Preview: South Africa v Italy
Paul Dobson looks at the Test between South Africa and Italy - the first round of a four-nations tournament that also features Samoa and Scotland.
Is this spring in the middle of winter? Have the buds formed, ready to burst open on Saturday in Durban?
Is this the day that rugby changes, the way it did when HO de Villiers played his first Test? Is this the revelation of what rugby could be, the way South Africa had a revelation of what the country could be in May 1995 at Newlands and in June 1995 at Ellis Park?
Just when the world is lamenting the ongoing monotony of mindless bashing, mindless kicking and the numbing tedium of 'phases' as the staple food of rugby at a time when rugby's most creative move is a mastodontic maul, Heyneke Meyer picks Willie Roux.
Is he the herald of the spring? Meyer has picked Le Roux for what he is and in public he has said that his new fullback, the most 'different' player in the world today, has the freedom to be what he is at Kings Park on Saturday. Let's hope it is so.
Le Roux's performance may just be the most interesting aspect of the Test. It may make the Test memorable.
South Africa and Italy first met in 1995. They have met 10 times and South Africa have won 10 times.
It was not South Africa's first rugby contact with Italy. During World War II South Africans played rugby in Italy in great matches against New Zealand - as the Allies worked their way up the leg of Italy. Then South Africans and New Zealanders fought the Germans on the battlefield and each other on the rugby field.
Later South Africans, many of them famous, played for Italian clubs and then several played for Italy -14 of them, including Quintin Geldenhuys with an obviously South African name and the Cuttita twins and Carlo Del Fava who have obviously Italian origins.
One of these Afrio-Italians, Tobie Botes is on the bench for Italy in Durban on Saturday and he has several caps for Italy.
South Africans are not the only 'stranieri' n the Italian team. Luke McLean and Joshua Furno are Australians, Robert Barbieri a Canadian and then there are several born in Argentina - Martín Castrogiovanni with his 95 caps. Sergio Parisse with his 95 caps, Luciano Orquera with 33 caps, Matias Aguero with 17 caps and Alberto di Bernardo with no caps.
Italy has had a halfback crisis and Di Bernardo, born in Rosario is 33 years of age on debut - a debutant but the oldest man in the team. Andrea Masi is next oldest followed by Orquera. The other over-thirties in the team are tight forwards -Marco Bortolami, Aguero, Castrogiovanni, Antonio Pavanello and Lorenzo Cittadini. South Africa has three over thirty - Jean de Villiers, Jannie du Plessis and Bryan Habana.
Players to watch:
For South Africa: Willie le Roux. You will also want to see how well young JJ Engelbrecht does outside a world class inside centre, and strong Eben Etzebeth is always a centre of attention - one hopes for all the right reasons as he shucks off the unwarranted bad boy image. And Bryan Habana is always worth watching with his work ethic and then his electric brilliance. Like Le Roux he can change the course of a game.
For Italy: You would be interested in the old man at flyhalf, Alberto di Bernardo, who was such a star for Benetton Treviso in the Pro12 (for the top clubs in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy) of the last season and has been chosen on form by Jacques Brunel. And you will certainly be aware of Italy's superb captain Sergio Parisse, born in La Plata because his dad worked for Alitalia but thoroughly Italian. He made his debut for Italy at the age of 18 and will be captaining his country for the 49th time on Saturday. Energetic flank Alessandro Zanni will be playing his 49th successive match for Italy - a remarkable feat.
Head to Head: At scrums they are likely to be the players furthest from each other - the fullbacks Willie le Roux of South Africa and Andrea Masi, potentially the best attackers in each side. Front row to front row, for the front row has been Italy's most potent weapon. Nobody will forget that day in 2009 when they destroyed the All Black scrum in Milan. It was painful. That is a pain the South Africans will not want to endure in Durban. The line-out battle will also be interesting. The Italians, average height of their eight 1,95m, have a good line-out. There is also the battle of the loose forwards where the South Africans look stronger, the Italians faster. The scrumhalf battle is always interesting - lively Eduardo Gori of Italy against Jano Vermaak with his speed. Gori, at 23, is younger than Vermaak but he has played 24 Tests while Vermaak is starting his first but he does have the massive experience of Super Rugby.
2010: South Africa won 55-11, East_London
2010: South Africa won 29-13, Witbank
2009: South Africa won 32-10 , Udine
2008: South Africa won 26-0 , Cape Town
2001: South Africa won 54-26, Genoa
2001: South Africa won 60-14, Port Elizabeth
1999: South Africa won 101-0, Durban
1999: South Africa won 74-3, Port Elizabeth
1997: South Africa won 62-31, Bologna:
1995: South Africa won 40-21 , Rome
Prediction: Previous results suggest an easy victory for South Africa and their only experience of KINGS Park was catastrophic for Italy, but this is an Italian side that has done better this year than any other. In the 2013 Six Nations they beat Ireland and France and ended fourth on the log, level in match points with Scotland who were third. Their way of playing has changed this year. They have always relied on the muscular work of their forwards but this year they have been cleverer and more expansive. Whether they can match the South Africans for speed is another matter, and Morné Steyn is likely to win the battle of the boot. We believe that the Springboks will win by about 10 points, which is fewer than ever before.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Alberto di Bernardo, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Antonio Pavanello, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto de Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Martín Castrogiovanni, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Joshua Furno, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Tommaso Iannone.
Date: Saturday, June 8
Kick-off: 17.15 (15.15 GMT; 17.15 Italian time)
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Expected weather: Sunny with a high of 28°C, dropping to 15°C,
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant referees: Nigel Hennessy (Wales), Blake Beattie (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)
Timekeeper: Paul Ackermann (South Africa)
By Paul Dobson