There are four changes and two positional switches to the Springbok team to face Italy in Genoa on Saturday in the third test of the end-of-year tour. Jasper Wiese is back at eight-man, while there are new pairings at lock and centre. The Stormers duo of Evan Roos and Manie Libbok are on the bench, which shows a six-two split between forwards and backs.
Italy beat Australia 28-27 last Saturday and will be eyeing another big scalp against the Boks, who are winless so far on tour. In a fairly unorthodox move, the Springbok coach was joined by the Director of Rugby in the team announcement press conference.
SA Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus didn’t explicitly say why he was there, but after a flurry of tweets regarding the officiating in the French test, and then a subsequent disclaimer so as not to court the ire of World Rugby, Erasmus did field questions on his tweets.
“It is not having a go at the referee because if that was having a go at the referee, I don’t think Wayne Barnes will make all of those bad decisions. He is the number one referee in the world, he has more than 100 test matches. It is obviously something on our side that we have to fix and again if people think South African supporters would like to understand that and then if people put a narrative to that that I can’t control unfortunately,” says Erasmus.
Not the clearest of explanations, but maybe raising more questions than answers was Erasmus’ intention all along.
This does, however, deflect from the Italy test match in Genoa on the weekend.
The Boks remain winless on their end-of-year tour, but maintain they’re learning more from the close-run games against Ireland and France, the top two teams in the world.
Italy’s win over Australia last Saturday has surely raised the hackles of the Boks. Coach Jacques Nienaber says a loss would be a backward step.
“It’s a big game, it’s a very important game for us. We need to get momentum back and we don’t want to lose and we want to build on the stuff that we started a week before we played Ireland in the camp we had in Stellenbosch. So, it is a big game for us in terms of that, so we don’t want to build our game build everything and then almost go a step back again, so it is important for us to keep the energy but get a result,” Nienaber explains.
The Springbok camp continues to press the angle that this end-of-year tour should be seen in the context of next year’s World Cup, and that the losses have helped the squad to gauge their opposition both in their World Cup pool, and potentially in the knockout stages.
Erasmus is trying to get the South African public to see the bigger picture, from his perspective.
“Knowing what can we do in our pool game against the Irish who are hot at this stage and was the same in 2018. They were really hot and were ranked second and then the French or the All Blacks if we can get out of our pool who we will face and we play the All Blacks regularly and France. We played now in a cauldron which was really intimidating and the boys handled themselves really well,” Erasmus reiterated.
Italy ranks as the odd one out in the terms of the opponents on the Boks’ end-of-year tour.
Not much would be learnt from a loss, which makes a win non-negotiable.