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Maro v Eben head-to-head confirmed: Saracens and Toulon name teams

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

England talisman Maro Itoje is set to renew his rivalry with Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth as they have been respectively named at No4 by their clubs Saracens and Toulon for this Saturday night’s Challenge Cup semi-final in France. It was November last year when the pair last came up against each other, Itoje having the last laugh after Marcus Smith cliched a last-gasp victory for Eddie Jones’ Test side over the visiting South Africans.

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That match-up took place after the rival second rows had faced each other when the Lions toured South Africa last summer, the first duel betwee two of the world’s best locks since they clashed for their countries in the final of the 2019 World Cup in Yokohama.

Both players have been building up a head of steam with the respective club seasons reaching the business end of the campaign. Itoje has returned to Saracens since the Six Nations and helped them into the semi-final in both the Challenge Cup and Gallagher Premiership while Etzebeth has overcome a concussion to recently get back to the top of his game with Toulon, who are also in the hunt to Top 14 playoff qualification.

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Eben Etzebeth | Rugby Roots

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Eben Etzebeth | Rugby Roots

Itoje will partner the recalled Nick Isiekwe in a Saracens XV that contains Mako Vunipola for the first time in ten weeks folliowng his ankle injury. The loosehead, who takes over from Eroni Mawi, is another of three changes to the team from last weekend’s quarter-final win at Gloucester. Max Malins is also recalled for 50th Saracarens appearance in place of the injured Sean Maitland.

Etzebeth made headlines last weekend after his hair was pulled in a clash with London Irish’s Agustin Creevy and his form was commented on by Toulon assistant coach James Coughlan in a recent RugbyPass interview.

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“The big names shout off the team sheet, guys like Eben, he has been amazing since he has come back from his concussion. He is getting better every week with the more games he has played. When you are standing from the outside watching him play for South Africa, you see the intensity he brings and everything but here every week he is driving standards in the group.”

RC TOULON: 15. Aymeric Luc; 14. Jiuta Naqoli Wainiqolo, 13. Mathieu Smaili, 12. Duncan Paia’aua, 11. Gabin Villiere; 10. Louis Carbonel, 9. Baptiste Serin; 1. Jean Baptiste Gros, 2. Christopher Tolofua, 3. Beka Gigashvili, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 5. Brian Alainu’uese, 6. Cornell Du Preez, 7. Charles Ollivon (capt), 8. Sergio Parisse. Reps: 16. Anthony Etrillard, 17. Bruce Devaux, 18. Emerick Setiano, 19. Raphael Lakafia, 20. Facundo Isa, 21. Swan Rebbadj, 22. Anthony Belleau, 23. Julien Blanc.

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SARACENS: 15. Alex Goode; 14. Max Malins, 13. Elliot Daly, 12. Nick Tompkins, 11. Roti Segun; 10. Owen Farrell (capt), 9. Aled Davies; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Vincent Koch, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Nick Isiekwe, 6. Theo McFarland, 7. Ben Earl, 8. Billy Vunipola. Reps: 16. Kapeli Pifeleti, 17. Eroni Mawi, 18. Sam Wainwright, 19. Callum Hunter-Hill, 20. Andrew Christie, 21. Ivan van Zyl, 22. Duncan Taylor, 23. Alex Lozowski.

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Flankly 11 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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