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Four-word answer highlights how Eben Etzebeth doesn't miss a beat

By Daniel Gallan
(Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Eben Ezebeth was already breaking out into a wry grin before the journalist on the video call had finished his question to the Springboks lock on Tuesday.


With one eyebrow cocked he waited like a man who knew what was coming and exactly how he would respond. Either he had thought of this before and had quickly shelved the idea, or the notion hadn’t once crossed his mind.

“Eben, this is a warm-up game just before the Rugby World Cup,” the journo began. “Although you guys fight out some of the fiercest rugby in the world, you don’t want to break yourselves before the World Cup. So, is that a bit tough in trying to get the best out of the warm-up without destroying yourself?”

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WATCH as Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber unpacks the key to success for his team against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Friday

Video Spacer

WATCH as Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber unpacks the key to success for his team against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Friday

Etzebeth didn’t miss a beat. “I’m going to have to disagree with you there a little bit,” he said before pointing out that he would be playing for his country against the All Blacks on Friday at Twickenham, HQ of English Rugby.

The Springboks giant argued that he would be “giving everything” in this largely meaningless encounter that might answer some questions before the showpiece event in France but is largely fuelled by commercial interests.

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The question that should have been asked, if more follow-ups were permitted by the Springboks’ media team, is why?

What purpose is this game against New Zealand serving other than the chance of 80 minutes of pulse-stopping action, the chance for escapism, the chance for 46 men to win another Test cap and perhaps two coaching groups to answer one or two questions they didn’t already know?


“It’s a Test match,” Etzebeth continued as if those four words could shut down any argument against the staging of what could potentially be someone’s last game of rugby for the year. It was a simple enough retort – and the threat of injury will always haunt the sport, whether that is on the training pitch or in front of 80,000 passionate fans.

The conservatives among us, especially those with green and black imprinted on our hearts, will hope that no player joins France’s Romain Ntmack among the late, late casualties before the big show.

Such negative thoughts were swiftly ushered along as Etzebeth spoke of the importance of this more than 100-year relationship between the two most successful teams in the game.

The South African second row also touched on his team’s need to improve on their last performance against the old enemy that saw them succumb to a 35-20 defeat in Auckland on July 15 after getting blitzed in the opening 20 minutes.


“We need to switch on from the start,” Etzebeth said. “They came with a massive start out of the blocks. In those 20 minutes, they were definitely a better team than us.

“We are preparing better this week to also make that quicker and better start. We need to improve all aspects. We pride ourselves on our set-piece and our defence, and we want to have a good kicking game and attacking play.


Etzebeth added that the focus will switch to the Rugby World Cup after Friday’s game but he did touch on the competitive nature of this year’s tournament.

“This is going to be one of the most competitive World Cups ever because there are so many teams putting up their hands to go on and win,” he reckoned.

“Some might say there is added pressure on us (as defending champions) and that teams will come for us, but I don’t know if that is the case, I think each team just wants it really badly.

“They don’t care about us; they just want to win the trophy. If anything, we put pressure on ourselves to go out there and win again.”


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William 328 days ago

The ABs have put their best starting foot forward for this one. They're not taking it lightly. They just like the Boks, cannot risk going into their first game having lost to a strong foe ...

GrahamVF 330 days ago

It's going to be interesting. South Africa are putting it on the line - we want to win. If SA lose it will mean the AB's have a tremendous moral boost against SA going into the WC with a potential meeting in the knock-outs. NZ on the other hand are - although they are not saying it - sponsors would be seriously peed off - regarding this game as just a warm up. They won last time out - why should they unnecessarily put their bragging rights on the line? However on the other side of the coin if THIS SA side does win convincingly against NZ there are going to be a few wobbly tummies - and it ain't gonna be from Suzie :)

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Turlough 2 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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