Patience, discipline pay off as visitors avenge 2016 defeat in Italy
South Africa 35
IF the Springboks were harbouring thoughts of revenge yesterday, they certainly got it.
The performance the Boks produced in Padova at the weekend was very different from the horror show we saw in Florence last year – when the Italians secured a record 20-18 victory over the South Africans.
But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think yesterday’s win was anything to get excited about, because the Springboks’ match against Italy was never going to be the perfect progress barometer, and it shouldn’t be.
The Azzurri have had a dreadful run since their celebrations last year (they’ve won just one in nine Tests; one in 10 after yesterday), so reading too much into a win over a team that’s ranked 13th in the world would be naïve.
But there were a couple of positives for the Springboks.
The Boks showed patience and good discipline with the ball, and while playing a mostly defensive role in the opening quarter, another positive was seeing them score two successive tries when they made it into the opposition 22. So the ball retention and finishing ability was there.
The forwards also did their job well, and their dominance over the troubled Azzurri could also be seen at the breakdowns in the form of a couple of turnovers they managed to secure.
They defended well, there were a few strong mauling displays, and they looked after the ball well considering the fact that the conditions could have easily made that a pretty tough task.
The Springboks’ playing style, however, revealed no further explanation, but the fact that they went direct could perhaps be attributed to the wet conditions. But if playing more attacking rugby is really the goal, sticking to it in those conditions would have helped them grow that game (they don’t have to chuck one-off runners and phase play out the window completely, but it shouldn’t be their go-to technique to win matches).
Another good thing was some of the individual performances.
Handre Pollard looked good as he slotted all his conversions, while it was his contribution with ball in hand that would have done the most in securing him the Man of the Match award. He got over the gain line – something that was undoubtedly made easier by the pace at which he ran onto the ball – and he also played a big part in setting up the Springboks’ opening try.
In midfield, Francois Venter is starting to look like more and more of a real contender in midfield rather than just a temporary fix, while hooker Bongi Mbonambi had a great first Test start. The Stormers front-rower even scored a try, and he might have had a couple of lineout troubles, but his contribution in loose play showed exactly why he deserves to increase his number of Test caps.
Warrick Gelant was also busy when he replaced Courtnall Skosan in the second half, and seeing more players being given a chance can do no real harm.
So, as the Boks kickstart their preparations for what is expected to be a tough test against Wales, let’s hope that Saturday’s positives won’t be a no-show in Cardiff.
SHOWING THE WAY: Francois Louw