Brodie Retallick: ‘My arms look like toothpicks and Eben Etzebeth’s are like cannons’

Colin Newboult
Brodie Retallick and Eben Etzebeth competing at a lineout during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Brodie Retallick and Eben Etzebeth competing at a lineout during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

All Blacks legend Brodie Retallick has opened up on his great rivalry with fellow second-row Eben Etzebeth in a head-to-head that became synonymous with the sport over the past decade.

The duo, who were born in the same year and also made their Test debuts in 2012, led the way in the locking department for over 10 years.

They often vied for the label of being the best in the world in their position with very little separating the two players over the seasons.

World Cup wins

Both became world champions with their respective nations, with the All Blacks lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 2015 and the Springboks doing so in 2019 and 2023.

Etzebeth and Retallick were key parts of their teams’ success and, as a result, it led to a number of clashes on the field.

They last faced off in the Rugby World Cup final last year when the Bok forward came out on top in a 12-11 victory in France.

“My mindset is you want to be the best and to be the best you’ve got to be better than everyone else, and he’s probably been the best for a long period of time,” Retallick told Walk the Talk with Jim Hamilton.

“You want to measure yourself against a player of his quality. He just makes it look too easy at times. He’s got the skill set and he’s played over 100 games for the Springboks.

“If he’s still doing it that well, he deserves to be talked about like that.

“There was a great photo when we were like 22 or 23 and we were both holding each other. My arms look like toothpicks and his are like cannons.

“The number of times I got told ‘you need to start doing some gym.’ I’m like, ‘I’m trying my best!’”

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Retallick has since effectively ended his international career by moving to the Japan Rugby League One, while Etzebeth has remained in the Springboks reckoning, featuring in South Africa’s 27-20 victory over Ireland on Saturday.

The Kiwi’s last international came in the sport’s showpiece event as the All Blacks put a few tough years behind them to reach the final.

Incredible Ireland match

Despite the loss to the Boks, New Zealand enjoyed a positive tournament overall, which included a stunning last-eight victory over Ireland in one of rugby’s best ever games.

“You have those weeks in Test rugby when you know the game is going to be a big one and it’s going to be physical,” Retallick added.

“The intensity was through the roof. The French crowd – well probably mostly Irish supporters – it was so loud in the stadium.

“It was tit for tat for a while there until Richie (Mo’unga) made that break off the back of a lineout and then just like that the game came alive.

“It’s almost a little bit of a blur. Defending for so long at the end there until Sam (Whitelock) got the turnover.

“The set-piece battle, the tries, the line breaks, the physicality, it had everything a good rugby match is all about.”

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