JOHANNESBURG - Eyebrows were raised on Saturday when it was learned that Eben Etzebeth - and not Siya Kolisi or Beast Mtawarira - was to lead the Springboks in the third Test against France at Ellis Park.
But after the Boks had wrapped up the series 3-0 with a 35-12 win, coach Allister Coetzee explained everyone in the Bok squad knew exactly who would take over from Warren Whiteley were he to be ruled out during the series. And that happened on Friday when the Lions man was withdrawn from the side because of a groin injury.
“Eben is the team’s vice captain and we’d already decided and planned (at our camp) in Plettenberg Bay what would happen if Warren was ruled out at any stage,” said Coetzee.
“We didn’t decide on the day that Eben would captain the team. The players knew exactly who was in line to take over the captaincy duties and they also know who’ll take over if Eben is out.”
Etzebeth became the Boks’ 59th captain on Saturday, a day he said was the best of his life. “Welcome to the best day of my life,” he said after he’d led the Boks to a resounding series triumph.
“The last 24 hours have been unbelievable. Warren has done an outstanding job, so it was easy for me to slot in ... especially with strong leaders in Elton, Siya and Beast around me.”
Whiteley’s fate will be known today after being assessed by the Lions’ medical team. “He’s had a groin strain throughout the series, but we’ve managed him,” said Coetzee. “He unfortunately fell awkwardly during a line-out session on Thursday and hurt it again. A sonar showed he has a little tear and we felt it was best to not risk him.”
The Lions, who’re looking good to finish among the top teams on the Super Rugby points table, will be desperate to have their captain fit and healthy in the latter stages of the competition. But the Boks, too, will hope Whiteley doesn’t have to undergo any operation, which may put him in jeopardy of missing the Rugby Championship.
Coetzee said he was hoping to see a South African team go all the way when Super Rugby resumes. “We’ve become brothers here at the Boks, but I also know we’re going to go out there now and smoke each other in Super Rugby.
“I’ve told the players they are in the 31 and it is only they who can play themselves out of the group. They understand that. I’d now like to see one of our teams go all the way to the final and winning it, so that I get even more confident Boks back when we get together for the Rugby Championship.”
Added Etzebeth: “These three weeks with the Boks have been the best ever for me. We had time to prepare properly, we got to know each other and care for each other ... and there are no little groups in the squad anymore. Usually, after being away from home for four weeks, you can’t wait to get home, but I nearly feel like I want to stay here for an extra week."