side of forwards, you can see they work well as a pack, they’ve worked well on scrums and drives. Castro’s a big guy, it’s going to be a physical test on Saturday.
‘They’re really improving and they’re a passionate people. They’re very supportive of us, it’s going to be special representing South Africa.’
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has opted to select two props on the bench, one of those being BJ Botha, who anchored the Springboks’ scrum in 2007 before he sustained an injury at the World Cup which ended his tournament. He later penned a three-year contract with Irish side Ulster, effectively ruling him out of Springbok contention.
However, the team’s front row injury crisis has forced De Villiers to relent on his strict no foreign-based players policy, and the coach said he was gaining a valuable player.
‘We would have loved to have him here with us from the beginning but what a lovely position to be in, we’ve been through a full compliment of front rows, we’ve lost six at the moment, and we can still fall back on somebody with that much test experience,’ said De Villiers.
‘I think we’re in a brilliant position, although not the one we wanted to be in.’
De Villiers noted that fatigue had played a role in his side’s lethargic performance against France last week and urged his charges to to make substantial improvements in Udine.
‘We’re one or two seconds off the boil at the moment, so now we’ve got choices, are we going to start this game in first gear and keep it in first gear or are we going to use all the gears at our disposal,’ he said.
‘If we had played last week’s game against France in June we would have protected the ball much better because we would have been there earlier. We’re not looking for excuses, we’re here to win games and do our best.’