While the Springboks are firm favourites, Azzurri have everything to play for and are determined to derail any hopes of a third RWC triumph.
SHIZUOKA, 3 Oct – A preview of the Pool B match between South Africa and Italy, which kicks off at 18:45 on Friday at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa.
The Big Picture
Normally when South Africa face Italy, the two-time RWC champion Springboks are strong favourites and they expect a straightforward victory.
But this is not a normal match. The defeat by New Zealand means they have to win their remaining Pool B matches to reach the quarter-finals. South Africa brushed past Namibia last week, and should dispatch Canada on Tuesday.
The Azzurri, though, are giving the Boks a headache. Defence coach Jacques Nienaber says he has not slept well this week in trying to plot the downfall of the Italians.
As Rassie Erasmus admitted, it is all or nothing against Italy.
“We’ve been building for 20 test matches, and it’s do-or-die this weekend,” said the head coach. “The players feel it, and I have a little bit of butterflies, because we’ve lost to Italy (in November 2016, pictured).”
“They will be really up for this game because they won’t believe they could beat the All Blacks (on 12 October), but they will believe they could beat the Springboks.”
Italy are top of Pool B after bonus-point victories over Namibia and Canada, but are well aware that they will face a step up in class in Shizuoka.
Coach Conor O’Shea shuffled his pack for the two matches that came within four days of each other, but this time he has picked his big hitters, notably captain and number eight Sergio Parisse.
A win would guarantee Italy a place in the quarter-finals for the first time, after they had their hopes ended by Scotland in 2007 and Ireland in 2011 and 2015 – defeats that Parisse, playing in his fifth World Cup, remembers all too well.
“We must treat it like the last match we’ll ever play,” said O’Shea. “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.”
Form guide (most recent matches first)
South Africa: WLWWW
Played 14 – South Africa 13W – Italy 1W
In the spotlight
After a number of impressive performance, hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi, has claimed the No.2 jersey ahead of Malcolm Marx.
‘Bongi’ scored twice from driving mauls against Namibia, but his energy and willingness to do the ‘dirty work’ have earned him a call-up.
It is a brave decision to relegate the much-vaunted Marx to the replacements bench, and Mbonambi needs to repay that faith by finding his lineout jumpers, carrying strongly and making big hits around the fringes.
Italy’s Matteo Minozzi, all 1.75m of him, will be one of the two pocket rockets in the starting line-ups, opposite South Africa wing Cheslin Kolbe, who stands at just 1.70m.
Minozzi keeps the full-back jersey after a try and two try-saving tackles against Canada.
“Today wasn’t the first time we saw his talent,” said Italy winger Mattia Bellini of the 23-year-old, who will replace South Africa full-back Willie le Roux at English club Wasps after the World Cup.
“We all knew he is an exciting player, and we’ll see if he makes us dream again in our next match.”
As well as Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira starts in the front row, while Lood de Jager is rewarded for a Player-of-the-Match display against Namibia with the No.5 shirt.
Expecting forward power from the Azzurri, Erasmus has loaded his bench with six forwards and only two backs in Herschel Jantjies and Frans Steyn.
Sergio Parisse returns to captain Italy from number eight, while Dean Budd and David Sisi are given the starting second-row berths.
Michele Campagnaro, a centre against Canada, is picked on the wing. Luca Morisi returns in the centre, where he will play alongside Jayden Hayward, who started the tournament at full-back.
Italy have also picked six forwards on the bench, including the versatile Alessandro Zanni, who will win his 117th cap if he comes on.
Stats & Trivia
South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard is set to reach 400 career points in this match, as he currently sits on 396 after 43 tests.
Pollard – who is also the Springbok record holder for most penalties (23) at the Rugby World Cup – needs 11 points to go pass Percy Montgomery’s Springbok World Cup record of 111.
Italy captain Sergio Parisse will play in an Italian-record 15th Rugby World Cup match, overtaking Alessandro Troncon and Martin Castrogiovanni.
“For us, this is a crunch game… We have to grind it out – this is a do-or-die game – and just beat Italy no matter how, even if it’s just a drop goal. The win is the ultimate.” – South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus.
“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.” – Italy coach Conor O’Shea.
RR WORLD RANKINGS – During World Cup the RR Ranking Points are DOUBLED
RSA (on 85.75 points) -vs- ITA (on 72.04 points) in a RWC match
|Possible Outcome||Rating Point
|If RSA win by 1-15 points||0.000||85.75||72.04||No|
|If RSA win by more than 15||0.000||85.75||72.04||No|
|If result is a draw||2.000||83.75||74.04||No|
|If ITA win by 1-15 points||4.000||81.75||76.04||No|
|If ITA win by more than 15||6.000||79.75||78.04||No|
🇿🇦 SOUTH AFRICA
1 Tendai Mtawarira, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Lood de Jager, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt.), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 9 Faf de Klerk, 10 Handré Pollard, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 12 Damian de Allende, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 15 Willie le Roux
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn
1 Andrea Lovotti, 2 Luca Bigi, 3 Simone Ferrari, 4 David Sisi, 5 Dean Budd, 6 Braam Steyn, 7 Jake Polledri, 8 Sergio Parisse (capt.), 9 Tito Tebaldi, 10 Tommaso Allan, 11 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Jayden Hayward, 13 Luca Morisi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 15 Matteo Minozzi
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Sebastian Negri, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Carlo Canna
Date: Friday, October 4
Kick-Off: 18:45 local
Venue: ECOPA Stadium, Shizuoka
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistants: Romain Poite (France) & Alex Ruiz (France)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)