Italy v South Africa - teams and prediction
PREVIEW: Before South Africa’s year-end journey got underway, most – if not all – would have listed November 19 as the least challenging of the Springboks’ Tests.
However, after two losses, to Ireland and France, the trip to Stadio Luigi Ferraris, in Genoa, on Saturday has taken on new significance.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber made no attempt to soft-pedal the magnitude of the occasion.
“It’s a very important game for us,” Nienaber said in the build-up this week, adding: “We need to get momentum back.”
He said ending the ‘losing streak’ is important, as is “building” on the aspects of their they have been working on throughout the year-end campaign.
“We don’t want to take a step back, after building [towards the year-end tour],” the coach said.
“It is important for us to keep the energy and get a result,” Nienaber said of the need to end the losing streak.
He also spoke of the French- and English-based players who are unavailable for the Test against England next week.
That include Cheslin Kolbe (Toulon), Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers), Vincent Koch (Stade Francais) and Cobus Reinach (Montpellier).
“It is their last opportunity they will have,” he said of players like Esterhuizen and Reinach – who have not had much game time and need to put their hands up for inclusion in the squad for next year’s World Cup.
Nienaber said they have been working hard to finetune things that have not gone right for them in their first two matches on tour.
“We believe we are on the right track, after coming close against Ireland and France,” he said.
“If we can produce a strong showing up front and be a little more accurate in our execution, we know we can turn things around on tour.”
In stark contrast, the hosts are coming off a hot streak – beating Samoa and Australia in their two year-end Tests.
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Azzurri coach Kieran Crowley’s comments in the build-up should have raised the distress levels in the Bok camp even higher.
“We achieved a historic result against Australia,” he said of their first-ever win over the Wallabies, adding: “However, we are not satisfied.
“The following day the focus was immediately shifted to South Africa.
“It will be a very intense match from a physical point of view.
“We have studied our opponents and prepared ourselves in the best possible way.”
There are some interesting stats that suggest this game could be a lot closer than what Bok fans would hope for.
Italy averaged 7.5 linebreaks per game in their year-end Tests, more than any other team – with no individual making more linebreaks than wing Monty Ioane (four).
The Azzurri has won five of their last six Test matches, including their last two. This includes wins in their last two Tests against fellow Tier One opposition – after losing 31 consecutive Tier One Tests.
After their win against Australia last weekend (28-27), Italy has won back-to-back home Tests for the first time since March-November 2012, when they beat Scotland and Tonga.
However, they hadn’t won more in a row at home since December 1997-November 1998, when they won three.
South Africa is the only team with a 100 percent exit success rate (24/24) in year-end Tests, while Italy is second best (97 percent, 33/34).
South Africa is one of just two teams to have retained at least 20 percent of their kicks during these year-end Tests, regathering possession from nine of their 45 kicks from hand. Only England has a better rate (23 percent, 14/61).
South Africa has won 14 of their 15 Test matches against Italy, including their last two.
However, their only defeat against them also came on Italian soil – 18-20 in November 2016.
The Springboks scored 35+ points in their last two matches against Italy, while they restricted the Italians to just six or fewer points.
South Africa lost their last two Tests, after winning three in a row previously. However, those two defeats came by margins of just three and four points respectively.
The team leading at half-time have gone on to win in the last nine Tests featuring the Springboks.
South Africa lost their last three Tests in Europe, their longest such run since losing four on the bounce between November 2016 and November 2017 – a sequence which includes their only loss to the Azzurri (18-20 in November 2016).
Players to watch
For Italy: The changes to the front row – with prop Pietro Ceccarelli and hooker Giacomo Nicotera coming in – is an indication they are gearing up for an arm-wrestle in Genoa. Livewire fullback Ange Capuozzo will again be a key weapon as part of a back three that also includes wings Pierre Bruno and Melbourne-born Monty Ioane – the latter a renowned strike force that will ask some serious questions of the Bok defence. The backbone of the squad is provided by Benetton – with seven players in the starting XV from the Treviso-based outfit and another seven on the bench.
For South Africa: With Andre Esterhuizen to partner Damian de Allende in the centres, this is a pre-planned ‘experiment’ to find a backup for World Rugby Player of the Year finalist Lukhanyo Am. Jasper Wiese also returns at No.8, with other changes to the loose forwards. Franco Mostert has been switched from lock to the back row, with Pieter-Steph du Toit’s ban now confirmed. There is also the all-new second row of Marvin Orie and Salmaan Moerat – with veteran Eben Etzebeth on the bench.
Head to head
@rugby365com: South Africa by 12 points
Italy: 15 Ange Capuozzo, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tommaso Allan 9 Stephen Varney; 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 David Sisi, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Alessandro Garbisi, 22 Edoardo Padovani, 23 Tommaso Menoncello.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Evan Roos, 22 Cobus Reinach, 23 Manie Libbok.
Date: Saturday, November 19
Venue: Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa
Kick-off: 14.00 (15.00 SA time; 13.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Mostly cloudy, breezy and cooler. High of 16°C and a low of 11°C
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)
* Statistical data provided by Opta