Italy looking to limit damage from Springboks
PADUA, Italy (AP) — With only one win in a year, Italy faces a heavy defeat at the hands of South Africa in test rugby on Saturday.
Yet, that hasn’t stopped the fans from coming from all corners to sell out all 32,000 seats in Padua, west of Venice.
The Azzurri have never beaten South Africa, losing all 11 encounters, including the last in Durban by 44-10 last year.
“They are coming from a great summer in which they halted a long run of victories for the All Blacks,” Italy coach Jacques Brunel said. “They are a great team, capable of playing extremely effective rugby.”
Yet, while charming the visitors and playing down Italy hopes, Brunel showed so much faith in the side which narrowly lost to Argentina last week, that his one change was to give a debut to flanker Samuela Vunisa.
The Fiji-born Vunisa replaces Simone Favaro, who hasn’t recovered from a neck muscle injury picked up in training.
“We have followed Sam in the past year and a half, first with Calvisano and now at Zebre,” Brunel said. “Now the time has come to test him at this level, after Favaro made a brilliant comeback against Samoa and Argentina following more than a year out of the international scene.”
Vunisa was one of three newcomers in Brunel’s squad for the autumn series along with Zebre teammate Kelly Haimona, who impressed — especially in his kicking — against Samoa and Argentina.
He will continue his halves partnership with Edoardo Gori, and Brunel hopes that by again naming a relatively unchanged side, his players will show the same determination already seen in this series.
“I expect Italy to maintain the approach it had at the beginning of this season, with a skilled defense, and the desire to dictate something with our game,” he said. “So far, I must say I am very pleased with the spirit shown by my team.
“For South Africa, it is the end of the season. We are at the beginning; that could be a relevant factor, even if after the defeat against Ireland the Springboks immediately showed what they can do by going on to beat England at Twickenham last week.”
South Africa bounced back from a 29-15 loss to Ireland by beating England 31-28, and has limited its changes to four, while bringing uncapped forwards Nizaam Carr and Julian Redelinghuys into the reserves.
Trevor Nyakane and Coenie Oosthuizen are the new props, Teboho Mohoje returns at No. 7, and Johan Goosen was being experimented at fullback.
The Springboks close their European tour against Wales in Cardiff next week.
Italy: Andrea Masi, Luke McLean, Michele Campagnaro, Luca Morisi, Leonardo Sarto, Kelly Haimona, Edoardo Gori; Sergio Parisse (captain), Samuela Vunisa, Alessandro Zanni, Joshua Furno, Quintin Geldenhuys, Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Matias Aguero. Reserves: Andrea Manici, Alberto De Marchi, Dario Chistolini, Marco Bortolami, Francesco Minto, Guglielmo Palazzani, Luciano Orquera, Giulio Toniolatti.
South Africa: Johan Goosen, JP Pietersen, Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach; Duane Vermeulen, Teboho Mohoje, Marcell Coetzee, Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane. Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Julian Redelinghuys, Lood de Jager, Nizaam Carr, Francois Hougaard, Handre Pollard, Willie le Roux.