Autumn Nations Series preview: Springboks to prove too strong for Italy in Genoa and claim first win of their tour

Autumn Nations Series preview: Split image with Ange Capuozzo and Willie Le Roux Credit: Alamy
Autumn Nations Series preview: Split image with Ange Capuozzo and Willie Le Roux Credit: Alamy

Italy are soaring under Kieran Crowley and have not looked back since they beat Wales in Cardiff during the Six Nations. Now, this weekend the Azzurri welcome the world champion Springboks to their backyard, fresh off their first win against the Wallabies.

It is not only impressive that Crowley’s men defeated Australia, but it was the manner in which they did. Italy played flowing, attacking rugby that was brutal in broken field but considered and calculated in structured play.

With heaps of talent filtering through from their age group teams, Italian rugby is soon to head into what could be their most promising era to date.

Standing in their way is a Springbok team with nothing to show for their efforts thus far on tour after narrow losses to Ireland and France. However, the management, who will be without Rassie Erasmus for the remainder of the tour, will still feel confident coming into the Genoa Test as the two losses provided many answers to points of concern for the South Africans, who will want to use this game to get back to winning ways.

A high-flying Italy facing a Springbok team searching for a win of any kind which makes for a gruelling match-up and one filled with drama and tries.

Where the match will be won

Almost always, when the Springboks play, the game will be won in the set-piece because either the world champions gain dominance in that facet and leverage the game or the opposition disarm the South Africans and force them to try find an alternative method to win the clash, something which is not a strong suit.

Italy has done very well in the scrum for the entire Autumn Nations Series, even nicking a scrum from the Wallabies last weekend. South Africa has also been decent at scrum time but have not had the reward they would liked to leverage the game. This battle will be interesting, but the depth of the Springboks, including three World Cup-winning front-rows on the bench, will prove too much over the course of the entire Test.

The Azzurri also showed they could keep their lineout clean, but the focus will be on defending the Springboks’ maul rather than competing. Without the incumbent second-row starting for the South Africans, the Italians may feel they can disrupt the lineout, but Salmaan Moerat and Marvin Orie should handle the pressure. If not, the bench is heavily stocked, and head coach Jacques Nienaber can hit the ‘in case of emergency’ button.

The final aspect of where the game will be won is how the decision-makers at scrum-half, fly-half and full-back marshall the game. Italy cannot be shown the outside channel, or they will exploit the Springboks. Likewise, if Italy do not stand up in the collision, it will be a long day in Genoa.

Last time they met

What they said

Springboks utility forward Kwagga Smith warned his team that they cannot fall into Italy’s trap because Crowley’s men will capitalise.

“Italy have been building for some time under the coaching staff that was with Benetton, and having teams in the United Rugby Championship has given their young players excellent exposure,” he said at a Bok media conference in the build-up to the clash.

“The Italy age-group teams have been very good in recent years and that talent is coming through now.

“Until now, Italy was a team where you could fall into the trap of not being properly prepared for them and then they shock you, but that time is over now after they backed up their Six Nations win over Wales by beating Australia.

Meanwhile, newly-capped Manie Libbok reflected on his debut last weekend and is grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s one of the biggest moments of my life so far. I’m grateful and honoured that I was able to go onto the field. The moment was a dream come true for me. I’m grateful and honoured that I received the opportunity,” he said.

“It was a special moment for me and something I dreamt of when I was a kid. If I had the ball, I would have run from the kick-off.

“I was very emotional and excited at the same time.”

Players to watch

Italy have one of the most underrated back-threes in the game, with impressive runners aplenty. Monty Ioane is a key component of this with his lethal turn of pace, ability to beat defenders at will and natural finisher’s instinct that cannot be coached. The Australian-born star has been nothing but a success story in Italian colours through his intense work-rate and understanding of his role. Expect the Melbourne Rebels wing to be a pest in the air and a try-threat on Saturday.

Fly-half Tommaso Allan showed his class against Australia after being shoved into the starting line-up following a late withdrawal from Paolo Garbisi. The Harlequin ran the game tremendously well, kicked brilliantly off the tee and out of hand in a superb showing. Allan needs to be at his best again, as Italy may not have the same platform against the physical South Africans, making his margin for error in decision-making that much smaller. It’s a massive game for Allan.

