Etzebeth's education continues

Date published: September 22 2014

Eben Etzebeth isn't your average 22-year-old. South Africa's young second-row is viewed as absolutely pivotal to the Springboks' future.

Eben Etzebeth isn't your average 22-year-old. South Africa's young lock is viewed as absolutely pivotal to the team's future.

That's not a status which is simply handed out either. In his 27 caps so far, Etzebeth has seamlessly fitted into Test rugby.

We seem to live in an age of young locks beginning to dominate Test rugby; Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, Sam Carter, with Pieter-Steph du Toit to come.

There's little now at the international level that Etzebeth hasn't experienced, including a prolonged lay-off through injury.

First, ankle surgery following an injury picked up playing France last November ruled him out until June. Then, when set to appear in Super Rugby for the Stormers, a freak accident bumping his toe on a shower door kept him out of the rest of the domestic season with a swollen foot. Over eight months kicking his heels.

You could forgive Etzebeth for letting the frustration of those setbacks get to him. Yet when asked about that time out of the sport, it doesn't even register.

“Once you're back on the field you forget all about it,” Etzebeth exclusively told Planet Rugby.

“I'm just happy to be back playing for my country again, because you really realise what you have when you lose it, which I did for about eight months when I was injured.

“Now I'm back, it's forgotten.”

Under half an hour for Western Province in the Currie Cup was enough to convince Heyneke Meyer of his fitness for the Rugby Championship.

The Springboks have improved game by game, but their performances in two matches against Argentina despite winning both were met with criticism. Now, South Africa have lost twice in Australasia, but look more cohesive, more direct.

Flaws though remain. From the outside South Africa's line-out let them down in Wellington at the death, but Etzebeth sees things differently.

“I wouldn't say the set-piece dipped at the end. We turned over the penultimate scrum, which went well all game, and then with the final line-outs we mauled them twice and just lost another. It's just a little bit of bad luck,” added Etzebeth.

Despite the progression with each outing, Etzebeth knows that he is aware that good performances when facing the Wallabies and All Blacks will only take the Springboks so far.

The key isn't to tear up the tactics, but to stay composed.

“We also performed well against Australia, but while it was our best performance in New Zealand it wasn't good enough because we lost. We'll have to rectify them back at home.

“There's definitely no need to panic. We know what we have to work on to beat these guys.”

Should Etzebeth need more by turning to others for experience, he isn't exactly in short supply.

Being dubbed 'the new Bakkies' and yet fighting it out for number four shirt along with Bakkies Botha is a different experience.

While many see him as a like-for-like replacement, Etzebeth doesn't. He is certainly grateful any advice on offer but values Botha as a friend and team-mate, not purely as a mentor.

For Etzebeth it's about making his own mark.

“There's no pressure living up to that tag,” stated Etzebeth.

“He's a great guy – we're actually good friends and I enjoy his company. I think we're completely different players, but it's been a privilege to work with him.”

by Ben Coles