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RWC: Boks’ maturity made spiteful Azzurri look that much worse

RWC: Boks' maturity made spiteful Azzurri look that much worse

07 October 2019, by: Quintin Van Jaarsveld

RWC: Boks’ maturity made spiteful Azzurri look that much worse

The Springboks outclassed Italy not only on the scoreboard but also with their refusal to get riled up by the Azzurri’s spoil tactics in Friday’s lopsided Rugby World Cup clash in Shizuoka, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

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The Springboks’ maturity matched their physical dominance in the 49-3 bonus-point triumph. Fiery intensity has always fuelled the Green and Gold machine. Every now and then, that fire sparks a flame that proves counterproductive as emotions get the better of some and spill over into moments of madness.

The showdown at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa showed just how headstrong the Springboks have become under Rassie Erasmus. They were cool, calm and clinical, despite Italy’s best efforts to get under their skin. A picture of focus and class, they overwhelming the Azzurri with power and precision in the opening quarter to set the tone for the remainder of the do-or-die Pool B battle. They dominating the set pieces and outgunning the Italians at the breakdown, advantages that coupled with accuracy, allowed for high-octane offence that threatened a rout.

The message was clear; there was going to be no repeat of the Horror of Florence (when Italy recorded a historic 20-18 win in 2016), and although Siya Kolisi and company didn’t fully capitalise on their strong start – leading just 10-3 after the opening 20 minutes – the gulf between the sides was clear.

Unfortunately, the best of the Springboks brought out the worst in Italy. It was disappointing to watch them try every trick in the book to stop the South African freight train, continually committing cynical offences and acts of foul play and only being caught out by the most obvious and potentially catastrophic incident – the nasty double spear tackle on Duane Vermeulen that earned Andrea Lovotti a red card two minutes into the second half.

Even here, Italy were fortunate as Nicola Quaglio should also have seen red for his role in spiking the Springbok No.8 on his head. Here, too, the Springboks remained level-headed, not allowing their concern and disgust to boil over into a shoving match, let alone fisticuffs.

That Italy succeeded in halting the Springboks’ momentum by seemingly manipulating the scrum safety laws with a tasteless tactic to wangle uncontested scrums after just 18 minutes was a real shame, especially on the game’s grandest stage.

It not only robbed South Africa of one of their biggest weapons but also significantly lessened the impact of their bench, given Erasmus had gone with a 6-2 forwards-backs split. Negative is an understatement – it was a shameless showing by the Azzurri.

Shifting the focus back onto the Springboks, it was a much-improved performance from the one against Namibia. After losing the scrum advantage, they redirected their efforts to the driving maul with great success, their lineout play was flawless, and vitally, it was a far better tactical performance, with the halfback pairing of Faf de Klerk and Handré Pollard executing much better than they did against the All Blacks.

Attacking issues persist. Aside from the fluidity in the first quarter, the Springboks again struggled to build continuity. Stats don’t always tell the full story and that’s certainly the case here. Erasmus’ charges racked up a total of 595 metres en route to scoring seven tries in 122 carries, compared to Italy’s 250 metres from 110 attacks.

Their blunt force powered them over the gainline on 56 occasions, while they beat 19 defenders and managed 10 clean breaks. Keep in mind that Italy were down to 14 men for the last 38 minutes.

Defensively, the two-time world champions were on the money. The attitude, effort and shape were there and as a result, they kept Italy tryless. They were particularly impressive in their 22 in the second quarter, where their organisation, calmness and aggressive tackling saw them turn over possession.

Overall, they made 109 of their 124 tackle attempts for an 88% success rate. They’re yet to shift into top gear, but it was a clinical performance all around.

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