Lorenzo Cannone has been the find of the Autumn Nations Series for Crowley as the number eight looks so comfortable at Test level through his indefatigable work-rate and commitment. The Benetton man looks as if he could go on to hold a starting spot for the Azzurri for years to come. However, the physical challenge of his opposite number Jasper Wiese and the other Springboks will be his biggest test yet. Still, expect Cannone to stand tall against the Springboks and be a notable performer in the game.

When Cheslin Kolbe burst onto the Test scene, it was all about how many defenders he could beat and how impressive his running was, but now much has changed. The Springbok is still one of the most elusive runners the game has seen but has since taken up a more senior role, including goal-kicking, as he impressed off the tee against France. The hot-stepper has not had much opportunity with ball in hand, and one gets the sense that will change against Italy if the Azzurri leave him any space at all to run in. Kolbe is due a try-scoring game, and he may get that on Saturday.

Andre Esterhuizen has been one of the most unlucky players in the Springboks camp in 2022 as the Harlequin, who has been playing magnificent rugby for his club, finally earned his call-up after years away from the national set-up but has had to sit behind a rampant Damian de Allende this year. However, De Allende moves to 13 this week, opening the door for what could be the most brutally physical midfield pairing seen in Test rugby this season. Esterhuizen is intensely physical and has a gun barrel of a left boot which will be of great use to fly-half Damian Willemse. It’s a big game for the gargantuan centre if he wants to start challenging De Allende.

Like most good leaders, Siya Kolisi always seems to pull out gritty, inspired performances when his side are not getting the results they want. The Sharks man was outstanding last week, scoring a try against France and showing impressive physicality throughout. Kolisi will be looking to impose himself on the Italian pack with strong ball-carrying and his trademark dominant tackling. Saturday will be another game where the inspirational skipper leads by example.

Main head-to-head

This week’s match-up is between a star rising at the speed of light and a veteran whose value has truly been understood in a period of crisis. It is the battle of the full-backs.

Italy’s Ange Capuozzo is a special player; he is fearless with ball in hand, potent in his running ability and always in the right place at the right time. The Toulouse star is an architect who sees the game quicker than his opponents and has everything in the toolbox to leverage the game. A nominee for World Rugby’s men’s breakthrough player of the year, Capuozzo will have to be watched like a hawk, or he will pounce as he did against Wales in Cardiff and twice against the Wallabies last weekend. Expect one of the most talented young stars in the world to play with exuberance and confidence this weekend.

Meanwhile, Springbok fans have long complained about Willie le Roux, but now the veteran has the last laugh. With South Africa in the midst of fly-half crisis, the full-back has stepped in to operate in tandem with Willemse, and against France, Le Roux took on a huge first-receiver responsibility, often switching with Willemse. As a result, the veteran assisted a try whilst stringing together pretty much every attack. Le Roux is an essential player for the Springboks right now, and he will empty the tank as he always does come Saturday in Genoa.

Prediction

Italy will enter the clash confident, but the Springboks will not offer the hosts as much as the Wallabies did and if they do, the quality of the bench to call on is crazy in itself. The Boks selected a solid team and will have too much for Italy in the set-piece and collision to ultimately win the game comfortably. South Africa by 10.

Previous results

2019: South Africa won 49-3 in Japan
2017: South Africa won 35-6 in Padua
2016: Italy won 20-18 in Florence
2014: South Africa won 22-6 in Padua
2013: South Africa won 44-10 in Durban
2010: South Africa won 55-11 in East London
2010: South Africa won 29-13 in Witbank
2009: South Africa won 32-10 in Udine

The teams

Italy: 15 Ange Capuozzo, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Montanna Ioane, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro (c), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 David Sisi, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Alessandro Garbisi, 22 Edoardo Padovani, 23 Tommaso Menoncello

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Evan Roos, 22 Cobus Reinach, 23 Manie Libbok

Date: Saturday November 19
Venue: Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa
Kick-off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (England), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Eriz Gauzins (France)

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series: Five storylines to watch including a titanic clash at Twickenham

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