CAPE TOWN - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee says he’s “happy that the team learnt from the Ireland game” following their 35-6 win over Italy in Padua on Saturday.
A win over the Azzurri was crucial for the Boks, not only to avenge last year’s 20-18 defeat in Florence, but also to gain some momentum and confidence following a record 38-3 loss to Ireland in their opening match of their end-of-year tour, followed by an unconvincing 18-17 win against a poor France team.
Given the fact that Italy have had an incredibly poor run of results since their historic win over the Springboks last year, the Boks’ win at the weekend might not be the most accurate indicator of their progress.
In fact, a much bigger test will come in Cardiff this week, when the Boks conclude their end-of-year proceedings against Wales. But there was some improvement.
Against Ireland, the Boks were taught a lesson or two in wet conditions in Dublin, and against Italy, they produced a more controlled performance with limited penalties conceded - something Coetzee described as “the most important thing”.
“I’m just happy that the team learnt from the Ireland game. I’m really proud of the team and the effort,” the Bok coach said.
Coetzee also said the Azzurri they faced in their third match on tour was not, at all, like the one they succumbed to last season (although that one beat them).
“This is a very good Italian side, I can see the improvement,” he said.
In a game that saw the Boks go very direct, a game in which they didn’t spread the ball much, the forwards produced a big performance, and Coetzee lauded the work up front - especially at the set-pieces.
The Springboks also did well at the breakdowns and secured a couple of turnovers, and their performance on the ground and at scrum time would have been especially pleasing for the Bok coaching staff, as these are two areas scrum coach Matt Proudfoot earmarked early last week.
“It was a clinical performance from the team. I was very pleased with the physicality and the set-piece performance. Our defence in general was also superb,” Coetzee said.
“It was one of the best forward performances by the Springbok pack in such tough conditions.”
On the individual front, flyhalf Handre Pollard looked good as he controlled the game well, tested the Italians’ defensive line and also produced a flawless goalkicking performance.
Duane Vermeulen looked sharp with good positional play and made valuable contributions when it came to the collisions, while hooker Bongi Mbonambi has every right to be happy with his try-scoring, starting Test debut.
In the backline, Warrick Gelant’s international debut was a solid one, while Francois Venter also looked good in midfield again.
Coetzee was also positive about the Bok environment - an environment he believes was improved by training camps throughout the year as well as the players’ improved conditioning.
“Our leadership was really excellent, they showed patience in our plan. There is a new team environment and a new team culture, our players are much better conditioned, and we had numerous camps this year, which we didn’t have last year,” Coetzee said.
“That gives players the confidence to just go out and play, because everything is in place.”
Meanwhile, Sharks prop Thomas du Toit has been called up as front-row cover, as Tendai Mtawarira will be given some time to recover from the groin injury he sustained at the weekend. Du Toit is set to join the squad in Cardiff on Monday.