The Springboks must win to keep alive their hopes of reaching the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals. Meanwhile, if Italy beat the Boks for a second time they are virtually guaranteed to go through to the next stage.
The Springboks have made no secret of their respect for the Italian game and their coaching panel featuring Irishman Conor O’Shea (head coach), former England centre Mike Catt (attack coach), South African Marius Goosen (defence coach) and former Italian international prop Giampiero de Carli (forwards coach).
“They are quite clever I haven’t slept a lot in the last three days!” said Nienaber, from the team’s hotel (which is actually in Omaezaki and not at the match venue in Shizuoka).
“Conor, Goosen, Catt and De Carli are students of the game and they have been involved in it for a long time and they make good plans. Obviously they will challenge us.
“They’ve got a good pack and good backs as well. I’ve been lucky enough to coach against teams like Benetton and Zebre in Europe and their rugby has grown in terms of Conor’s guidance in recent years.”
The Springboks named a team featuring six forwards on the bench as well as three changes to the tight five (to the team that opened the competition against New Zealand) to specifically meet the threat posed by Italy.
“Their forwards will maul well and they’ve got a good scrum,” said Nienaber, who identified that as a key platform for their attack.
“If you look at their launches from scrums in the Six Nations against teams like England, they ‘cut’ them, put them under pressure.
“In the warm-up game against Ireland – or it may have been in the Six Nations – at 48 minutes it was 14-12 to Italy. So they can be dominant.”
Italy have beaten South Africa only once in the teams’ 14 meetings – but that 2016 loss in Florence (20-18) has not been forgotten by the ten Springbok survivors for Friday night’s encounter.
One of them is centre Damian de Allende: “That wasn’t a nice feeling – the first time we had lost against them obviously,” he said.
“From what I can remember from the game, we played quite loosely and I think their forwards dominated us especially close to our try-line and close to their try-line.
“They stopped a lot of our mauls and they contained us quite well. We got beaten by a better team on the day.”
However, the Springboks have moved on and improved in the time since that reverse.
“We have improved a lot,” said De Allende. “We’re aligned in that we all have one goal; and we all want to achieve one thing.”