Durban - Defensive coach John McFarland says the Springboks are far better prepared for the 2013 international season compared with 12 months ago, ahead of the incoming series which begins this week.
South Africa face Italy in their season-opener in Durban on Saturday in coach Heyneke Meyer's first full term in charge, after he and his coaching staff were appointed in early 2012.
McFarland had been working hard on the defensive systems of the national team over the past few months, spending time with each of the Super Rugby franchises.
“There’s been a great relationship with the defensive coaches around the country at all the franchises,” he said on Tuesday. “We actually spent a week with each union in February and March.
“There’s a great synergy between all of us and we speak weekly, so it’s really good. This year’s been great in terms of sharing information.”
He had also been impressed with the way the South African franchises had adapted defensively in Super Rugby.
“We’ve got two teams in the top six (the Bulls and Cheetahs) and the Stormers and Sharks still have a chance of qualifying. If you look at their defensive records, they’ve been great.
“The Kings have also exceeded all expectations in terms of what they’ve been doing this year. So, in terms of picking up from where we are and being on the same page, it’s been great.”
The Boks had been hit hard by injuries ahead of the Azzurri Test, with Jean de Villiers (hamstring), JJ Engelbrecht (quad), Pierre Spies (groin), Francois Louw (quad) and Pieter-Steph du Toit (sternum) missing training on Monday.
Juan de Jongh (finger) was also ruled out late on Monday and centre Robert Ebersohn drafted in as cover.
The hosts were already without key men JP Pietersen, Jaco Taute, Frans Steyn, Johan Goosen and Duane Vermeulen after they were not considered for the series owing to injury.
“It’s the nature of the game these days," McFarland said.
“Super Rugby is so physical and the games are tough, so you are going to lose guys, but it’s also an opportunity for other guys to step in and take the chances they get.”
He also expected Italy to pose a formidable challenge on the back of their best ever showing in the Six Nations earlier this year.
“They finished fourth in the Six Nations and they have a lot of very experienced players in their team.
“Players like captain Sergio Parisse, Martin Castrogiovanni, Alessandro Zanni, Andrea Masi have a lot of caps. We’re well aware of these individuals. They’re coming here on a high after having their best-ever season.”
South Africa will announce their team for the clash on Wednesday.