SHIZUOKA, Japan (Reuters) - South Africa forwards coach Matt Proudfoot says the challenge presented by the Italy pack in Friday’s must-win Rugby World Cup Pool B clash at the Shizuoka Stadium will be on par with New Zealand.
Proudfoot was also pleased to have English referee Wayne Barnes in charge of the crucial clash, the winner of which will likely secure a quarter-final berth with second place in the pool.
The Springboks will be heavy favourites in the contest, but are still smarting from a 20-18 loss to the Italians in 2016 - their only defeat in 15 previous meetings - and must also face up to the pressure of what is essentially a knockout game.
“We have got a massive job on the weekend, this is the most important test we have played in the year. This is what it all comes down to, this one game,” Proudfoot told reporters on Monday.
“I would put this challenge as a forward pack on a par with the All Blacks, they are smart, they have a culture of scrummaging, they have a culture of mauling. They are very effective. The execution under pressure will be key.
“They (Italy) have had two years to prepare for this game and eight days since their last match, so they will be up for it.
“For both of us this is a desperate situation and for Italy, this is their opportunity (to progress), so we will have to be good.”
The Boks have spoken at length about officiating before and during the World Cup and Proudfoot said they are pleased with the appointment of Barnes for such a crucial game.
“Wayne is a great communicator, he is a very sharp referee and likes a bit of a challenge at the breakdown,” he said.
“Every referee has their own idiosyncrasy about how he sees the challenge and we accept that as long as it is consistent for both sides.
“The referee can have a specific picture about what he wants and the minute he communicates it, it gives us a guideline that we can adapt to.
“We will have a specific plan with Wayne about how we communicate with him, what is he looking for and how he gets that information to us. We have a good record with him because he is a very good referee.”
The Boks are likely to have a full compliment to select from in their 31-man squad, though outside centre Jesse Kriel will be assessed through the week after he missed Saturday’s 57-3 victory over Namibia with a slight hamstring problem.
“Jesse is progressing really well, we hope to have him up for selection this week, but we will assess him and see how he responds,” Proudfoot said.
“There are no other injuries in the squad and so we should have everyone, bar perhaps Jesse, in full training this week.”
Reporting By Nick Said; editing by Sudipto Ganguly