The Springboks will clinically deal with the challenge of Italy and progress to the World Cup quarter-finals.
Talk of this being a “do-or-die match” is misguided because there is no way the Boks will lose to Italy in Japan today. Italy are on a three-game winning World Cup run, which is their best streak in the history of the tournament, but the last two wins have been against Namibia and Canada.
Italy have consistently been the poorest team in the Six Nations and ordinarily you wouldn’t think of them as being good enough to beat the Boks. What blurs the vision is that three years ago Italy did in fact beat South Africa. That was an aberration and it came against a Bok team totally lacking in coaching leadership.
The Springboks, under Rassie Erasmus, are a different animal and have improved immeasurably. The Azzurri simply haven’t grown their game since their famous win against the Boks.
The bookmakers have the Boks to win by 30 points. I am going to be more conservative and say, at best, the differential will be 25 points. I reckon a score of 35-10 would be consistent with the strength and form of both teams at the World Cup.
Italy will provide a good forward contest, but they lack the class among the backs to break down a Bok defence that has improved considerably in the past 12 months. Bok coach Rassie Erasmus has picked his most powerful starting pack, with potent forward substitutes. Hooker Malcolm Marx and prop Steven Kitshoff will make a significant contribution when introduced as substitutes.
The Bok backs haven’t convinced me as much as the forwards and halfbacks Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard owe their coach a more imposing performance than was the case against the All Blacks earlier in the tournament.
De Klerk, a World Rugby Player of the Year nominee in 2018, hasn’t shown the same form this year and I am among those disciples of the value of Herschel Jantjies as a starting option at No 9. Jantjies plays with greater fluency and while De Klerk’s tenacity and courage are without question, his line-kicking game has been predictable and inaccurate in his last few Tests.
The match will also be memorable for Italian captain Sergio Parisse, who will become the second most capped international (142), with only New Zealand’s Richie McCaw (148) having played more Test matches. Parisse has won just 35 in 141 Tests since making his debut as an 18-year-old in 2002. It is a credit to his love for the Italian national side that he continues to make himself available because as an individual he is one of the best, who just happens to play for one of the worst international teams.
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