The loss to Japan in Brighton was the lowest point in Springbok rugby, and it was joined by the “Flop of Florence” on Saturday as the Boks crashed 20-18 to Italy.
The defeat has to be the last straw in a 2016 season that has bumbled from one defeat to the next, with no progress in sight. Promises of a more attacking approach has been nothing more than hot air from Coetzee, the reliance on players who have fallen short previously and a record of seven defeats out of 11 Tests simply has to cost the coach his job.
No clear direction, a game plan reduced to one-off runners and halfbacks kicking the ball away, poor selections and shocking execution was the order of the day at the Stadio Artemio Franchi on Saturday from the Springboks.
The Italians, with South African Brendan Venter as a technical advisor in their midst, orchestrated a compelling defensive display as they harried the lacklustre Boks into mistakes all afternoon long.
The home side’s rush defence tactic was too much for the South Africans to handle as Coetzee’s team were caught behind the advantage line time and again. The Boks’ lack of creativity on attack was exposed badly by a team that was thrashed 68-10 just last weekend by the All Blacks in Rome.
Flyhalf Patrick Lambie failed to take command of the backline, seldom playing flat on the advantage line and unable to create space for his outside backs.
But as bad as the backs were –with the exception of fullback Willie le Roux, who tried hard to make things happen from the back and cut the Italian line a few times – it was the Boks forwards who were outsmarted by a committed Italy pack superbly led by captain and No 8 Sergio Parisse.
Coetzee has drummed home the message of playing the percentages, keeping things tight and wanting his pack to gain physical dominance, but this is not rugby in the 1990s – or even 2007.
The Boks just kept on mauling from lineouts despite being stopped each and every time by the Italians, and when the ball went to ground, the predictable one-off runners were smashed back by defenders lining them up.
Even though Le Roux was the catalyst for an early try by Bryan Habana – who dotted down his 67th in 124 Tests – the Italians hit back when former Bolander Dries van Schalkwyk crashed over from a maul a few minutes later to put Italy 7-5 ahead.
The Boks had opportunities to increase their lead, but the final pass just never seemed to go to hand as they looked unsure of themselves on attack.
It was Le Roux who again sparked the Boks from a good inside pass by Lambie from inside their 22, and after Nizaam Carr did well to secure the loose ball on the ground, Damian de Allende shrugged off Parisse’s tackle to surge over in the right-hand corner.
But at 12-10 at halftime, coach Conor O’Shea’s Italian side were still right in it, and even a yellow card to lock Marco Fuser for taking out Lood de Jager in the air was not enough to repel the home side’s onslaught.
With less than 20 minutes to go, giant left wing Giovanbattista Venditti bumped off replacement flyhalf Elton Jantjies to burst over and regain the lead at 17-15 for the Azzurri.
Jantjies landed an excellent penalty from over 45 metres to put the Boks ahead in the last quarter, but fullback Edoardo Padovani had the last say when his second penalty put Italy 20-18 up, from which the Boks couldn’t escape.
The embarrassment of losing to Italy for the first time in 13 Tests will be felt even further when the Boks have to face Wales in Cardiff.
But mercifully, the season will come to an end, giving SA Rugby to start afresh in 2017. They will have to do that if they want to be regarded as a top-four team in the world.
Italy – Tries: Dries van Schalkwyk, Giovanbattista Venditti. Conversions: Carlo Canna (2). Penalties: Edoardo Padovani (2).
Springboks – Tries: Bryan Habana, Damian de Allende. Conversion: Patrick Lambie (1). Penalties: Lambie (1), Elton Jantjies (1).
Original source: Italy shock Boks in ‘Flop of Florence’