Du Preez looking forward to baptism of fire

Loosehead prop Wian du Preez will make his South Africa debut against Italy on Saturday with Leicester Tiger Martin Castrogiovanni’s snarling teeth ready to welcome him.

As international starts go it couldn’t be any tougher against a player regarded as one of the best tighthead props in the business.

Castrogiovanni gave New Zealand’s Wyatt Crockett a torrid time last weekend in Milan and Du Preez knows he’s going to be in for some similar treatment.

“It’s going to be a challenge, I saw what he did against the All Blacks and it’s a real baptism of fire,” said the 27-year-old.

“Its up there, it’s my first experience of international rugby so it’s going to be a big test.

“The Italians are a big physical side of forwards, you can see they work well as a pack, they’ve worked well on scrums and drives.

Castro’s a big guy, it’s going to be a physical test on Saturday.

“They’re really improving and they’re a passionate people. They’re very supportive of us, it’s going to be special representing South Africa.”

However it is a mark of coach Peter de Villiers’s faith in Du Preez that he has dropped ‘The Beast’ Tendai Mtawarira for this clash and plumped for a debutant.

De Villiers insisted he has the strength in depth to be able to do that, despite losing a number of other front rowers and being forced to call up BJ Botha, who only arrived in Italy on Thursday, to be on the bench.

“We would have loved to have him here with us from the beginning but what a lovely position to be in, we’ve been through a full compliment of front rows, we’ve lost six at the moment, and we can still fall back on somebody with that much test experience,” said De Villiers of Botha.

“I think we’re in a brilliant position, although not the one we wanted to be in.”

Despite resting The Beast and vice-captain Victor Matfield for this game while selecting two more uncapped players for the bench, De Villiers believes Italy are a team to be taken seriously following last week’s 20-6 defeat to New Zealand.

“The biggest lesson that anyone can learn from that game is the gentle way the Italians are growing in this game, they will pose a threat to rest of world come 2011 (the World Cup ),” he said.

“This Italian team is really good at doing certain things, especially come scrum time, mauling and lineout time.”

Right now, though, Italy are on a 12-match losing streak and have never beaten the Springboks in seven previous attempts.

Their best ever result against the South Africans was a 40-21 defeat in Rome in 1995, the first ever meeting between the two sides, but the Azzurri also suffered their record defeat to the Springboks, a 101-0 mauling in 1999 in Durban.

Their coach, Nick Mallett, a South African who counted De Villiers as one of his assistants when he was coach of the Springboks, has also made some changes leaving experienced pair Mauro Bergamasco and Gonzalo Canale on the bench.

That might have handed South Africa an advantage but De Villiers admits his team, the world and TriNations champions, are not at their best at the end of a long hard southern hemisphere season.

Something he says contributed to their 20-13 defeat to France  last weekend — one of three successive defeats they have suffered — the other two being to club sides Leicester Tigers and Saracens.

“We’re one or two seconds off the boil at the moment, so now we’ve got ch

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