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The ruck incident which kicked off Etzebeth and Itoje skirmish

By Ian Cameron
Eben Etzebeth and Maro Itoje get into it - Credit: Amazon Prime

Slow motion pictures from South Africa’s mauling of England during their Autumn Nations Series clash on the weekend appear to capture the moment that sparked a bit of biff between Eben Etzebeth and Maro Itoje.


The rivalry between these two world-class locks has been a talking point for several years, with the Rugby World Cup final in 2019 and last year’s British & Irish Lions tour providing flash points for the simmering head-to-head, which has become one of the most entertaining sub-plots of Springboks versus England matches.

There was another flashpoint on Saturday, with the pair getting into it following a ruck in the 41st minute.

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It wasn’t initially clear what kicked off this incident but a frame-by-frame of the ruck appears to paint a better picture of what happened.

Etzebeth can be seen stepping over the ruck and placing his foot either directly onto Itoje or very close to him. Whether it was deliberate in a ‘by accident on purpose’ sort of way or if a genuine mistake from the Springbok great isn’t clear.

Itoje certainly took exception to it, grabbing the South African by the leg on his past, with a bit of handbags to follow.

Another interpretation of the incident is that Itoje – who is known for his gamesmanship around the breakdown – took an opportunity to grab onto the leg of the passing Etzebeth.


While no harm was done to either side – with Angus Gardner branding a ‘push and a shove’ –  it was an entertaining aside for fans to get stuck into online.

The giant 6’7, 118kg South African seems to be winning this personal battle at the moment, on the scoreboard at the very least. The Shark leads 4-2 in terms of Tests played between the pair since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final in Yokohama.

In truth Etzebeth’s form in 2022 has been several rungs above Itoje, who hasn’t quite hit the heights he’s capable of this calendar year, albeit in the context of a misfiring England squad.


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Marius 571 days ago

Hope someone will take the Hayden Triggs approach and take a red card on the chin and whipp Eben right there on the field. I saw Vermeulen discard his Bakkies attitude right there and then and applied his mind to playing the game and avoid off-the-ball crap.

Ace 573 days ago

I sincerely do hope that Itoje will one day, in the near future, try his shithousery with the wrong guy.

CT 574 days ago

Everyone wants a piece of Eben but.......

Michael Röbbins (academic and writer extraordinair 574 days ago

All of this can be boiled down to: Itoje was probably simply holding on to Eben Tall Trees’ legs, and one knows what’s gonna happen when one pokes the bear… Itoje is much more of a twerp in this regard, especially when he is getting physically and psychologically dominated and can’t stand over a ruck screaming with glee like a infant who just brought a spoon to his mouth for the first time. Remarkably, Eben has calmed down considerably with off the ball shithousery in his 110 caps. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a bit of a deranged psychopath on the pitch, but him “starting” off the ball scuffles a la Joe Marler has settled down over the years.

Flankly 574 days ago

Doesn't look like "stepping over a ruck", more like sitting on a collapsed ruck and putting your feet down. The pictures show direct evidence of a player that is off his feet and out of the game (Itoje) interfering with the game. Clear penalty offense. It is possible, as always, that there was provocation, but a) there is no compelling evidence of this, and b) it's no excuse. Should have been a penalty to SA, had the officials seen it.

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