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What made Etzebeth change position aged 16 and what his biggest fear in life is

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Springboks enforcer Eben Etzebeth has given a revealing interview in France where he talks about his teenage switch from winger to second row and what he most fears in life. The South African now wields a monster presence on the rugby pitch but this wasn’t always the case according to his recent revelations.


Interviewed in this weekend’s edition of Midi Olympique ahead of the regular-season ending round 26 fixtures in the Top 14, Toulon second-rower Etzebeth was asked about his physical development long before he made it with the Springboks.

“I wasn’t the best and I’d no technical or physical advantage,” said the 30-year-old, describing how skinny he was as a teenage player. “I’d to work really hard and it wasn’t until around 17, 18 years old when I was integrated into the Western Province that I realised that I might have a chance for a career. 

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“Before I was 16, I wasn’t at all impressive but I suddenly grew 20 centimetres, so a coach suggested that I move from winger to second row. Versatility is rare, isn’t it? It was a bit surprising at first, the relationship to combat was not the same. Finally, I learned to find pleasure in it.

“My first idol was Jonah Lomu. Then I admired Andries Bekker, Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield,” he added. “I forced myself to eat more and exercise a lot. My teachers criticised me for going to the gym a little too often, but I owe my development to daily work and a certain determination.”

The curiosity is how the feared Etzebeth, someone described as ruthlessly physical, has only ever been yellow-carded three times in his career, twice with the Springboks (vs Australia in 2016 and Argentina in 2018) and once for the Stormers (vs the Blues in 2017). “It’s because the refs love me,” he quipped. “They say that I’m aggressive but I am above all physical. I want to hurt the defence without ever going beyond the rules. I look for the limit early on and then I sit (on it) for the rest of the game.”


Asked if anything scares him, Etzebeth said: “I’m taller than anyone in my family, so I haven’t been afraid of my parents for years. It’s true that nothing scares me on a pitch. In life? I’m only afraid of snakes. Luckily we rarely see them.”

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What made Etzebeth change position aged 16 and what his biggest fear in life is