South Africa have overrun Italy 35-6 with five converted tries, avenging their shock loss to the Azzurri last year and notching their first back-to-back wins since August.
The Springboks, who have struggled this year against top-tier teams, offered a very different performance to last year’s shambolic effort, controlling the game and using their big forwards as battering rams on a wet and foggy afternoon.
It was the visitors’ second straight win after a one-point victory over France last week. The last time they had strung two victories together was against Argentina at the start of the Rugby Championship three months ago.
The pack scored four tries, overpowering the Italians in the ruck and maul, while man-of-the-match five-eighth Handre Pollard was flawless off the tee. He kicked four conversions with his late replacement Elton Jantjies kicking the final two points.
“It’s one of our best forwards performances,” coach Allister Coetzee said. “It was a very clinical performance from the team and I am very pleased with the physicality.”
After an uncertain first 15 minutes, in which Italy dominated possession and territory, the visiting pack turned the tide with the first two tries going to flanker Francois Louw and hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who was making his first start.
Centre Francois Venter then scored out wide before halftime, cleaning up the ball from a kick to the corner.
In the second half, prop Steven Kitshoff touched down within minutes of the restart, having replaced veteran prop Tendai Mtawarira who had limped off the field in the first half with what Coetzee said was a likely quadriceps injury.
“I am not too positive about it,” Coetzee said of the injury.
Ten minutes into the second half, Italy almost emptied its bench and went on the attack again, but the men in sky blue ran repeatedly into a green wall of defenders. All they could manage in the end were six points from the boot of Carlo Canna.
Replacement lock Franco Mostert sealed the victory for South Africa by crossing under the posts near the final whistle, consigning last year’s 20-18 loss in Florence to the history books.
“A lot of changes have happened (since that loss),” Coetzee said, describing 2016 as a disastrous year.
“It’s a great team environment and a completely new team culture … The players enjoy playing for the Springboks again and they are taking ownership and accountability for the South African team.”
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