Cape Town - Despite their crushing win over Italy, the Springboks remain a work in progress, former coach Nick Mallett believes.
Mallett was speaking in the SuperSport studio after Saturday’s 35-6 win over the Azzurri in Padova, where the Boks claimed their second win on tour, having beaten France 18-17 the previous week.
The South Africans will conclude their year-end tour with a Test against Wales in Cardiff this weekend and Mallett believes that game will be a challenge.
“Let's move away from this game. Italy are not a good side, they’ve lost 14 out of their last 15 or 16 games. They’ve lost consistently in the Six Nations, and as we said earlier, they aren’t a benchmark. They are outside the top 10 in the world and we should beat them by 20-plus points, which we did,” Mallett said.
“Moving on to Wales, it’s going to be interesting to see if this win lifts the team up for that last game, especially with the changes we have to make since some guys have to go back to their clubs. If you remember last year, we were beaten by Italy and then that Welsh game (the following week) was a disaster. So hopefully, the morale of this team is up and we’ll go into that game this year with a little more self-confidence and belief.”
At present Mallett, believes that England, Ireland and Scotland are all ahead of South Africa in the pecking order.
The Scots impressed this past weekend with a 53-24 thumping of Australia and narrowly lost to New Zealand (22-17) the previous week, while Ireland earlier made headlines with a record 38-3 thumping of South Africa.
“Given Scotland’s performances against the All Blacks and Wallabies over the past fortnight, one could argue that England, Ireland and Scotland are ahead of the Springboks and Australia at the moment. And the game against the Boks will define where Wales are. But I think it’s really only Italy and France who are behind us. The other teams are all progressing comfortably and we need to keep working,” Mallett added.
Mallett was nevertheless pleased with the manner in which the Boks dispatched Italy.
"I want to congratulate the Boks on this performance. The weather was very poor, so it wasn’t a game where you could spread the ball much and they played the right tactics under those conditions. They kicked a lot more than Italy - I think we had about 35 kicks to about 20 - and our ball retention and discipline was good. I think we only gave away about eight penalties, and anything less than 10 is always good in a game like this.
"They (Italy) had 58% territory and 58% possession in this game and we were forced to make 250 tackles. I think we missed just 10 tackles, which is enormous. So the Boks had a really good tackle completion rate, and that’s because Italy’s attack was pretty blunt. We never looked as though we were in trouble against their attack because they never once looked dangerous. We had long periods of defence in the second half where Italy held on to the possession and they were playing just short passes.
"The difference was when we got into the 22, we made it count with some good mauling tries, some good direct play by Handre Pollard, and Elton Jantjies as well at the end, taking it to the line and creating that opportunity for Franco Mostert. Italy weren’t good in their defensive line."
Looking ahead to the game against Wales, Mallett continued: “There will be a change of plan. I think the way we are going to play is to use our physicality and forward momentum. We have a big flyhalf (Pollard), who takes it to the gain-line and he is going to play again next week. I think Francois Venter has done a really good job coming in at inside centre and made a difference there because he is direct and has got good handling skills.
“The interesting thing will be whether a guy like Luhkanyo Am gets a chance on the bench and whether Warrick Gelant gets a chance to start. My feeling is, given the selection of the team against Italy, we will start with the best team possible and then we are going to bring on people in the second half, depending on whether we’re winning or losing. Wales are going to be a big challenge for us.”