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'My arms are toothpicks, his are cannons': Retallick's greatest rival

By Josh Raisey
Brodie Retallick of New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Namibia at Stadium de Toulouse on September 15, 2023 in Toulouse, France. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Across his 109-cap All Blacks career, Brodie Retallick played with and against some of the greatest locks that have ever packed down in the heart of the scrum.


From Paul O’Connell and Victor Matfield early in his career to Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje more recently, the 33-year-old has locked horns with bona fide greats of the game.

But of all the members of the engine room that the All Black has competed against, he views Springbok Eben Etzebeth as his greatest rival.

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All Blacks and lineout king Brodie Retallick opens up to Jim Hamilton in the latest episode of Walk the Talk. Full episode coming soon, exclusively to RugbyPass TV

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Having both made their international debuts in 2012, this is a rivalry that has developed over time and has perhaps intensified with every Super Rugby, Rugby Championship and most recently World Cup encounter between the giants.

Stats-wise the pair are fairly well-matched. Both are centurions, both have a World Cup to their names, and though Etzebeth has two to Retallick’s one, the Kiwi has a World Rugby player of the year accolade to boast. Style-wise they are both well-rounded, ‘modern’ second rows- the Springbok may have his physicality dial turned to eleven, just as the All Black has his subtlety dial.

New Zealand
16 - 15
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It truly is one of the best positional rivalries of the last decade, and it is one Retallick himself has relished.

Speaking to Jim Hamilton on Walk the Talk, coming this week on RugbyPass TV, the Kobelco Kobe Steelers lock said that his counterpart has “been the best for a long period of time,” and therefore someone he always wanted to measure himself up against.


“I’m not sure exactly how many times we’ve played each other,” he said. “But it’s over a number of years and obviously he’s a phenomenal rugby player as well and someone you try and measure yourself up against.

“My mindset is you want to be the best, and to be the best you’ve got to be better than everyone else and he’s probably been the best for a long period of time. So you want to measure yourself against a player of his quality.

“He makes it look easy at times. He’s got the skill set and he’s played over 100 games for the Springboks. To be still doing it that well, I think he deserves to be talked about like that.”

The difference in styles between the pair could perhaps be best summed up by a photo of them earlier in their careers, where the 120kg Retallick recalled the striking difference in the size of their arms.


“There’s a great photo when I think we were like 22, 23,” Retallick sad. “And we’re both holding each other and my arms look like toothpicks and his are like cannons, and the number of times I got sent that from people like ‘look at you, you need to start going to the gym,’ and I’m like ‘I’m trying my best!'”



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B.J. Spratt 7 days ago

All Blacks V England. . . Good on the Poms. . . 16 - 15 At this stage N.Z. have as much chance of beating South Africa as I have as getting a blow job from the Pope.

MattJH 8 days ago

Every time tempers boil over in an AB v Boks match you can put money on Eben being in the thick of it with a smile on his face. Legends.

Mark 9 days ago

Very hard to separate these two. Different strengths but world beaters both. They epitomise the heart of Bok - ABs rivalry.

dave 9 days ago

Two of the greatest ever.

Utiku Old Boy 9 days ago

Love the rivalry and the camarderie.

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Tom 11 minutes ago
All Blacks snatch another tight victory from England at Eden Park

First up to any of the ABs fans who accused us of “bluster” pre-series for saying it would be a competitive - I'm glad it turned out to be an excellent series to which the ABs were deserving winners and I hope next time a side tours you'll be a little more humble. I loved the heart shown by the English boys and how they managed to contain the AB attack for large parts of the series. Was very disappointed by the lack of cohesion and ambition ball in hand, we looked after the ball poorly and hardly went 2 phases without kicking it away. We're not giving ourselves enough opportunity to put phases together and build pressure. The ambition shown in the 6N against Ireland and France seems to have gone and our players look very hesitant with ball in hand, our line speed is faster without the ball than with it. Loving seeing Maro back to his best and Fin Baxter really impressed, Alex Mitchell looks to be one of the most complete 9s in world rugby, great around the base and impeccable kicking. Congrats to the ABs, far more dangerous and skillful than England. We contained you for large swathes but to shut down that amount of pace and skill for 80 mins is nigh on impossible. Managed to find a way to win and instinctively grabbed the rare opportunities which came your way. Finding ways to win in two tight test matches will I'm sure be a great experience for your younger players. Beauden needs to be in the starting 15, what a worldie.

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