Springboks

Bok Test: Duane’s difficult direct foe

2017-11-24 12:50
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo)

Cape Town – The clash between gnarly, veteran competitors Duane Vermeulen and Sergio Parisse at No 8 seems easily the most appealing match-up on paper for Saturday’s Springbok encounter with Italy in Padova.

Both teams are very significantly changed from the line-ups which did duty when the Azzurri upset the Boks 20-18 on last year’s end-of-season tour, with the Italians arguably weaker this time and the Boks perhaps in slightly cheerier own fettle than in particularly bleak, late 2016.

Lightning, then, really oughtn’t strike twice … but here are some one-on-ones the Boks would do well to boss if sweet, clear-cut enough revenge is to occur:

Duane Vermeulen v Sergio Parisse

An undoubted legend of the Italian game, Parisse has played a mammoth 128 times for the Azzurri, stretching back to 2002 as a mere 18-year-old on debut against New Zealand. Now 34 and a bit past his prime, the skipper nevertheless retains strong competitive juices, especially against more highly-touted opponents. He surrenders a few kilograms (though not many) in bulk to the similarly street-wise Vermeulen in their No 8 tussle; Big Duane was a convenient absentee, of course, in last year’s historic 20-18 giant-slaying – Warren Whiteley in that Bok jersey -- by the Italians. Neither man will wish to concede an inch at close quarters, both are champion lineout factors, and Parisse is adept at aiding hand-to-hand initiatives on attack. A tad less flamboyant in style, Vermeulen showed healthy signs of green-and-gold “rebirth” against France last Saturday, and the Bok camp will be hoping that was simply a stepping stone toward his trumpeted qualities of old.

Eben Etzebeth v Marco Fuser

As his surname implies, there is no lack of fire in the belly of Fuser, the sturdy Italian No 4 lock. Among his 26 total caps, he also sports a 100 percent record against South Africa, considering that his lone appearance came handily in that first-time triumph in Florence in 2016. He was yellow-carded for a tip-tackle on second-row foe Lood de Jager then, but would have been happy enough to take that “hit” when glancing afterwards at the final score. Expect him to try to audaciously rile hard-man Etzebeth, who missed last year’s encounter but leads the redemption mission by the tourists this time. The Italians will know that if they can somehow knock Etzebeth off his stride, it could prove infectious in a fairly fragile Bok outfit. Then again, the Stormers cult figure kept composed and hurled himself into opponents as though his life depended on it in Paris. Any repeat of such go-forward – though the Boks mustn’t overdo using him as first receiver – in this fixture should get the visitors more than halfway home to a good result. 

Handre Pollard v Carlo Canna

Flyhalf Canna potted most of the goals off the tee for the Italians in last year’s shock outcome … and that is mentioned primarily bearing in mind how Pollard unusually laboured in that department against France last weekend. If this match turns into more of a nail-biter than Bok fans would like, naturally place-kicking could become an influential device. If so, the South African getting his timing and direction right again in Padova will settle butterflies. But there must also be a fair chance that the favourites, determined for history not to repeat itself, will largely starve the 25-year-old Italian pivot Canna of decent, front-foot ball. If Pollard, by contrast, has a plethora of good “pill” to play with, his strength and willingness to press for the advantage line should also help facilitate plenty of Bok try-scoring chances in wider channels. In those circumstances, his success rate at the posts would hopefully become a near-irrelevance …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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