IF you are finding your faith flagging in the administration of South African rugby, you might not want to consider the following bewildering fact.
Tomorrow, in Florence, in the Italy coaching box will be Brendan Venter, the defence consultant of the home team.
But hang on, is this not the same Venter that chaired the recent Indaba that was about providing short and long terms solutions to the ailing South African game?
An Indaba called as a panic measure because the Boks have been so appallingly bad in 2016 under Allister Coetzee? The Boks have leaked a shocking 31 tries in ten matches this year and the man tasked with adding to that tally tomorrow is Venter!
Has our rugby gone mad? One week Venter is offering advice on how to fix the Boks and a few weeks later he is plotting their downfall.
And the problem is that Venter is so damn clever. When Sharks CEO John Smit brought Venter in to coach the Sharks in in the 2013 Currie Cup they won the final at Newlands against the odds because of innovative tactics inspired by Venter.
He had been a bridging measure as coach after the sacking of John Plumtree although Smit was praying that Venter would change his mind and sign a long-term deal. Venter did not because he wanted to concentrate on his medical practice in the Cape.
So here we are with the Boks playing the penultimate match of a dreadful season …. with the chairman of the Indaba to fix the Boks coaching against them.
Venter is hardly the only foreigner hired by the Italians. The head coach is former Ireland international Conor O’Shea and one of the assistants is former England centre Mike Catt.
But as impressive as that coaching line-up sounds, the truth is that the Italian game has gone backwards in recent years.
They were terrible in the World Cup and in the latest Six Nations lost all five of their matches. Italy are playing very unimaginative rugby.
It would be tempting to say that Italy have set their sights on a giant-killing act tomorrow given the form of the Boks in 2016. But the reality is that their rugby is also at a low ebb.
They still have a great player and captain in No 8 Sergio Parisse, but they do not have too much else. A number of stalwarts retired after the last World Cup, including the colourful Martin Castrogiavanni.
Italy are so poor at the moment that not even the most pessimistic of Springbok fans can call a famous upset in Florence.
That said, there are a lot of doomsayers out there given that over the last two years the Boks have been on the wrong side of a string of shock defeats.
Can Italy pull off a “Japan?”
No, because the sad reality is that the Springboks are such a faded force that there is no danger of complacency.
What is important, however, is the manner in which the Springboks win (I hope this is not a commentator’s curse!)
They end their year next week in the intimidating cauldron of Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. And Wales coach Warren Gatland has made no secret of the fact that his team is heavily targeting this match as an opportunity to add to their scant collection of Southern Hemisphere scalps.
The Boks need to get their act together against Italy and go to Cardiff with a game plan that can not only win the match but suggest to Coetzee’s critics that he deserves a second chance in 2017.
Italy – 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 Andries van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 George Fabio Biagi, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Tommaso Boni.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Johan Goosen.
by Mike Greenaway
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