Preview: Italy v South Africa

Fri, 18 Nov 2016 06:14

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Paul Dobson takes, in his unique way, a look at the Test match between Italy and South African in Florence on Saturday.

Italy is a miracle of a country.

At every turn, it has wonderful places of interest - from Val d'Aosta with its castles down to Aggrigento in Sicily with its beautiful valley of ancient Greek temples. Firenze (Florence) is one of the most visited of Italian cities - ancient and yet modern, the artistic capital of Italy where the best Italian, they say, is spoken, the city of the Medici and their chapel, the city of Dante, Rossini and Marconi, the Arno with the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace, the Duomo (Cathedral) with its baptistery, Michelangelo and his David and nearby Fiesole with its Etruscan remains.

This is where the Renaissance was born, this is where tourists flock and this is where, for the first time, the Springboks will be playing.

It is a wonderful place to visit with a miracle around each corner.

The Springboks are indeed lucky to be able to visit this place and have with them assistant coach Franco Smith, who knows Italy and Italian so well.

But there is also the serious business of a rugby match.

Italy have never beaten the Springboks, not in 12 matches. Not that that means anything in the present state of affairs - not after what Japan, Ireland and Argentina have achieved.

This year Italy have played seven and won one.

South Africa have played 11 and won four.

Last week Italy lost to New Zealand 10-68, one try against the 10 of the All Blacks, in Rome. The last time South Africa played New Zealand, they lost 15-58, no tries to the nine of the Kiwis, in Durban.

Under new coach Conor O'Shea the Italian side is a new team, with six players having fewer than seven caps, including scrumhalf Giorgio Bronzini of Benetton Treviso who has only last Saturday's cap.

Sergio Parisse is there with his 120 caps, still an outstanding figure, even if his powers are waning. Strong, versatile Luke Mclean, Australian born and educated but of Italian ancestry, has 82 caps and prop Lorenzo Cittadini 51 caps.

In the starting team is South African Dries van Schalkwyk of Bloemfontein, who will be 32 next month. He played for seven South African provinces before heading to Italy in 2012. On the bench is Braam Steyn, Cradock born and Paul Roos educated, who also came to Italy in 2012 after playing for South Africa Under-20 at the junior World Championship.

The Springbok starting team has 74 more caps than the Italians, with five single-digit starters to Italy's six. Like Bronzini, Francois Venter has one cap.

The most remarkable difference is in the front rows where the Springboks have 157 caps to Italy's 61. And then Italy has an uncapped duo of Benetton Treviso props on the bench - Nicola Quaglio and Simone Ferrari. Last week they had a hard time at scrums when they played the All Blacks.

Again South Africa look set to win their own set pieces comfortably and to be able to put pressure on the Italians' set pieces - especially if they decide to contest the line-outs this time.

Of the two teams that met in Padua in 2014, nine Springboks and four Azzurri will be playing again this time.

The Springboks are Willie le Roux, Johan Goosen, Bryan Habana, Pat Lambie, Teboho Mohoje, Nizaam Carr, Lood de Jager, Adriaan Strauss and Trevor Nyakane.

The Azzurri players are Luke Mclean, Edoardo Gori, Sergio Parisse and Francesco Minto.

South Africa won 22-6 in Padua after leading 8-6 at half-time.

Players to Watch

For Italy: Sergio Parisse will be worth watching. In fact, their loose trio - Parisse with Simone Favaro and Francisco Minto - are all worth watching. They are probably the best unit in the side.

For South Africa: It is a matter of seeing who will perform as we know they can. This applies especially to Willie le Roux and Pat Lambie in the backline. The Springboks this time have added Nizaam Carr to their loose forwards, which means that this week they have two flanks instead of just the one who played against England. Carr made his debut against Italy last time around and had a brilliant 23 minutes. In the pack one would like to see the difference it makes to athletic Pieter-Steph du Toit now that he is back at lock. And, oh to see the ball out to those two wings, both of whom are clever enough and fast enough to be exciting.

Head to Head: Experienced Luke Mclean, a strong inside centre, against less experienced Damien de Allende, a strong inside centre. De Allende showed against England that he has the skills to do well at inside centre. Warren  Whiteley, all energy, enthusiasm and courage, against Sergio Parisse, long regarded as one of the best No.8s in the rugby world.

Recent results
2014: South Africa won 22-6, Padova (Padua)
2013: South Africa won 44-10, Durban
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

Prediction: Not with great confidence, but South Africa to win by about 10 points.

Teams

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke Mclean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Andries van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Sami Panico.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 George Fabio Biagi, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Tommaso Boni.

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Francois de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Johan Goosen.

Date: Saturday,19  November 2016
Venue: Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT; 16.00 SA Time)
Expected weather: Rain with a high of 16°C, dropping to 11°C
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), David Wilkinson (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)

By Paul Dobson
@rugby365com