Old pals act spices up Otago clash
It will be a battle of South Africa wits when Ireland play Italy in their crucial Rugby World Cup Pool C match at Otago Stadium on Sunday.
Gert Smal is the Ireland forward coach while Nick Mallett is the Italian head coach and both have impressive pedigrees.
Smal coached Western Province to the Currie Cup (twice), the Stormers in Super Rugby and was Springbok assistant coach to Jake White from 2004 to 2007, when South Africa won the World Cup.
Mallett coached the Springboks to 17 consecutive Test victories between 1997 and 2000 and is widely regarded as one of the game's most innovative thinkers.
"We go back a long way," Smal said. "Nick is a very experienced coach. He will know what to do in situations like these. Italy will be a well-coached and prepared side."
"I know Nick well. We played together and coached against each other in provincial rugby in South Africa."
It gives another element to Sunday's encounter, which is already the equivalent of a World Cup sudden-death match.
"The winner takes all in Sunday's game" Smal said. "You either go to the next stage (the quarter-finals) or you go home."
Smal conceded the two extra days of preparation for Ireland might be an advantage.
"We might be a little fresher," he said. "We can't control when Italy play and what affects them. It's important we concentrate on what we can control and that we're ready for Sunday."
Smal said Ireland had suffered no significant injuries during their 62-12 win over Russia on Sunday and they expected to be able to choose their team from a fully-fit squad.
He is expecting a full-on challenge from Italy, particularly in the forwards.
"They pride themselves on their scrum," he said. "I think that aspect is going to be bigger than the Australian game. Italy have a very heavy pack. They have a very good front row and a heavy back five. It's definitely one of the areas in which they will attack us."
"They also drive well from the lineouts and those are things that we have to counter. They've got sizeable backs so we will be tested in all areas."
Smal also has immense respect for Italian captain Sergio Parisse.
"He's an outstanding player, world-class, and Italy without him are a different team," he said.
Ireland, arguably the most popular team at the tournament, arrived in Dunedin to an enthusiastic welcome. They are unbeaten after wins over the United States (22-10), Australia (15-6) and the Russians.
Otago Stadium is sold out for Sunday night's game.