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'Eben made the choice to play... I'd like to think that he'll be doing it for his father'

By Ian Cameron
Eben Etzebeth /Getty Images

Eben Etzebeth will take the field against the All Blacks this Saturday at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, despite the recent passing of his father. The news was shared by Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who expressed their readiness for the upcoming battle.

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While addressing the media on Friday, Stick acknowledged the magnitude of the challenge awaiting them but emphasized the team’s unity in supporting Etzebeth during this difficult time. “We’ve prepared as well as we could for a massive game,” Stick said. “Eben’s loss is also our loss because we are a family, and as a team, we’d like to be there for one another.”

Tragedy has unfortunately struck the team twice, as Jaden Hendricks’ father also passed away before the team’s departure from South Africa. The Springboks have rallied together to provide support and solidarity to their grieving teammates. Stick added, “Eben made the choice to play this weekend, and I’d like to think that he’ll be doing it for his father. If he plays for his dad, it doesn’t get bigger than facing the All Blacks.”

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Bongi Mbonambi acknowledged the daunting forward battle that lies ahead but expressed confidence in the team’s preparedness, despite some players arriving at the team hotel in the early hours of Tuesday morning. “It’s always difficult playing against a fully loaded New Zealand team,” Mbonambi stated. “They are a good scrummaging team, and we saw how they performed against Argentina, so we have to be up for it.”

Reflecting on their match preparation, Mbonambi mentioned that the victory against Australia served as a positive start but emphasized the team’s focus on the present challenge. “The game against Australia was a good start for us, but we quickly put that behind us because we have another big challenge this week,” he said. “Fortunately, all the planning was done when we touched down, so we just had to slot in, and as a team, we’re aligned.”

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Assistant coach Stick anticipated a tough test from the All Blacks, stressing the need for physicality and resilience to counter their high-tempo game. “If we want to beat the All Blacks, there’s no doubt that we have to stand up to them physically and also cope with their high-tempo game for the full 80 minutes,” Stick asserted. “It is also vital that when we create opportunities, we have to use them.”

While the prospect of defeating New Zealand in Auckland for the first time since 1937 holds significance, Stick revealed that the team’s focus remains firmly on the task at hand and the rich history between the two teams. “It’s the first time I hear about that. It would be special for the boys, but it isn’t something we’ve been thinking about,” he shared. “As a team, we spoke about facing the All Blacks at home. Some of us were part of the team that won in Wellington in 2018, but this is a new match, and we know the history between the teams is massive.”

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Jon 1 hours ago
Sam Cane was unfairly cast in Richie McCaw's shadow for too long

> McCaw’s durability and sustained excellence were unique, but we seemed to believe his successors were cut from the same cloth. It’s easy to forget McCaw was just as heavily critiqued for the last two years of his career. The only real difference was his captaining criticisms and his playing criticisms happened at different times, where Cane was criticized for a few things in both areas for all of his last 4 years. This was also heavily influenced by another McCaw esque presence, in Ardie Savea, being in the team and pushed out of his original position. It could be said we essentially didn’t have the 3 prior years with Ardie as world player of the year because he was changing into this new role. I say “original” position as despite him never coming out and saying his desire is to perform his role from, that I know of, clearly as part of a partnership with Cane as 7, I don’t think this was because he really wanted Cane’s playing spot. I think it most likely that it comes down to poor All Black management that those sort of debates weren’t put to bed as being needless and irrelevant. It has been brought up many times in past few months of discussions on articles here at RP, that early calls in WC cycles, to say pigeonhole an All Black team into being required to have a physical dynamo on defence at 7 (and ballplyaer at 8 etc) are detrimental. In the end we did not even come up against a team that threw large bodies at us relentlessly, like why we encountered in the 2019 WC semi final, at all in this last WC. Even then they couldn’t see the real weakness was defending against dynamic attacks (which we didn’t want to/couldn’t give 2019 England credit for) like the Twickenham Boks, and Irish and French sides (even 10 minutes of an English onslaught) that plagued our record and aura the last 4 years. It really is a folly that is the All Blacks own creation, and I think it pure luck, and that Cane was also such a quality All Black, that he was also became an integral part of stopping the side from getting run off the park. Not just rampaged. > The hushed tones, the nods of approval, the continued promotion of this nonsense that these men are somehow supernatural beings. I bet this author was one of those criticizing Cane for coming out and speaking his mind in defence of his team that year. Despite the apparent hypocrisy I agree with the sentiment, but I can only see our last captain as going down the same road his two prior captains, Read and McCaw, have gone. I am really for Cane becoming an extra member to each squad this year, June, RC, and November tours, and he is really someone I can see being able to come back into the role after 3 seasons in Japan. As we saw last year, we would have killed for someone of his quality to have been available rather than calling on someone like Blackadder. Just like the Boks did for 2023.

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