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The Ribbans view on 'old role of enforcer' that refs are now hot on

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

David Ribbans is enjoying his last hurrah with England. Set to join Toulon at the end of the Rugby World Cup, his club switch from Northampton across the Channel will make him ineligible for Test selection by Steve Borthwick in 2024.


For now, though, the South African is living the dream. He was on the fringes for an age under Eddie Jones, only finally getting a match day look-in last November, and even though his move to Toulon was announced in February, that decision hasn’t diminished the 28-year-old in the eyes of current England head coach Steve Borthwick.

A couple of Guinness Six Nations appearances were followed last month by three Summer Nations Series caps and now that he has pitched up in France at base camp in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, he is ready to get stuck in against Argentina in next Saturday’s World Cup opener in Marseille if selected.

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It’s currently that tricky time of the week, training flat-out without yet knowing what way selection will fall. Argentina will present England with a bruising challenge but the South African in Ribbans is in no way intimidated by what is on the horizon at Stade Velodrome.

Asked if the old-school enforcer characteristics still have a role to play in the modern game, Ribbans said: “There is always a space for it. Every team has someone who likes to dominate the game, especially in the second row.

“The old role of enforcer has slightly changed with the rules of rugby. Refs are getting a bit hot on discipline and things like that. You have got to play a slightly different role but on the pitch you want to make an impact and make a physical presence. They [Argentina] have obviously got second rows who like to do that and it is our job to nullify them and then put our presence on the pitch as well.

“There is always that personal battle on the field against your opposition, especially your opposite number. Come Saturday, of course you are going to want to nullify his threats. But as much as that we also want to express ourselves.


“As much as you like to talk about the opposition it is also what we are going to be doing to them as an England pack and that is really exciting. It’s a great opportunity for the England pack to make a real stamp on this tournament. In the last four games we have probably fallen short at times, so I’m really looking forward to that challenge.”

England flew across the Channel on the back of a very public loss of faith in them by their supporters. Thousands of seats were left vacant for the series-ending Twickenham defeat to Fiji on August 26, but Ribbans insisted that the hangover from that latest setback has been flushed away in the sunny conditions at their French base camp ahead of Thursday’s location switch to Marseille.

“No single point has been won or lost yet,” he stressed about a run of form that has seen England win just one of their last six matches. “Everyone has written us off already and probably rightly so after the last four games, we know it hasn’t been good enough.

“We as a group had a really good chat arriving here to Touquet, we all said there is a massive opportunity for us, not a single point has been won or lost yet at this World Cup. We have managed to flush what happened about a week and a half ago and started the week really well, looking forward to Saturday.


“Coaches, players, everyone was involved (in that really good chat). We are all in this together, it is not players versus coaches or anything like that. It’s the whole squad, we are all in this battle together. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone our way but we are really excited for the weekend.

“We are so privileged we have such a mix. We have people who have been at four World Cups and a couple of people like myself who it’s their first, so we have got this real balance. We have got people like Courtney (Lawes) who I know really well from the club, such a good person to lean on in the tough times because he has been through everything.

My roomy next to me, Lewis (Ludam), has also seen it all before at the World Cup and got to the final, so he knows what it takes to get deep in the competition.

“There is plenty of experience within the squad to lean on and then a couple of us fresh faces are also keep to really rip in, so it’s a really good blend at the moment.”


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