Boks out to avoid more embarrassment
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Springboks captain Adriaan Strauss believes only a clinical performance with improvement in all areas of the field can help South Africa avoid the ignominy of an historic defeat to Italy.
South Africa face Italy in Florence looking to make amends after morale-crushing defeats to New Zealand (15-57) and England (21-37) made it five test losses in their last six outings.
Defeat to England at Twickenham last week was the Boks' first in a decade and left many fans fearing a first defeat to Italy could come less than a year after an historic defeat to Japan in the 2015 World Cup.
Strauss, who will earn his 65th cap at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, predicts a "physical battle" against Conor O'Shea's new-look Azzurri, who suffered a 10-68 loss to the All Blacks last week in Rome.
But he said: "It's been a season of frustration. We've been working hard and hopefully, it will come together. I would like to have a very successful day.
"Hopefully we can take a step closer to becoming the team we want to be tomorrow [Saturday]. It will be a physical battle, but first and foremost we have to be clinical. We haven't done that for 80 minutes this season.
"Coach Allister [Coetzee] has said we had to take a step up in everything we do, which includes the training sessions.
"On matchday, our processes - line-outs, scrums, breakdown, finishing and defence all have to improve.
"Winning is massively important, and even though our focus is not on the end result in itself, we need a win."
A first win on their tour of the Northern Hemisphere would give embattled Coetzee some breathing space ahead of a tough, final test against Wales next week.
The 53-year-old has embraced the return of wizard wing Bryan Habana, who sat out injured against England and will hand exciting loose forward Nizaam Carr his fourth cap at openside after Pieter-Steph du Toit was moved back to lock.
Those changes should at least appease angry Boks fans. Against England, Du Toit was twice sold dummies by England scrumhalf Ben Youngs that led to two of their tries.
Coetzee has underlined the need for "continuity" amid a season that has seen several younger players join the squad.
But although Strauss called for some leeway to be given, he said "too many mistakes" has made winning on Saturday crucial.
"We always knew this was going to be a tough year with a lot of youngsters in the system, but we have made some strides," he added.
"There is a lot of talent, but first we have two massive games to go and at the end of the year the planning for the future of Bok rugby can continue.
"We approach every week the same and we will give Italy the same amount of respect we gave England.
"We have made far too many mistakes - turning over ball and not executing when we have been in good positions.
"We have to be better and more clinical."