Boks experiment ahead of Tri-Nations

Having dispatched Six Nations champions Wales, South Africa get another chance to test their strength in depth before the Tri-Nations competition when they tackle Italy in a one-off Test in Cape Town on Saturday.

While the Italians, who are missing several key players, are unlikely to give the Springboks any problems, Italy coach Nick Mallett will be hoping his players at least put up a fight and learn from the experience.

“We have to be realistic, we can’t expect to come here and beat the world champions. But we’re going to try make it as hard as possible for the Boks,” said Mallett this week.

With several newcomers in the team and many of the players having little Test experience, the visitors will do well to restrict a Bok team that is looking to get all the cobwebs out the way before taking on New Zealand and Australia away from home next month.

Coach Peter de Villiers has had a fairly easy path into Test rugby, having taken over from World Cup-winning coach Jake White with a 2-0 series win over Wales.

The Boks won comfortably in Bloemfontein, and while they struggled a bit for victory in Pretoria last weekend, they still managed to come out on top. Italy will not pose more of a threat.

In fact, so confident is De Villiers that he’s made six changes to his starting team, handing young Frans Steyn a run at flyhalf, giving Odwa Ndungane a debut on the wing and recalling centre Gcobani Bobo to the midfield after an absence from the Test arena of four years.

There is also a first start for dynamic Sharks number eight Ryan Kankowski under De Villiers.

The Boks may be missing John Smit and Percy Montgomery, who’ve both returned to France to play for their clubs, but such is the depth in South African rugby that De Villiers can rest men like flyhalf Butch James as he seeks to give all his squad members a run before the Tri-Nations.

“It’s now a matter of getting a back-up system in place,” said De Villiers on Thursday.
“Butch is our first-choice flyhalf, but I need to see what a guy like Frans [Steyn] offers me at number 10. He’s stated he wants to be considered at flyhalf only, so this is his opportunity.”

Peter Grant is the other flyhalf in the squad and he’ll be on the bench this weekend. De Villiers will want his players to tighten up their game this weekend—they got too loose in the second Test against Wales—but at the same time try to play the expansive game the coach has been punting.

The Boks have some of the best wingers in world rugby, yet they have seen precious little of the ball so far.

If the forwards and inside backs do get the upper hand over Italy, which they’re expected to do, then the Boks may just run amok this weekend.

Whether that will be the kind of warm-up De Villiers will want before the bigger challenges that lie ahead, only time will tell.—AFP

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