Italians to put the boot in

2010-06-19 00:00

SPRINGBOK captain Victor Matfield is expecting that the Italians will play the percentages and adopt a tight approach in this afternoon’s Test at the Puma Stadium in Witbank.

The strength of the Italians is concentrated in their scrummaging, and Matfield, who leads the Boks in the absence of the injured John Smit, is anticipating that they will play a tactical kicking game.

Italian coach Nick Mallett, who has spent the week telling the rugby world how wonderful the Springboks are, is obviously hoping they will catch the complacent South Africans cold and disrupt them at forward.

They may well succeed, at least initially, as the Boks’ revamped pack settles, but it is behind the scrum that the Italians could struggle to stay in the contest.

“The Italians have a strong front-row,” Matfield said yesterday, “and we expect them to keep the ball in the scrum as long as possible to try to milk the penalties.

“I worked with Nick [Mallett] with the Barbarians and expect him to use a kicking game and look to put pressure on our back three with up-and-unders.”

Mallett agreed.

“Yes, we have a very good front row and it would be stupid not to utilise our strength.”

Ironically, the Boks will go into the Test with the same front-row (Gurthro Steenkamp, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Jannie du Plessis) who were destroyed by Castrogiovanni and his Leicester scrum in November last year.

Certainly loosehead Steen­kamp, who was badly exposed by Castrogiovanni, has a point to prove today, while Du Plessis has the chance to show coach Peter de Villiers that he does not have to go shopping for BJ Botha in Ulster when looking for a tighthead.

Matfield said the Boks have worked hard in the week to improve on their winning performance over France last week.

He highlighted the importance of the back three of Zane Kirchner, Bryan Habana and Gio Aplon in fielding the high kicks.

The Boks have also had to change their Afrikaans lineout calls because Matfield is up against South African Quintin Geldenhuys, who is returning to his old home ground in Witbank.

Matfield will have his old second-row chum Bakkies Botha alongside him and their superiority in the lineouts, backed by the boot of flyhalf Morne Steyn, should insure them against any possible upset.

Much of the interest in this Test will centre on the Boks’ new midfield pairing of Butch James, returning after two years, and Jean de Villiers. James has played only occasionally at inside centre, but he and De Villiers have been alongside each other in many Tests and both are capable of creating space for those around them.

James has been earning rave reviews from the team management and fellow-players as he tries to force his way back into World Cup contention.

“Butch has been great since he’s come back, really positive,” Matfield told reporters. “Even that week in Wales where lots of things were going on around him, he still gave lots of input. He’s a senior guy in the squad, and he knows our game. He looked like a member of the coaching staff on the sidelines.”

The Italians have been lifted by the return of their captain and number eight, Sergio Parisse, after a lengthy injury break but they will miss their effective flank Mauro Bergamasco, who had to miss the tour.

The Boks were hurt by the withdrawal on Thursday of flank Schalk Burger because of an ankle injury — he was replaced by Francois Louw — but Matfield is confident they are ready.

“We’ve spent the whole week training with Francois and he has been the team’s man of the-match two weeks in a row.”

The Boks, if they take charge up front, play to their structures and stay on the frontfoot, should win comfortably. But if they are forced to retreat at the scrum and fail to control the breakdown, this could turn into an untidy streetfight … and that will suit the Italians perfectly.

TEAMS

Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 Butch James, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.

Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Bjorn Basson.

Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Kaine Robertson, 13 Andrea Masi, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Craig Gower, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Simone Favaro, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Valerio Bernabo, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.

Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Lorenzo Cittadini, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Simon Picone, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Gonzalo Canale.

Referee: Andrew Small (England).

Kick-off: 3 pm

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