Legal action against Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth for alleged assault will loom large over South Africa in their crucial Rugby World Cup pool match against Italy on Friday.
The Springboks have announced an “internal process” after South Africa’s Human Rights Commission said it would apply for a criminal prosecution against the second-row forward.
Etzebeth has denied assaulting and pointing a gun at a homeless man in August, shortly before his World Cup call-up. SA Rugby has said it would “adhere to whatever is decided” in the case.
The 81-cap lock has been named in South Africa’s team for Friday’s game in Shizuoka, which is shaping up as a must-win for both sides in the race for the quarter-finals.
Coach Rassie Erasmus has admitted to nerves going into the game against Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri, which follows the Springboks’ 23-13 defeat by New Zealand and 57-3 thrashing of Namibia in Pool B.
“Italy have had an eight-day turnaround and ours is six,” he said, with Italy having notched up two bonus-points wins over Namibia (47-22) and Canada (48-7).
“They would have been focusing on this game for the last year-and-a-half if they want to get out of the pool. They would have targeted South Africa, and they would have prepared lots of tricks and moves and stuff.
“For us, this is a crunch game. And if we have to grind it out –- this is a do-or-die game –- and just beat Italy no matter how, even if it’s just a drop goal, we want to get out of the pool. The win is the ultimate.”
In 14 encounters since their first in 1995, two-time world champions South Africa have won 13, but went down 20-18 in 2016 when Bok rugby was at a low ebb.
Things have changed since then, Erasmus galvanising a strong team and selecting South Africa’s first black captain in Siya Kolisi.
Italy coach O’Shea insisted that his team, the sole Six Nations side never to have reached a World Cup quarter-final, were not the ones in the spotlight despite having taken a maximum 10 points from their two opening games.
“The pressure is firmly on South Africa. They are expected to win the World Cup,” said the former Ireland full-back.
“No one thinks we have a hope in hell, and we have to go out and prove them wrong.”
Both coaches have plumped for a 6/2 forwards/backs split on the bench, suggesting an attritional war up front between two monster packs.
“If you don’t front up physically against South Africa, you’ve already lost the match,” said O’Shea.
“You must take them on in the forwards. We must treat it like the last match we’ll ever play.”
Bok assistant coach Matthew Proudfoot said the Italian eight, which features in-form South African-born Abraham Steyn in the back row alongside skipper Sergio Parisse, would be a “challenge”.
“They try to take you on at set-phase… so you’ve got to confront it. This is a very desperate situation -– they are going to be extremely hungry, and this is their opportunity, so we’ve got to be really good.”
Parisse will move ahead of Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll into second position behind New Zealand’s Richie McCaw (149) when he takes to the field to win his 142nd international cap.
“We want to be competitive to the end,” the 36-year-old said.
“We have 10 points and we’ve won the matches we need to. We just want to go out and finish the match with no regrets.”