Morne Steyn scored 26 points in the Springboks’ 55-11 win over Italy in East London.
The Bok No 10 claimed two of the seven Bok tries, while he also delivered a faultless goal-kicking display. There were some general mistakes in his game and the Azzurri successfully attacked his channel, but the regularity with which Steyn is producing composed performances is a boon ahead of the Tri-Nations.
The contest essentially saw the Boks’ strongest possible line-up, barring Victor Matfield, against an Italian side that was weakened by 10 changes and a hiding was always on the cards. This outing was also the Boks’ final dress rehearsal before they face the All Blacks in Auckland in two weeks time, but their performance was again blighted by some basic dropped passes at times, some poor kick-chases, and inconsistent regathering at the kick-offs.
The Boks had hoped to build on their strong scrummaging performance from last week and they weren’t hassled by the Azzurri there. The Italians had griped about Andrew Small’s management of that area last week, but they couldn’t find favour with the referee in the first half as the Boks were strong again.
The wind picked up just before kick-off, and while that wreaked havoc with Italian hooker Fabio Ongaro’s throwing at the lineouts, John Smit had no problems finding his various jumpers.
The visitors were always going to favour the territorial game like they did last week, and Gio Aplon had a chance to cement a spot at fullback, depending how he fared under the aerial attack. Due to his pace Aplon looks a better attacking option than Zane Kirchner, but there are still question marks over his physicality. The confusion around the Bok fullback position with Peter de Villiers’s refusal to pick Frans Steyn was also highlighted by Ruan Pienaar’s move there for the final quarter.
The Italians attacked the breakdown with much vigour in an attempted to again stifle the Boks’ rhythm, but in the fifth minute they conceded a penalty, with Steyn opening the scoring. The hosts infringed similarly three minutes later and Mirco Bergamasco leveled the scores.
South Africa’s maul is fast becoming their greatest attacking weapon, and after two drives that won them 20m and drew in the defence, Steyn found a gaping hole to score for the second consecutive week as the Boks led 10-3.
Once the Azzurri stood off the maul and the Boks were pinged for obstruction, they looked one-dimensional in attack for large parts of the first half. The visitors matched the Boks’ one-off runners, while their basic one-pass strategy was predictable. On one occasion the Boks lost 30m in ground due to some sloppy passes, while they also weren’t helped by Ricky Januarie’s indecision at the breakdown.
The sides traded penalties, but eventually after 32 minutes Steyn claimed his second. On this occasion the Boks successfully managed to move the ball quickly, which the visitors clearly didn’t enjoy, and Bryan Habana’s neat offload found the Bok No 10. Two minutes before the break, the Boks again profited from attacking space, and Pierre Spies cantered over. Andries Bekker made the initial break, but credit must also go to Francois Louw, who performed his trademark steal at the breakdown.
The Boks went into the break up 27-6, and emphasis would have been placed on making sure they didn’t repeat last week’s second half debacle where the visitors outscored them. Playing into the strong wind in the final 40 minutes, the Boks carried more ball as the Italian effort waned. Inside the third quarter Jannie du Plessis and replacement Flip van der Merwe claimed their first Test tries, while Habana equaled Joost van der Westhuizen’s Bok record of 38 tries.
By Grant Ball, in East London