The rise of Eben Etzebeth, accidental Springbok captain
'That 100 per cent record will be put to the test when Etzebeth leads the Boks against the Wallabies and All Blacks in Perth and Albany next month'
Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth is relishing the leadership role that was thrust upon him earlier this year when Warren Whiteley was ruled out through injury.
A persistent groin problem forced Whiteley out on the eve of the third Test against France at his home ground of Ellis Park‚ and Etzebeth was elevated to captain.
So far‚ so good for the giant lock.
Played three and won three as captain‚ although that 100 per cent record will be put to the test when Etzebeth leads the Boks against the Wallabies and All Blacks in Perth and Albany next month.
Etzebeth is undoubtedly the best lock in South Africa and possibly the best in the world‚ but being a leader is something he’s grown into‚ rather than something he was nurtured for at a younger age.
At 25‚ he is still a young man with many years ahead of him. But he’s also had a lengthy Test career having made his debut as at 20 in 2012.
Etzebeth has already amassed 59 Test caps and is probably more vital to the Boks than any other player at the moment.
“If you had asked me a few years ago whether being a captain came naturally to me I would have answered ‘no’‚” Etzebeth said at the team’s arrival back from Argentina on Tuesday‚ where they beat the Pumas 41-23 in Salta last weekend.
“But it’s starting to feel more natural and I really enjoy very minute of it.
“The last three weeks and the French series have been the best times of my life with the Springboks.
“In terms of the captaincy having leaders such as Elton Jantjies‚ Tendai Mtawarira and Siya Kolisi around me‚ and with all the coaches laying out good plans‚ it has made it easy.
“I enjoy being able to express my emotions a bit more when we get into a huddle‚ and leading the team on the field for the country are really special feelings.”
Of course tougher challenges await.
The Wallabies took the All Blacks to the edge in last weekend’s high-octane Test in Dunedin‚ with the world champions prevailing 35-29.
Australia‚ despite the defeat‚ will go into their clash against the Boks in Perth on September 9 with confidence while the All Blacks are playing with their usual ruthlessness.
After the Boks fumbled through 2016 with four wins in 12 Tests there was little indication that they would be able to turn their fortunes around as quickly as they have. But for Etzebeth it’s not that surprising.
“We’ve had better preparation this year than we did in 2016‚ both for the players and for the coach‚” he said.
“Coach Allister Coetzee has put together a good management team and we had time in Plettenburg Bay (pre the French series in June) to build a strong team culture.
“We can’t wait to see how we go up against Australia and New Zealand‚ which are two of the best‚ so our excitement levels are high.
“Having taken our world ranking from seventh to third in five matches this year is good‚ but we are still not where we want to be. We still want to climb that ladder two more places.
“It doesn’t really matter that we’re top of the log on points’ difference at this stage. The coming tour is going to be massive and we know what we have to do‚ to be successful.”