South Africa vs Italy | Saturday 08 June | Kings Park | 17:15
The international test season kicks off for the Springboks this weekend when they take on an ever-improving Italian side down in Durban on Saturday. The Springboks hold a flawless record against the Azzurri, having won all ten matches between the sides, but things will undoubtedly be a lot tougher for the Bokke this Saturday than it was the last time these two sides met back in 2010. Over the past six months the Italians have shown they are no longer a sure thing for the big unions. They gave the Wallabies a tough time during the end of year tour last November, the Italians ultimately going down 19-22, and their passionate performances during this year’s Six Nations saw them claim victories over both France and Ireland.
The Springboks still have a lot to prove under Heyneke Meyer after a disappointing showing in the Rugby Championships last year, and an end of year tour that, although resulted in a clean sweep of Ireland, Scotland and England, gave the impression that any of those games could really have gone either way. The Castle Lager Incoming series looks like an easy way for Meyer to improve on his win record with the Springboks taking on Scotland next weekend, and depending on results, finishing off with either a repeat match against Italy or Scotland, or taking on Samoa for the first time since the 2011 World Cup. If the Springboks fail to stamp their authority all over this competition then I won’t be holding much hope for them when they take on the big guns in the Rugby Championships later this year.
To Win (80mins)
South Africa 1/100
South Africa (-27.5) 9/10
Italy (+27.5) 9/10
Heyneke Meyer has named five uncapped players in his match day squad, with two of those running out in the starting line-up this Saturday. Cheetahs wing Willie le Roux has been named at fullback while Jano Vermaak has been named ahead of Ruan Pienaar at scrumhalf. Bryan Habana, Pierre Spies and Tendai Mtawarira all return to the starting XV after missing the year end tour with injuries. Bulls centre JJ Engelbrecht earns his first cap at outside centre, while Bjorn Basson makes his long awaited return to the green jersey, his last game for the Boks being in 2011. Morne Steyn reclaims the coveted Springbok number ten after an impressive Super XV season that sees him leading the individual points board with 196 in the competition so far. This means Pat Lambie joins an impressive bench boasting the likes of Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe and Ruan Pienaar, as well as the uncapped prop Trevor Nyakane, loose forward Arno Botha and centre Jan Serfontein.
Italian head coach Jacques Brunel is yet to announce his final team, but with only four uncapped players announced in the 32-man touring squad it is unlikely he will be naming many unknown faces for the Azzurri’s toughest game of the competition. Hooker Andrea Manici, scrumhalf Alberto Chillon, wing Leonardo Sarto and flyhalf Alberto Di Bernardo are the newcomers to the Italian national setup, and will be looking to make a name for themselves over the next few weeks. The Italians are known for their powerful scrumming, and the competition between tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni and Springbok Tendai Mtawarira will make for interesting viewing this weekend.
VERDICT: Italy (+27.5) 9/10
Think we've got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this is going to play out.