Now for Italy! The Springboks bounced back from their opening Pool B defeat to the All Blacks with a comfortable win against neighbours, Namibia, in Toyota on Saturday, but now must beat Italy to guarantee themselves a place in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Boks are expected to beat Canada in their last pool game on October 8 to progress but for that to be a certainty they must get the better of Italy on Friday (11.45am, SA time, kick-off).
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus knows just how important this week’s match in Ecopa is.
“Overall, a few boxes were ticked (in the nine-tries-to-nil 57-3 win against Namibia) but there is still a lot of work for us to do,” he said after the match in Toyota on Saturday. “We always said there were four important games for us at the World Cup – beating one of New Zealand or Italy in pool play and then the three knockout games – the quarters, semis and final.”
So, having lost first-up to New Zealand, Italy – who’re two-from-two following wins against Canada and Namibia – is a must-win.
Looking back at his team’s comfortable win against the Namibians, Erasmus said: “We needed to bounce back with a win and we got that with five log points so it was important and that is a positive.
“We, however, are certainly not getting carried away by the result. Namibia rested some players ahead of the game they have probably targeted – Canada – so we are realistic about where we are as a team and what we have to do going forward.”
Crucially for the Boks, every squad member has now got game-time behind him, following Erasmus’ decision last week to make 13 changes to the side from the one that lost 23-13 to New Zealand. One player who benefited hugely from the Namibia clash was captain Siya Kolisi, who only just made it to the World Cup following a knee injury and playing only 53 minutes against the All Blacks, as he got nearly 30 minutes from off the bench at the weekend.
Also, prop Thomas du Toit, who replaced the injured Trevor Nyakane in the squad and only arrived in Japan early last week, got time on the field.
Erasmus meanwhile hinted he wouldn’t be surprised if the Boks went through to the quarter-finals and a match against the hosts, Japan, who shocked Ireland on Saturday – just like they did when they beat the Boks in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup four years ago. Japan, with wins now against Ireland and Russia and matches to come against Scotland and Samoa, are in the pound seats to finishing top of Pool A.
“I said when we played against Japan (in the warm-up game prior to the start of the tournament) that the score (41-7 to the Boks) wasn’t a true reflection of the game … and that I’d said that if we got through to the quarters we might end up playing Japan.
“I have always thought Japan was a realistic contender for getting through to the quarter-finals . and they now have a chance to top the pool, and if we beat Italy then there’s a realistic chance of us meeting in the quarters. ”
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