DURBAN – By all accounts the Shizuoka Stadium will be a battlefield tomorrow when the win-or-bust Springboks tackle an Italy team that is spoiling for a fight.
Italy’s coach, Conor O’Shea, did not mince his words ahead of the vital Pool B match (11.45am, SA time).
“It’s a war when you play South Africa, nothing else,” the former Ireland fullback said. “I’m glad I’m off the pitch and not on it against them.
“You need heart and courage to play South Africa and I know our team’s got them in spadefuls.”
O’Shea’s counterpart, Rassie Erasmus, is also feeling the heat in the knowledge that a loss will leave the Boks’ World Cup hopes in tatters.
“We’ve been preparing for 21 Test matches and I can’t tell you that we don’t have butterflies,” the coach said.
“Italy will be up for the game because they don’t believe they can beat the All Blacks (in their final Pool game next week), but they believe they can beat the Springboks.”
O’Shea cleverly has played up the Boks’ chances in the World Cup and his thriving on his team’s underdog status.
“The pressure is firmly on South Africa,” he said. “They are expected to win the World Cup. No one thinks we have a hope in hell, and we have to go out and prove them wrong.”
The Italians are unbeaten in the World Cup, with bonus-point wins over Namibia and Canada, and they will be believing they can add the scalp of the Boks because they have done it before (in Florence in 2016).
O’Shea has recalled talisman captain Sergio Parisse, who was rested for their last match and alongside him in the loose trio is South African born Braam Steyn, who has been in barnstorming form.
“We’ve specifically planned to play against South Africa for a long time and tinkered at various different things,” O’Shea said. “We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be physical, and we’ve picked players who can interchange, no matter what numbers are on their backs.
“We did discuss going 8-0 (in favour of the forwards) on the bench because of what promises to be a forwards battle, but we’ll leave that for another day,” said a smiling O’Shea.
Parisse starred in the Italy win three years ago and he will be closely watched by his opposite number, Duane Vermeulen.
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