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'Tackling's a tough one to call, I don't like the game to go soft'

By Liam Heagney
Andre Esterhuizen cops a much-debated 2018 tackle from Owen Farrell (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Harlequins midfielder Andre Esterhuizen has admitted that his sights are very much on securing World Cup selection later this year with the Springboks having missed out on making the trophy-winning squad in 2019. The 28-year-old won his eighth cap shortly before Rassie Erasmus chose his squad for the finals in Japan four years and his subsequent switch to London from the Durban-based Sharks left him with a battle for follow-up recognition.

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It took until July 2022 for him to finally force his way back into the Test picture with the Springboks. Having since played on three occasions – versus Wales in Bloemfontein, versus Argentina in Buenos Aires and versus Italy in Genoa – he is hoping that a stellar run of form with Harlequins, starting this weekend in Europe versus a Sharks midfield likely consisting of Ben Tapuai and Lukhanyo Am, can keep him firmly in the discussion for RWC 2023 in France.

“It was great to be back in the setup, getting one or two games under the belt,” said Esterhuizen when asked by RugbyPass on Wednesday at a Harlequins media briefing about his Springboks situation. “For me, it’s always been a goal. Just missed out on the previous World Cup so hopefully this season I will play well enough to get recognised again. Hopefully, I get selected for the World Cup. Like I said, it was brilliant being back. I loved it.”

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Esterhuizen wasn’t involved, though, in the recent series-ending win over England due to the Springboks fixture falling outside the Test window governing player release. Instead, he trained with Harlequins that week and made do with some punditry at Twickenham on matchday.

“I was actually doing a bit of work at Twickenham that day so I watched the game. We didn’t have the best end-of-year tour ever. We had lost against France and Ireland so that closing game against England was massive for us. It was a big game for us to win so I am just glad we did win it and we played a great game.”

Just last week, Esterhuizen was in the headlines for a very different reason. Media speculation in France linked him with a possible Top 14 move, a story swiftly denied on Twitter by Harlequins CEO Laurie Dalrymple. Contracted at The Stoop until the end of the 2024/25 season, Esterhuizen said: “Yeah, there is always going to be a bit of rumours around rugby, especially transfer news and stuff. But I am staying put until 2025, signed, very happy here at Harlequins.

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“I have best mates here, all the South Africans here. Steph (Lewies) came here before me so I have got a great bunch here, loving rugby and loving the environment so for me at the moment there is no reason for moving anywhere as me and my family are so happy. The only thing bad here is the weather but that’s Europe.”

Red-carded tackles are currently a Champions Cup hot topic. Now in his third season at Harlequins, it was during his first season at the club when Esterhuizen was twice red-carded. He has since kept out of trouble and maintains a major focus on his technique.

“Tackling for me is a tough one to call. I don’t like the game to go soft but tackle entry, obviously stupid tackles are something we need to avoid. It is a big focus for us, the tackle entry point. Low tackles, chop tackles, they are the most effective but there is always a grey area there in rugby collisions where it is too late to adjust and stuff like that.

“There are still a lot of controversial calls going on around tackles but I think it is something we will get right going further into the season. For us, tackle focus, tackle entry is big for us.”

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What does Esterhuizen make of the tackle school intervention programme where red-carded offenders can potentially get a match taken off their ban by successfully completing the coaching intervention programme? “I haven’t been to one so I don’t know what they teach in those classes. If they teach something well that is probably good but I don’t know what they teach in those classes so I can’t really comment on it.”

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