Cape Town — After a tumultuous week off the field, the Springboks needed to do their talking on it against Italy, and their message was loud and clear: Watch out for us at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Of course, Bok fans can’t get carried away with today’s 63-21 victory at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Despite the Azzurri having held off Australia 28-27 last weekend, they are not world-beaters and are not among the contenders for the world title.
They were also missing their chief playmaker, flyhalf Paolo Garbisi, and it was probably asking a lot for them to back up the win over the Wallabies with another passionate display against the South Africans.
But the Boks had come off a week of hell, where they had lost 30-26 to France in Marseille after a couple of dodgy refereeing calls going against them, which was followed by Pieter-Steph du Toit’s three-week suspension for a dangerous tackle.
Then on Thursday night, the bombshell of Rassie Erasmus being banned for two Tests for his tweets and videos about some of the questionable decisions in the France match would’ve rocked the players.
It was entirely possible for the visitors to go down the slippery slope of a third consecutive defeat on tour, but captain Siya Kolisi and his team didn’t allow that to happen.
In fact, they made a statement of intent – that the Boks are adding some serious ammunition, at long last, to their traditional forward power in order to mount a proper defence of their World Cup crown next year.
Kolisi and coach Jacques Nienaber both stated during the week that they want the Boks to continue with their ball-in-hand approach that was refreshing to see against France, and to be “excited” about their game.
That was evident throughout in Genoa, even though Italy led 13-8 after 21 minutes. The South Africans never stopped asking questions of the Azzurri defence with ball-in-hand, even when on their own five-metre line, and that kind of fluidity and intensity on attack eventually wore down the defence.
The forwards did their thing, grinding their opponents down with a strong maul, a highly efficient Marvin Orie controlling the lineouts, and the likes of Kolisi and Jasper Wiese putting in the hard yards at close range.
That saw flyhalf Damian Willemse getting the ball on the front foot, and he inspired some sublime passing, stepping and hard running from centres Andre Esterhuizen and Damian de Allende and fullback Willie le Roux, which saw wings Kurt-Lee Arendse and Cheslin Kolbe receive endless opportunities to stretch their legs.
It wasn’t a perfect first half, though, as South Africa made a couple of unforced errors and kept Italy in the game, and it was a narrow 18-13 halftime lead.
But for the second 40 minutes, it was all the Springboks, as they cut out those mistakes and produced some scintillating attacking play, with Arendse grabbing a brace.
It was a worry to see Kolbe sustain a hamstring injury in the act of scoring his try, but that didn’t stop the momentum as Willemse moved to right wing and Manie Libbok added his customary gold dust with some classy touches.
The Boks rounded off a memorable afternoon with a wonderful final touchdown, which saw them have a go from inside their own half, with Kolisi delivering a deft offload for Arendse to cut through, and he put Cobus Reinach over to take them over the 60-point mark.
They couldn’t pull through against the top two sides in the world in Ireland and France, but they certainly showed greater ambition in Marseille – and this performance and result was just reward for everything they attempted.
The Boks got out of their comfort zone and flourished. Now to finish off in style against England at Twickenham…
Italy 21 – Tries: Ange Capuozzo, Lorenzo Cannone. Conversion: Tommaso Allan (1). Penalties: Allan (3).
South Africa 63 – Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse (2), Bongi Mbonambi, Cheslin Kolbe, Kwagga Smith, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Damian Willemse, Cobus Reinach. Conversions: Kolbe (1), Manie Libbok (5). Penalties: Kolbe (2).