Nelson - The South African connection is being credited with taking Italy to the brink of reaching the rugby World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
A win over Ireland in their final pool match in Dunedin on Sunday could seal their place in the playoffs from Pool C.
Driving the team is coach Nick Mallett, a former Springbok and South Africa's 1999 World Cup coach, who has moulded one of the toughest forward packs in world rugby and Italy's prime weapon.
Mallett in turn heaps praise on fellow South African Omar Mouneimne, the architect of Italy's defensive patterns which have tightened as the tournament progressed.
They conceded four tries losing 32-6 to Australia, fielded a largely second-string side against Russia and leaked three tries in a 53-17 romp and allowed only one try when back to full strength in their 27-10 win over the United States on Tuesday.
"Sometimes it happens in a game you do miss a one-on-one but our system was correct," Mallet said of Chris Wyles try for the United States.
"We stayed within the systems that Omar has been putting into place and I was very happy with the way the guys defended.
"Players like (Salvatore) Perugini, (Andrea) Lo Cicero and Mauro Bergamasco, who haven't had an opportunity to work with Omar for a very long time, they've really learned a lot.
"Our tight forwards' defence as well as our loose forwards I thought was outstanding (against USA) because there were very few line breaks apart from that one. They held on to the ball but they didn't really go a long way forward."
Omar, recruited by Mallet last year, established himself as an astute defence coach when working with the Stormers in the Super Rugby competition.
And he made an immediate impact with Italy, reducing their tries against ratio from 4.5 a match to 2.2 in 12 months.
The three tries by minnows Russia were attributed to individual errors which did not impress Mouneimne.
"I wasn't happy with our physicality in defence or our tackle technique,' said Mouneimne who delivers instructions to the players in a mix of English and Italian.
"The intensity in the hit, to destroy your opponent in the tackle, wasn't there."
Mouneimne has introduced a southern hemisphere-style defensive system to the Italians saying it is less bunched than the established northern pattern.
"On the first phase you press. On the second and third phase you don't know what will come, so you look for width and to spread the defence across the field."
It is a system, he said, that is complemented by the forwards slowing the ball at the breakdown.
"You have to slow the ball. Everyone does it - good teams or bad teams. It allows you time to reorganise the defence and get defenders into place."