Rugby World Cup 2011

Colossal Castro to aid Boks?

2011-09-27 13:07
Martin Castrogiovanni (File)

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - Italian powerhouse prop Martin Castrogiovanni has reminded that he is capable of being pivotal in swinging the RWC 2011 quarter-final draw slightly back in the Springboks’ favour.


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The Argentine-born tighthead, who plies his club trade for Leicester Tiger in England, produced an immense personal display as Nick Mallett’s charges achieved their objective on Tuesday of beating the plucky United States with a bonus point.

It sets up a likely straight knockout match in Pool C on Sunday between the Italians and Six Nations rivals Ireland for the right to accompany Australia - still to play presumable easy-beats Russia - into the knockout phase.

And if Italy can produce the upset in Dunedin, South Africa would almost certainly avoid the looming fate of playing Tri-Nations rivals Australia and New Zealand in the quarter-finals and semis respectively.

For all the gung-ho talk in some circles of the awakening Boks simply “knocking over whoever is put in front of them” en route to defence of their crown, you can bet your last dollar they would still secretly prefer to play Italy than the Wallabies in their first knockout match.

On Tuesday the Italians, while notably predictable and one-dimensional in many other areas, did serve evidence that their booming scrum could seriously unsettle the Irish and be the catalyst for ensuring them the kind of field position that could greatly influence their quest for the relative giant-killing.

They came within some three minutes of beating Ireland in the Six Nations this year, and their 27-10 triumph over the United States, interestingly, was achieved with greater comfort in pure scoreboard terms than Ireland had managed earlier in pool activity - unlike Italy, the men from the Emerald Isle had failed to get the four tries necessary for a bonus point in seeing off those opponents 22-10.

Few shrewd observers would dispute that Ireland will remain fairly clear favourites in Dunedin, especially as their own scrum is hardly shabby itself at present: it was a key to their 15-6 victory over Australia that turned the anticipated, advanced-stage tournament schedule rather on its head.

Irish loosehead Cian Healy was named man of the match on that occasion, so his one-on-one scrap with Italian juggernaut Castrogiovanni (who similarly earned that mantle against the USA) on Sunday will be the kind of occasion to have thickset, cauliflower-eared gentlemen worldwide purring with pleasure.

Castrogiovanni, complete with his trademark billowing, caveman-like facial hair and socks around his ankles, was a constant thorn in the Americans’ flesh on Tuesday, both at the set-piece and in more general play.

His right shoulder was almost too effective, occasionally, at scrum-time: it meant that Sergio Parisse, the No 8 and Italian captain, had some difficulty controlling the ball with his feet as the pack made metres at a startling rate of knots.

“Castro” took great pleasure, too, whenever there was occasion for either a short- or long-arm Italian penalty, to spiritedly make the standard scrummaging signal to his skipper: he would clearly have loved to have kept on heaving and grappling until midnight and beyond although he was finally hauled off the park by Mallett after 72 minutes to rest his by then slightly aching calves for Ireland.

Remarkably for a tighthead - in a rugby world renowned for greater mobility and ball-carrying participation by the fellows wearing the No 1 jersey - Castrogiovanni was credited, if the TV stats were to be believed, with 11 runs and seven tackles to add to his obvious set-piece prowess.

The formidable unit was denied a 37th minute try after referral to South African TMO Shaun Veldsman who gave an “inconclusive” verdict, but only three minutes later, handily on the stroke of half-time, Castrogiovanni got the third Italian try by bulldozing over in a demonstration of his standout leg and shoulder strength simultaneously.

Commentator Stuart Barnes, one of the more descriptive at his trade, observed: “He was waiting like an overweight vulture ... the sheer weight of pressure (got him over the line). George Clancy ain’t going to the TMO for this one.”

Not much earlier, he had been moved to say: “The (Italian) front row are having a feast ... gorging themselves on the USA in the scrums.”

There aren’t too many genuinely revered tightheads around the planet at present, but Castrogiovanni truly counts among those who are: his influence in a still reasonably unfashionable national team reminds one a bit of George Weah’s rather lopsided footballing super-stardom for the rank minnows of Liberia in his club heyday in the very same Italy.

Now, can one behemoth do enough - and after a short turnaround time between games, alas - to arguably assist the Springbok “QF” cause?

We’ll find out on Sunday ...


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