They improved on that with a 31-28 success over England last time out and De Villiers wants to ensure they keep their intensity high against what is on paper inferior opposition.
“It’s been a pretty tough week of training, the main message throughout is that we need to pitch up mentally,” De Villiers told reporters on Friday.
“The big difference between the Ireland and England games was exactly that — the mental preparation and the focus going into those games. We are very aware of it.”
De Villiers expects Italy to be fired-up, having lost all their previous 11 meetings with the Boks, and says starting well with points on the board could quell the home side’s early passion.
“We must make sure our reaction time is that half-second better than theirs, as it was against England and wasn’t against Ireland. We have to start well, play in the right areas and make sure that we get in front because as soon as they get a sniff it becomes a very long day.”
The Boks have received yellow cards in both their tour matches and De Villiers says they will do all they can to stay on the right side of French referee Jerome Garces.
“Our discipline is important, the previous two weeks getting yellow cards put us in tough situations,” he said.
“Even though I think we are pretty good with understanding what the referee wants and adapting to him, it’s those one or two situations that could cost you a game. We need to sharpen up on that.”
De Villiers is also looking for more precision from the side as an attacking unit.
“We had opportunities last weekend that we didn’t finish off and certainly there will be opportunities this week. It’s making sure you don’t go chasing the game from the very first minute, but get the structures right and capitalise on that.”
(Reporting by Nick Said; editing by Toby Davis)