Can Boks stop the rot?

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Well, we can be certain that the Boks will experience no Purgatory in Florence Saturday afternoon, and will plunge straight into the burning fires of Hades should they lose to Italy.

It is true that South Africans are getting used to shock defeats but surely a wary Boks team can’t lose to Italy?

Italy are a poor side at the best of times but are currently at a particularly low ebb after a terrible World Cup and then Six Nations earlier this year, resulting in the Italian Rugby Union hiring a number of foreign guns to reinvigorate the side.

They are headed by Conor O’Shea (Ireland), Mike Catt (England) and Marius Goosen. (Remember the lanky fullback who played mostly for Boland but also for Western Province and Northern Transvaal?)

As usual, they also have a few naturalised players of South African roots in their squad, notably former Bulls under-20 lock Andries van Schalkwyk, substitute centre Braam Steyn and utility back Tommaso Allan, the nephew of former Springbok and Sharks hooker John Allan. Allan’s younger brother played club rugby in Italy and never left, resulting in Tommaso.

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, on the brink of plunging into Dante’s Inferno - given that if he loses this match it is best he forfeits coaching the team against Wales next week and goes on a very long holiday to the Outer Hebrides - has largely stuck with the side that was so poor against England last week.

Why? Only he knows. There will be a few South Africans hoping that Italy pull off a ‘Japan’ to end the rubbish delivered by Coetzee.

There has been an enforced change to the pack because of the concussion suffered by Eben Etzebeth, resulting in Pieter-Steph du Toit being restored to the second row after an uncomfortable experience on the flank last week, with Nazeem Carr promoted to the No 6 jersey. In the backs, Bryan Habana is back from injury.

Coetzee has made three changes to the bench, with Trevor Nyakane (prop), Oupa Mohoje (loose forward) and Elton Jantjies (flyhalf) all returning to the match 23.

As usual, Coetzee said his team had spent the week working hard in training on eliminating the silly errors of the previous week. How often have we heard that one?

Coetzee said his team had had a good training week in Florence and he was looking forward to an improved performance from his side.

Ho hum.

“We’ve had a good, hard look at the areas we must improve on and we realise Italy will be a tough side playing at home,” Coetzee said.

He said Habana was fully fit. “It was the right decision not to risk Bryan at Twickenham. He has been training hard all week and without any discomfort, so he is good to go.”

He added: “Pieter-Steph has an impressive work rate and I'm expecting him to deliver the same at No 4 against a lively Italian pack of forwards. With him moving to lock, we felt Nizaam was right for flank because he did well when he came off the bench against England. Apart from his speed, he also makes the right decisions at the breakdown.

“Our set piece is operating nicely at the moment and we were outstanding in the scrums and line-outs last week. However, we must improve in other areas because we had several soft moments at Twickenham, which we got punished for.

“ Although they played together for the first time as a combination, I thought that our midfield pairing of Damien de Allende and Francois Venter performed well last week. They will improve as a combination by playing together.

“Apart from the few changes, we have gone for continuity, taking into account that this current squad were only together for one week before the match against England. I would also like us to build longer periods of sustained pressure, to execute better and to convert our scoring opportunities into points.

“Italy will be determined to bounce back after their loss to New Zealand. They have a few South Africans involved in their set-up, so they understand the way we play and our mentality.”

The Test will be played at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, a football stadium, and it will be the first time that South Africa have played at this venue.

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Sergio Parisse (capt), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 Andries van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti. Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 George Fabio Biagi, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Tommaso Boni.

SOUTH AFRICA: 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. Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Johan Goosen.

Independent on Saturday

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