Sharks and Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth explains why his try against Harlequins was perfectly legal, and why the Champions Cup is the best competition in the world.
The Springbok veteran scored an intelligent try in the 39-29 defeat, showing off his understanding of the game’s laws.
‘I went for it’
Care was bemused when the lock stole the ball from his feet and appealed to the referee instead of tackling the runaway lock.
After the game, Etzebeth commented on his sharp bit of play, explaining that it wasn’t a tactic for the side but something he was looking to exploit, having come close to making the most of the law earlier in the game.
🧠 High IQ play from Eben Etzebeth.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) January 21, 2023
“There was one previously in the game where I was too excited and almost slipped when I picked the ball up,” Etzebeth said. “The last one, I just saw one of the guys counter rucking, and Joe Marler just lost his bind for a bit and had a long arm bind, and I went for it.”
“Luckily, Nika (referee Nika Amashukeli) saw it, and he didn’t penalise me because that’s the rules; you must be bound, or the ball is out.”
He added that the Sharks always look to pressure teams when they try to exit, and he made the most of the opportunity.
“We try to put pressure on the other teams’ breakdown when they try and exit from their own half; I think it was just normal. Like I said, it was just a good counter ruck, and the bind was lost, and luckily it went my way this time,” he said.
The Sharks defeated Harlequins in Durban in round one before claiming back-to-back wins over Bordeaux. However, they came out second-best in their final pool stage match.
Etzebeth said discipline cost his side at the Stoop while they needed to work on their breakdown.
“Discipline let us down; I think Harlequins were good today,” he said.
“We spoke about it at half-time, came out, another penalty, they came into our half and scored a try; it was a big letdown for us today.”
He added: “Breakdown and discipline, we need to improve on that, then also one-on-one tackles. I think we gained a lot of momentum, and we had them, and then they just spin out of tackles, and there is a clean break, so it’s definitely something to work on.
“I must say a lot of individual errors, penalties and all that stuff. The system is quite good, but the individuals just need to step up, and it will get better moving forwards.”
‘The best club competition in the world’
The 31-year-old lock has club rugby experience across the world, having played for sides based in South Africa, Japan and France in some of the best tournaments around, but he believes the Champions Cup is the best of the lot.
“I think it is the best club competition in the world. I have been a part of Super Rugby and the Top 14 and URC, but I must say the Champions Cup is something different, something special,” he said.
“I think all the teams try to build up to the Champions Cup weeks and try to get the best players ready, so it’s definitely a special competition to play in.”
When asked to explain the difference between Super Rugby and the Champions Cup, he said: “There is a whole aura around the Champions Cup, special music, it’s the best of Europe, and we get to play against new teams.
“South African teams would have never thought to play Harlequins or Bordeaux or whoever we play now in the last 16.
“It’s special to play our first game at the Stoop, and what an unbelievable crowd. Players are fortunate to have such a great crowd, and I must say the people were also supporting us and very friendly towards us, so it’s a great place to play.”
Travel challenges are not an excuse
Etzebeth would not blame the defeat on the challenges facing South African sides, who have flown via Doha and not in business class to feature in the matches.
He did confirm that the Sharks flew directly to London for the game but added that players have travelled throughout their careers and that it couldn’t be used as an excuse.
“I think it is always going to be a challenge, but it is not an excuse,” he explained.
“We are professional rugby players, some of us playing for more than 10 years. We are used to travelling, so it’s not an excuse; it is part of the game.”