CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Hooker Bismarck du Plessis scored two tries from lineout drives as South Africa ground out an unimpressive 26-0 win over Italy in terrible conditions in a one-off test on Saturday.
Steady rain fell throughout most of the match and, after torrential downpours on the days leading up to the match, the pitch was a slippery morass.
Despite dominating territory and possession, the Springboks could only gather four tries, by flyhalf Francois Steyn and prop Tendai Mtawarira, and the brace by Du Plessis.
“I said we’d take any win,” Springbok coach Peter de Villiers told a news conference.
“In the wet conditions we looked after our lineout ball nicely, and we knew that Italy were one of the better driving teams in the Six Nations. But our scrums were quite indifferent.”
The Springboks were most impressive when their forwards drove with the ball and Du Plessis scored in the 17th and 44th minutes from the protection of the rolling maul.
Steyn, starting at flyhalf for the first time, scored his try with a dazzling piece of individual skill and succeeded with three conversions but was occasionally found wanting in the pivot position.
South Africa made a good start after six minutes when Steyn outran several scrambling defenders in Italy’s 22 to collect his own grubber kick, slide over for the try and then slot the conversion.
The Springboks scored another converted try 11 minutes later when, from a five-metre lineout, the home team driving a rolling maul over.
Conservative tactical kicking consumed much of the second quarter, and even though the home team enjoyed a territorial advantage, Italy’s powerful scrum, led by tighthead prop Carlos Nieto, soured South Africa’s scoring opportunities.
Italy were reduced to 14 men when lock Carlo del Fava was yellow-carded with three minutes remaining. Del Fava knocked Springbok number eight Ryan Kankowski unconscious in a clash of heads while attempting a front-on tackle, and Kankowski was stretchered off the field to be replaced by Joe van Niekerk.
Steyn missed the 50-metre penalty kick shortly before Irish referee George Clancy blew the halftime whistle and the Springboks jogged off with a 14-0 lead.
The home team replicated their second try when Du Plessis crashed over for his second score of the match from a driven five-metre lineout deep in Italy’s 22 four minutes after the break.
Zimbabwean-born Mtawarira scored his first try for the Springboks 12 minutes later after a sniping run by scrumhalf Enrico Januarie. The ball was spun wide, and the burly front rower latched on to an inside pass from Bryan Habana before barrelling over for the score.
“I said the whole week that our side was missing key players and we were playing against the world champions and a fantastic side. I’m not over the moon but I’m proud of the guys, we stuck to the game plan,” said Italy coach Nick Mallett.
Editing by John Mehaffey and Justin Palmer