South Africa saw off the challenge Italy 29-13 in their showdown at Puma Stadium in Witbank on Saturday.
While unable to reach the dizzy heights of last weekend's rout of Six Nations champions France, South Africa still had too much in reserve for the determined tourists and scored four tries through wing Bryan Habana, flanker Francois Louw, fly-half Morne Steyn and fullback Zane Kirchner. Italy scored a second-half try through skipper Sergio Parisse, returning after a long injury lay-off, while Springbok centre Butch James kicked his heels in the sin-bin. James, making his first Test appearance since 2008, was looking to force his way into Peter De Villiers' World Cup plans but endured a mixed outing.
Italy made a shaky start as their one area of genuine strength, the scrum, came under serious pressure from a fired up Springbok eight. Gurthro Steenkamp won a penalty as the visitors looked to press close to their opponents' try-line, firing a curt warning to Martin Castrogiovanni after the tight-head demolished the Boks in the colours of Leicester last November.
Despite their scrum being out of kilter, the Azzurri dominated the early proceedings and should have scored the opening try after a surge from Andrea Masi took play to within inches of the line. Scrum-half Tito Tebaldi took the wrong option and the move was ended, but the referee's whistle granted some reward with Mirco Bergamasco's first penalty.
Steyn struck back with three points of his own and soon after the Springboks ruthlessly exploited a turnover to score the first try. James played a part with a crisp wide pass to Kirchner, whose grubber bounced perfectly for Habana to race clear of Luke McLean and score. The conversion followed along with another blow for Italy as Castrogiovanni departed injured.
Habana had a sniff of a second soon after but was checked by Craig Gower as he set off after his own kick ahead. Nevertheless, the Springboks soon forged further ahead thanks to his Stormers team-mate Louw, who pounced for an opportunist try a week after opening his Test account against France. South Africa got their maul rolling inside the Italian 22 and as it splintered Louw was able to snaffle the ball at the base and dive over with the defence preoccupied.
Italy continued to enjoy their fair share of possession but were made to rue a defensive lapse just before half-time, with Steyn pouncing for a well-taken try. The build-up had been messy from the Springboks as Pierre Spies' offload went to ground but his fly-half scooped the ball from the turf and jinked his way inside the tackle of Quintin Geldenhuys to add another five points to his growing stockpile.
The Bulls pivot was involved in the Springboks' fourth, scored just after the break by his club team-mate Kirchner. The Springbok forwards trucked the ball up in midfield to good effect and some sharp interplay between Steyn and scrum-half Ricky Januarie gave Kirchner a simple run in past a laboured McLean.
The Italian fullback was collared by a high tackle from James moments later, with the Bath midfielder getting 10 minutes to cool off as a result. Despite their numerical disadvantage the Springboks went close to adding a fifth try when Gio Aplon pounced on a loose ball but the former Sevens star was called back for an early tackle by Jean de Villiers.
As James' sin-bin ticked to zero Italy found a moment of real quality to snare a try. Tebaldi dummied after taking off-the-top lineout ball and having outfoxed the Springbok pack he accelerated clear. With only Chiliboy Ralepelle to beat the scrum-half put Parisse on a simple run for the line. Bergamasco converted and added another three points moments later.
Italy scrapped hard in the closing stages to add a further score and while a raft of Springbok replacements took much of the structure out of the game the hosts were able to keep their line intact. The final whistle brought muted celebrations, with Italy 'winning' the second-half 10-7.