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'A human being just like me': Kpoku savours Etzebeth head to head

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

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One-time England prospect Joel Kpoku can’t wait to tackle Springboks talisman Eben Etzebeth when their paths cross in this Friday night’s European Challenge Cup final between Lyon and Toulon in Marseille.  Etzebeth went head to head in the May 14 semi-final with Maro Itoje, the Saracens and England player that Kopku is often likened to.

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Having been man of the match in the semi-final win over Wasps, Kpoku now gets his chance with Lyon to battle against the Springboks forward in an eagerly awaited cup final at Stade Velodrome. Asked about the clash of the respective No4s, Kpoku said in a feature-length RugbyPass interview ahead of the final:  “It’s one where I can’t go into a shell. He is a human being just like me

“I know he has achieved amazing things in his career but at the same time when we are on that park he is the opposition so for me, it is concentrating on myself and not focusing too much on what I have opposite me in Etzebeth.”

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Eben Etzebeth | Rugby Roots
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Eben Etzebeth | Rugby Roots

A star at the 2018 Junior World Cup, Eddie Jones involved Kpoku at England training camps but his club career at Saracens didn’t reach expected heights as he fell down the selection pecking order and was also involved in the Barbarians’ game-cancelling farce in October 2020.   

Lyon, though, snapped up Kpoku last November and he is now set to feature in a European final just six months later. “Pierre (Mignoni) has been following me since the 2018 World Cup final.

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“He was looking at me from then on and tried to pick me up two years ago but I had already resigned, but he managed to pick me up in November and got his hands on me,” explained Kpoku when asked how the moved to France came about. 

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“I asked my agent if there were there any teams in England interested. He came back and I think he said Bath but I was like, I didn’t really want to go to Bath. Nothing against them, so then Lyon came about and I spoke to my close ones, my parents and my family, and they said you might as well go for it.”

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