Italy coach Nick Mallett says he is expecting no sympathy from World Champions South Africa and Argentina when the Azzurri meet them in Test matches on 20 June and 27 June respectively.
Italy face South Africa in Cape Town and despite growing up in the city and still having family there, Mallett expects no favours from a team he led to the 1998 Tri Nations title and the 1999 World Cup semi-finals.
“In South Africa there are so many good young players. There’s the flanker Juan Smith who is just outstanding and I think the best number seven in the world,” he said here on Thursday.
“Butch James is playing well and the locks Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield I know well. They have 30 players they can chose from who can play at the same level.”
News 24 reports that the last time Italy met South Africa in Cape Town they lost 101-0 and Mallett knows the potential of this Springbok team having watched them produce an impressive 43-17 victory over Six Nations champions Wales.
Mallett added: “Their strength and speed is at a different level from the Six Nations and they just seem to do things at a greater pace. Even though Wales are well coached and well organised they were just blown off the park.”
Another factor counting against Mallett is the number of absentees who are either playing in the French Top 14 or are out through injury. Captain Sergio Parisse and centres Mirco Bergamasco and Gonzalo Canale are all playing in French Championship matches, but it is in the front row where Mallett is really feeling the pinch.
Seven first choice props are missing
Italy’s three first choice props are all missing. Salvatore Perugini and Andrea Lo Cicero are still playing for their French clubs Toulouse and Racing Metro Paris, whilst Leicester’s Martin Castrogiovanni continues his recovery from a back injury.
“Seven first choice props are missing. How many teams in the world can afford to lose that many, especially when the front row is our strength. I only have Carlos Nieto (of any experience) the other four having only been playing Italian club rugby. It is a hell of a blow.”
One change to the line-up is likely to come at flyhalf. In the Six Nations Mallett tried, with limited success, Andrea Masi in the number 10, but the Biarritz centre or wing did not fully convince in the pivotal role.
Now Mallett is likely to either move Andrea Marcato to flyhalf from fullback or give Luke McLean an opportunity to stake a claim, with Masi back in more familiar territory at centre.
“Marcato might be flyhalf, but it might be McLean and I need to work out who I will play at 10 and Marcato can also play fullback. But Masi is a centre and wants to play centre. He has the ability to play flyhalf, centre or fullback, but we will probably look at him in the centre.”
With Parisse in action for Stade Francais in the French Championship Mallett has been forced to look elsewhere for a new captain. He has chosen hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini who made himself Italy’s first choice hooker in the Six Nations and recently led Calvisano to the Italian league title.
However, Mallett says the choice was no way influenced by the return of South Africa’s World Cup winning captain and hooker John Smit after a six months with ASM Clermont-Auvergne.
“He’s been playing well with Calvisano who have won the championship and he is a good, calm, young lad. He knows that Sergio (Parisse) will be captain when he comes back, but he has a bright future and is a player I respect.”Tweet