Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth talks to referee Ben O’Keeffe after Australia's Israel Folau grabbed Dillyn Leyds by his hair hair. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN - There will be many, and I mean many, battles within the battle on Saturday. And one of those mini battles will be composure.

Composure is obviously an important factor in sport, especially in a contact sport like rugby, where off-the-ball activities are, well, a more common occurrence.

And it will be particularly important this weekend when the Springboks host the All Blacks at Newlands for the first time in almost a decade.

Now you can say that not a lot hangs on this match seeing that the All Blacks have already bagged yet another Rugby Championship title. You can call it a dead-rubber match. But the fact that the Boks will be desperate to avenge the Albany horror and the fact that they need to continue rebuilding post-2016 all make it an important match. And come on, it is still the Springboks versus All Blacks.

And how Eben Etzebeth, a key figure in the Bok team and, of course, the leader of a team trying to return to winning ways after a record defeat to the All Blacks and two draws against the Wallabies, reacts to everything that happens in Saturday’s meeting will be crucial.

The All Blacks are masters of intimidation. Not the blatant kind of intimidation, not the kind that would be severe enough to warrant a red or yellow card, but the kind that allows them to get under the opposition’s skin in a subtle way.

Back to Etzebeth. We all know that it usually doesn’t take a lot to set the imposing figure off. He has gotten into off-the-ball scuffles more times than what I care to remember, and at times it was uncalled for. But since he took over the Bok captaincy following injury to skipper Warren Whiteley, Etzebeth has kept his cool.

He’s managed to turn the other cheek, sometimes even literally, a number of times. But in their 27-all draw against Australia at the weekend, the Stormers vice-captain lost that cool.

And maybe he can’t really be criticised for it. When Israel Folau foolishly grabbed Dillyn Leyds by the hair and flung him around as the wing was looking for space down touch, Etzebeth immediately got involved.

As a captain, he was standing up for his teammate who was clearly the victim of foul play. Not much wrong with that, is there? Maybe not. But the point is he allowed the Aussies to set him off, and he retaliated.

Etzebeth clashes with Tevita Kuridrani Samuel after the hair-pull on Leyds. Photo: Shivambu/BackpagePix

Now the fact that Ben O’Keeffe decided to go the shocking route and not even give the Wallabies a yellow card is a discussion on its own. And, of course, Michael Hooper was very quick to point out that there was retaliation.

And Etzebeth cannot allow himself to fall into the same trap on Saturday. It doesn’t matter how frustrating things get, and if you go up against the All Blacks, things can get very frustrating indeed.

Something like that - whether he’s provoked or not - can play into the All Blacks’ hands. And they will capitalise. They will exploit it, whether it’s in the form of three points, five points, or just enough to hinder the Springboks’ flow and put them off their game. The Boks just cannot let it happen.

So, Etzebeth has shown that he can keep his composure when he needs to. And he needs to do that again this weekend. Whether it’s TJ Perenara’s chirping, a provoking smile from whoever else is in black, or something physical, Etzebeth should just let it go.

After all, getting under the opposition’s skin is something that the All Blacks know all about. So the Boks, and especially Etzebeth, shouldn’t allow the Kiwis to penetrate their skin deep enough to unlock exactly the kind of emotion that will play into the New Zealanders’ favour.

Cape Times

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