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The Springbok Eben Etzebeth calls ‘one of the hardest men in rugby’

By Liam Heagney
Eben Etzebeth celebrates winning the 2023 Rugby World Cup with South Africa (Photo by Franco Arland/Getty Images)

Eben Etzebeth branched off in an interview this week when talking about Deon Fourie to describe Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi as “one of the hardest men in rugby”.

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The 33-year-old Mbonambi became a pivotal part of South Africa’s successful Rugby World Cup title defence in 2023 after Malcolm Marx was ruled out due to a training ground injury following the game one pool win over Scotland in Marseille.

The Springboks opted not to call up another hooker, Jacques Nienaber instead relying on Mbonambi to shoulder the additional workload.

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It left Etzebeth hugely impressed but even that heroic story about his Sharks teammate wasn’t straightforward as an injury just minutes into the final versus the All Blacks left South Africa dependent on veteran back row Fourie to pack down in the front row and also throw into the lineout.

The 37-year-old Stormers blindside emerged with flying colours, helping his team to their 12-11 Stade de France victory.

Six months later, Etzebeth has looked back on that back-to-back title win during an appearance on the latest episode of The Rugby Pod, his memory of that triumph jogged by the recent broadcasting of the latest Chasing the Sun documentary series.

“Deon’s story is incredible,” he told Pod host Jim Hamilton. “Back when he was at the Stormers, I felt personally he was a bit underrated. He was unlucky not to get a Springbok cap in the first place. He went to France to finish his career and came back to the Stormers to play a couple of matches off the bench and call it quits.

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“The Deon Fourie I knew in 2012 when I started at the Stormers, he was always a fighter. Obviously not the biggest man in the room but he has got some dog in him.

“He is a real fighter and making his debut against Wales (in 2022) and then getting selected for the World Cup, he was probably going thinking he will play against Tonga and Romania and not many more matches.

“Then Malcolm went down and the plan then was for Bongi to go 80, 80, 80 quarters, semi and final. In the final, second minute I think, he goes down. Just on Bongi, that guy is not the most skillful hooker in the world or the fastest hooker but that guy is one of the hardest men in rugby.

“He will carry with his head into a wall and he just loves scrumming and hates losing – and he almost never does. He is massive for us in that scrum department, all over the field but especially scrumming, and when he went down it was I think maybe a bit of panic under the coaches and some of the players.

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“I don’t think I can call it panic but now Deon has to step in. He actually came as a flanker and must play 77 minutes of a World Cup final against the All Blacks. Just what he did and how he stood his man, to actually come on and perform, you won’t get a better story than that in rugby.”

  • Click the arrow below to listen to Eben Etzebeth on this week’s Rugby Pod
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