Big buddies: Eben Etzebeth, back from a long injury layoff, says he loves playing alongside captain Siya Kolisi. Picture: STEVE HAAG/GALLO IMAGES
Big buddies: Eben Etzebeth, back from a long injury layoff, says he loves playing alongside captain Siya Kolisi. Picture: STEVE HAAG/GALLO IMAGES

He was in a lonely place‚ admitted Eben Etzebeth on Thursday‚ when asked about his long time on the sidelines due to injury.

Etzebeth, who injured his shoulder in December 2017 in the Springboks’ narrow defeat to Wales at the Principality Stadium, has been in rehab for the past eight months‚ and the journey was dimly lit.

"The rugby world forgot about me‚" said Etzebeth. "It has been more than eight months.

"It is nice to be in a team environment because when it is just you and the physio every day‚ it is a lonely world."

Ahead of the Rugby Championship game against Argentina in Durban on Saturday, Etzebeth was quite chipper, unlike the mood in 2017 when he led the team through a dark period in Springbok history.

He perhaps has reason to be more relaxed. When he last played he led the team out in Cardiff, but now he is just one of the pack. There can be no doubt that he has the back of the new captain, Siya Kolisi. The pair have an enduring bromance.

"Being in a team environment and having Siya as my roommate and waking up next to him every morning… it is nice to be in an environment like that again. Everybody knows Siya and I have a pretty good relationship," he said.

"When he was announced as captain in June I phoned him, but I think he was busy on the training field. But he called back later and he told me how excited he was. I’ve worked with Siya since under-18. Just to see him grow as a man and as a leader — especially the past two years. It has been wonderful. Can I say I love another man? Because‚ I really love the guy.

"It is just awesome to see him lead the team and I’ll back him all the way."

Etzebeth’s smile faded when asked about his time on the sidelines. It was a humbling time. "Watching the guys run out and sing the national anthem.

"I love Springbok rugby. Not being there was very emotional for me. When you run out and sing the national anthem‚ that is probably the best song you can sing," he said. "You also miss the jokes off the pitch, but at the end of the day it is about the 80 minutes where you get to test yourself against the best players."

Given the heightened physicality with which Etzebeth goes about his business, there has to be lingering questions about him being pushed into battle against one of the most abrasive teams on the international scene.

"Have you watched us train?" he asked. "I had eight months to get back. You can sit here and say you’re ready but come five o’clock, that’s when I and the rest of the world will see if I’m ready to play again. I’m looking forward to that."

Etzebeth is hoping to last the distance on Saturday. "Hope-fully he’ll keep me on for the full 80. I’ll go at it until the coach thinks I should come off."

With Etzebeth fit again the Boks are spoilt for choice in the second row. Coach Rassie Erasmus explained his rationale in this Test.

"Pieter-Steph [du Toit] played blindside last time, but we had to give Franco Mostert a rest somewhere. He is totally overplayed. If we don’t do it now we probably never will do it."

Mostert and RG Snyman‚ who featured in the June Tests‚ may even be rested for next week’s return Test in Mendoza.

Etzebeth‚ meanwhile‚ is revelling in the moment.

TimesLIVE

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