Gambler Mallett hoping for big return
June 24, 2010
Francois Louw's recent form has been a major boost for South Africa © Getty Images
Italy coach Nick Mallett is a bold man. Having pledged to shave his head if his side finished within 20 points of South Africa last weekend - they did, losing 29-13 - he has taken another roll of the dice in making sweeping changes for the second Test in East London on Saturday.
The tourists have a sterling played nine; lost nine record against the Springboks but with the Rugby World Cup on the horizon, where they will face tough tasks against Australia and Ireland, Mallett is taking the sensible move of exposing as much of their limited player pool to top level competition as he can.
The hosts were underwhelming in the opening meeting, doing the bare minimum on their way to a 29-13 victory in Witbank. Head coach Peter De Villiers is cultivating a fearsome wider squad and with their Tri-Nations campaign kicking off on July 10 with a fiendishly difficult task against the All Blacks in Auckland there is little room for another disinterested showing.
He has opted to make several noticeable changes, with the return of skipper John Smit to the No.2 jersey particularly important. Bakkies Botha and Andries Bekker form a new lock combination in front of the returning Schalk Burger. Francois Louw starts on the other flank and his recent form has been a major fillip given the continued absence of Juan Smith.
There is a heavy Stormers influence to the re-jigged backline. Gio Aplon shifts from wing to fullback in place of Zane Kirchner while Jean de Villiers is named on the wing in a Test for the first time since 2005. Juan de Jongh returns at inside-centre along with Jaque Fourie as the Bulls' Morne Steyn breaks up the Cape Town backs division at fly-half.
The Italian effort will again be spearheaded by their superb No.8 Sergio Parisse, scorer of their try last weekend, but there is an unfamiliar look to parts of the side. Manoa Vosawai and Paul Derbyshire are the flankers and Mallett has opted for an experienced second-row pairing with Carlo del Fava, born on the Eastern Cape, joined by Gloucester veteran Marco Bortolami.
Prop Salvatore Perugini retains his place at loose-head but has new front-row cohorts in Fabio Ongaro and Lorenzo Cittadini. Fly-half Craig Gower is another who has a new face alongside him as Simon Picone replaces the impressive Tito Tebaldi at scrum-half. In the centre there is a return for the battle-hardened Gonzalo Canale alongside Andrea Masi.
South Africa: G Aplon (Stormers), J de Villiers (Western Province), J Fourie (Stormers), J de Jongh (Stormers), B Habana (Stormers), M Steyn (Bulls), R Januarie (Stormers), G Steenkamp (Bulls), J Smit (Sharks, capt), J du Plessis (Sharks), B Botha (Bulls), A Bekker (Stormers), S Burger (Stormers), F Louw (Stormers), P Spies (Bulls)
Replacements: C Ralepelle (Bulls), BJ Botha (Ulster), F van der Merwe (Bulls), D Potgieter (Bulls), R Pienaar (Sharks), B James (Bath), W Oliver (Bulls)
Italy: L McLean (Benetton Treviso), M Sepe (Viadana), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), A Masi (Racing Metro), M Bergamasco (Racing Metro), C Gower (Bayonne), S Picone (Benetton Treviso), S Perugini (Bayonne), F Ongaro (Saracens), L Cittadini (Benetton Treviso), C del Fava (Viadana), M Bortolami (Gloucester), M Vosawai (Banca Monte Parma), P Derbyshire (Petrarca Padova), S Parisse (Stade Francais, capt)
Replacements: L Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso), F Sbaraglini (Benetton Treviso), Q Geldenhuys (Viadana), A Zanni (Benetton Treviso), T Tebaldi (Gran Parma), R Bocchino (Rovigo), M Pratichetti (Viadana)
Referee: Andrew Small (Eng)
Assistant Referees: Keith Brown (NZ), Andy MacPherson (Sco)