Cape Town - If all rugby matches were decided by the “law of averages”, South Africa should trounce Italy by around 47-12 in their RWC 2019 clash at Shizuoka on Friday (11:45 SA time).
That is the numbers gulf between them, the Springboks having posted 652 points from the 14 prior meetings, while leaking only 171.
But the Azzurri will take heart from the fact that they earned their lone success against the established superpower just two encounters back - both teams on Friday will put out several participants who played in the Florence upset three years ago.
Here is a selection of noteworthy bilateral contests:
Italy 6 South Africa 35 (Padua, November 25, 2017)
This was a white-knuckle match for the Boks in so many respects: Allister Coetzee’s coaching tenure (soon to end anyway) hung by a thread, they were absolutely desperate to redeem themselves for the previous year’s first-time loss to Italy ... and having often bogey figure Romain Poite as the referee was no special comfort.
Yet give the team led by acting skipper at the time Eben Etzebeth their due: these Boks never really looked like letting lightning strike twice.
Despite a greasy surface, they ran in five tries without reply - three in the first half, when the visiting pack seemed particularly intent on bossing the physical side of things, and another brace after the break.
Helped by a commanding, man-of-the-match showing at flyhalf from Handre Pollard, the Bok dot-downs came from Francois Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Francois Venter, Steven Kitshoff and Franco Mostert.
Revenge had been acceptably sweet ...
Italy 20 South Africa 18 (Florence, November 19, 2016)
Yes, the nightmare match: where a hitherto 12-game winning run against these foes by the Boks was sensationally snapped as the cock-a-hoop Italians earned their maiden triumph over ANY of the “big three” southern hemisphere powers.
Coetzee’s charges were already coming off a comprehensive 37-21 beating from England at Twickenham a week earlier (the end-of-year tour would end a depressing nought from three) and, at least initially, it appeared as if Adriaan Strauss and company would take a heartening grip.
In a frantic first 15 minutes, three tries were scored, and two of them to the South Africans, via veteran Bryan Habana and Damian de Allende (despite Bloemfontein-born lock Dries van Schalkwyk having crossed the whitewash for the Azzurri, the Boks later changed ends 12-10 to the good).
But the fact that the Goliath team couldn’t “get away” from them gave the Italians ever-swelling heart, and they critically earned the only further try, through wing Gio Venditti.
Interestingly, 10 of the Bok match-day 23 to play on Friday featured in some capacity in that shock reverse, though several of them were considerably greener Test players then than they are now.
South Africa 101 Italy 0 (Durban, June 19, 1999)
This two-Test home series ended up being one of the most one-sided ever in Bok favour ... a bit of a worry from an Italian perspective as they were due to join the then-Five Nations in time for the 2000 competition.
When the teams took to the Kings Park pitch - in the Nick Mallett coaching era - Italy had already been slaughtered 74-3 in Port Elizabeth just a week earlier.
Would they be more resilient the second time around? In short, no: South Africa (led for the first time and on personal debut by Corne Krige) quickly got onto the front foot and the floodgates truly opened for their first ever “ton up” experience points-wise.
Local favourite Stefan Terblanche had a day to remember: the left wing romped over for a Bok record (at the time) five tries, something only eclipsed six years further up the line when Tonderai Chavhanga earned a half-dozen against Uruguay.
Fifteen tries were notched in total, another remarkable aspect being that substitute Deon Kayser, another Sharks-based player, promptly earned a hat-trick. There was also a good strike rate in conversions from Gaffie du Toit and Braam van Straaten: 13 of the 15 were successfully landed between them.
Now 49 and a gravel-voiced commentator for SuperSport, Durban-born lock Wim Visser was part of the vanquished touring side’s line-up.
Italy 21 South Africa 40 (Rome, November 12, 1995)
The Azzurri had the honour, in the first ever bilateral clash between these sides, of being first side abroad to host a Bok team celebrating their World Cup 1995 success.
It was a two-match mini-tour of Europe at the end of the memorable season, in which South Africa later also beat England 24-14 at Twickenham.
Italy, to their credit, put up a decent fight at the Stadio Olimpico considering they were especially pronounced minnows at the time, only succumbing 4-2 in the try column - and one of the Bok scores was a penalty try.
The Springboks fielded exactly the same backline that had started the World Cup final against New Zealand, although new faces in the pack - where iconic captain Francois Pienaar shifted to No 8 - were Toks van der Linde, Tommy Laubscher and Fritz van Heerden.
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