Preview: Italy v South Africa

Italy v Canada – Rugby World Cup 2019_ Pool B
Now the real Test begins for Conor O’Shea and Italy.

Now the real Test begins for Conor O’Shea and Italy.

After kicking off their World Cup with back-to-back bonus-point wins over Namibia and Canada, the Springboks loom large on Friday.

The Azzurri have known since they were drawn in Pool B back in 2017 that, if they want to make the quarter-finals for the first time, they would need to beat one of the All Blacks and Springboks.

Italy have never beaten world champions New Zealand before, so this clash with Rassie Erasmus’ Boks is probably their best chance.

They downed the Boks back in 2016 but that was a very different South Africa side to the one Erasmus has remodelled in the last two years.

But Italy arrive with a spring in their step after their opening wins, and have made only three changes to the side that downed Canada so impressively last time out.

Skipper Sergio Parisse, scrum-half Tito Tebaldi and centre Luca Morisi are the three men re-called meaning Jayden Hayward remains at inside centre, Matteo Minozzi at full-back and Michele Campagnaro moves to the wing.

Jake Polledri is in the back row alongside Parisse and Steyn, and the Gloucester flanker has been a revelation so far with his destructive ball-carrying.

By contrast to Italy’s consistency, it is all change for the Boks who only retain three of the players that started their win over Namibia last time out.

That means Erasmus has gone back to the side that ran the All Blacks close on the opening weekend, with Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard reunited in the half-backs, Cheslin Kolbe restored out wide and Pieter Steph Du Toit and Siya Kolisi in the back row.

Bongi Mbonambi has displaced Malcolm Marx at hooker however and Italy will know they need to get parity with South Africa’s powerful pack before they can hope of claiming an historic win.

Italy v South Africa, Friday October 4, Shizuoka, 10:45AM kick off (BST)

Italy head coach Conor O’Shea: “They are a strong team, huge with a lot of X factor. We must keep our focus throughout the match, give our maximum on the pitch and use our X factor.

“If you don’t front up physically against South Africa, you’ve already lost the match. You must take them on in the forwards. We must treat it like the last match we’ll ever play.

“The momentum can swing in a moment of magic or a penalty and we have to be competitive. You need to be at your best throughout the match because you never know when that swing will come. I’m sure the lads will give their all on Friday.

“The pressure is firmly on South Africa. 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.”

Italy skipper Sergio Parisse: “We’ve thought about this for four years and now we are two days away from it, so we are aware it is an important match for us. As captain, and along with the experienced players, we must keep everyone calm and save the emotional energy for that match.

“Each match is its own history and we’ll see what happens on Friday. Our game plans won’t count for anything if we don’t have the right desire.

“If after 50 or 60 minutes we’re exhausted, we have to hold up our hand and go off knowing we have given our all.

“We have to sweat and give our all. We can’t finish with any regrets.”

If you want an indicator of how important Tommaso Allan is to this Italy team, consider the fact that he has started all three games for them at this tournament.

No-one makes the Azzurri tick quite like the Benetton No.10 and O’Shea knows it.

A former product of the Western Province academy in South Africa, Allan knows the likes of Cheslin Kolbe and Siya Kolisi very well.

But it is Handre Pollard he will need to match on Friday. One of the best fly-halves in the business, he was a tiny bit off his game against the All Blacks and will want to put a marker down

Italy: Matteo Minozzi, Tommaso Benvenuti, Luca Morisi, Jayden Hayward, Michele Campagnaro, Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi, Sergio Parisse (c), Jake Polledri, Braam Steyn, Dean Budd, David Sisi, Simone Ferrari, Luca Bigi, Andrea Lovotti

Replacements: Federico Zani, Nicola Quaglio, Marco Riccioni, Alessandro Zanni, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Callum Braley, Carlo Canna

South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (c), Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Francois Steyn