Complacency made Boks careless, Italy’s Mallett believes

2010-06-21 00:00

NICK Mallett believes that complacency contributed to the Springboks’ ragged, stop-start 29-13 win over his Italian team in Witbank on Saturday.

The Boks, beaten for territory and possession by the fired-up Italians in the first half, nevertheless took their scoring chances smartly to lead 22-3 at the break. Turning, with the breeze at their backs and with more of the ball, the South Africans should have run up a cricket score.

Instead they frittered and faffed their frustrating way to an easily forgettable win and, indeed, were outscored 10-7 in the second half when they had little momentum from their forwards and their backs kept coughing up possession.

Mallett realised his hopes of catching the Boks with a hangover after their excellent win over the French the previous weekend.

“Rugby is a strange game,” he told reporters. “The Boks were on such a high after beating France by 40 points and deservedly receiving the plaudits. But we knew it would be difficult to get up again and motivate themselves for a Test against Italy.

“Our guys were geed up because they didn’t want to be humiliated, and playing the world champion Springboks was a real challenge. I’m so proud of the way we played and how we kept to our structures,” Mallett said.

A glum Springok captain Victor Matfield said that there “were too many basic errors”.

“We’re not happy, but we will be better in the second Test [in East London this Saturday].”

The Bok scrummaging was one of the few positive features, with a determined Gurthro Steenkamp, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Jannie du Plessis taking the battle to the celebrated Italians.

Certainly Steenkamp put a number of demons to bed and the bearded giant Martin Castrogiovanni, who had tortured the Bok loosehead in Leicester last November, had to leave the field with a back injury after the first quarter.

There was little else to savour. Flank Francois Louw, big, strong yet still effective on the ground, again had his moments and Morne Steyn showed, in skipping through for a try, that he is more than a flyhalf with a prodigious boot.

But for the most part, this was an untidy effort without any cohesion and rhythm and the Italians succeeded admirably in disrupting the Springboks at every turn.

Scrumhalf Ricky Januarie was patchy and keeps forgetting the cardinal rule in sport, which is not to lift your head at the critical moment. The result was that he and number eight Pierre Spies spilled possession at the base and the backs were never able to run on to quick, clean ball. The new centre pairing of Butch James and Jean de Villiers never really had the chance to function as a unit while the outside backs spent their afternoon chasing and fielding kicks.

There were hints of James’s slick distribution, but he also provided his detractors with more ammunition when he was yellow-carded for a high tackle. One hopes he returns to flyhalf and is paired with scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar in the East London Test on Saturday.

Bryan Habana scored the Boks’ opening try after a flat pass from James and a Zane Kirchner grubber, Louw the second after a lineout drive and then Steyn sidestepped through for the third in the first half (22-3).

Early in the second half, Ralepelle, Steyn and Januarie created the opening for the fourth Bok try by Kirchner, but that, really, was as good as it got.

The excellent Italian number eight and captain, Sergio Parisse, in his first game in six months after injury, crossed for the Italians and they could have had a second try in the closing minutes as the Boks ended on a gloomy note.

“We’re not happy to lose, but we were playing the world champions, so I’m happy with the performance,” said Parisse. “We’ll definitely take confidence from that.”

Bok coach De Villiers said the shoddy showing will not derail the Boks’ plans, and senior, players, like Matfield, will be rested.

Andries Bekker is the obvious replacement, but the lanky lock is being troubled by a back injury and Alistair Hargreaves could start in East London. John Smit is expected to be over his hamstring strain and back captaining the side from hooker.

“Victor, John and I have discussed our progress at length,” said De Villiers. “We’re 90% of where we want to be. Victor needs a rest and a week away from the game.”

Way down in New Zealand the All Blacks are providing lessons in how to play a high-tempo game, playing the ball into space and keeping it in hand. It is what we expect from the Boks against a side like Italy. The Boks’ execution in Witbank was poor, but they do get a second bite in East London on Saturday.

They have, as De Villiers said, had their “wake-up call” and they will be better in the second Test. It would be difficult to be worse.

Scorers:

South Africa - Tries: Bryan Habana, Francois Louw, Morne Steyn, Zane Kirchner; Conversions: Steyn (3); Penalty: Steyn.

Italy - Try: Sergio Parisse; Conversion: Mirco Bergamasco.

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