Boost for Springboks’ lock stocks as Eben Etzebeth to return to training
CAPE TOWN - While he doesn’t want to reveal too much of his excitement about the British & Irish Lions Series, Springbok star Eben Etzebeth was willing to let this much be known – he can’t wait to get back in the Test arena with his Bok mates.
The World Cup-winner, who plays for French club Toulon, broke his finger during training with the Top 14 side two weeks ago. But, during an interview with Jim Hamilton on The Rugby Pod, the 29-year-old assured fans that he’d be back at training shortly, which means that he’ll have time to get ready for the Lions showpiece, which is scheduled to kick off in July.
It’s particularly good news considering the potential lock conundrum that could have stared the Boks in the face two months out from hosting the quadrennial event, with the setbacks at Sale and Munster with Lood de Jager and RG Snyman.
But the former Stormers presence confirmed that he’ll be ready to take to the field again in May.
“Almost two weeks ago in training, I broke my finger,” said Etzebeth. “Quite a weird accident. I will probably be playing in three, four weeks again.
“Like with rugby, any injury is sometimes a blessing, so the body gets a bit of a rest. There is still a big year ahead, otherwise all good in France. I’m missing the family back home with Covid rules, otherwise it is good.
Explaining how it happened, he added: “I just came on a line off nine. There wasn’t even contact. The ball and the guy it was almost like shadow. It was shadow rugby and ball and the guy in front came at the same time.
“I almost tried to catch the ball with one hand and stop the guy in front with the other and somehow my finger got caught. The bone actually came through the skin… so I saw it and I was like oops and I ran to the physio’s room and it got operated on the same day.”
The Boks last played Test rugby on November 2, when they won the World Cup in Japan in stunning fashion.
On reconnecting with his Bok teammates on the training pitch, Etzebeth said: “I obviously keep in contact with the guys and of course there are some guys who you are closer with, I spoke to Siya (Kolisi) and Beast (Mtawarira) last night actually … but ja, the World Cup feels like an eternity ago.
“I’m really looking forward to playing a Test again with those guys, you don’t want to say too much because then ex players like Jean de Villliers give you flack and say ‘oh so you’re already in the team’,” Etzebeth joked.
“But hopefully all goes well and then we can all see each other again. It’s a great bunch of guys to play with, so I’m looking forward to that.”
“I had three weeks to celebrate that victory and I took full advantage of it, most of the guys did. I was a bit scared to get on the scale when I got to Toulon, but luckily I played my first game off the bench in the Challenge Cup, so I had a bit of time in the Challenge Cup before I played my first Top14 game, so I built some confidence before the big debut.”
The Lions Tour will be Jacques Nienaber’s first sit in the main seat as Springbok coach, and while acknowledging how Nienaber has been SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus' right-hand man at the highest level, he also gave some insight as to what makes the Erasmus - orchestrator of the Boks' turnaround - so good.
“Rassie has got a way of getting you up there for big matches – whether it’s him tapping into where you come from or using South Africa as an example,” the former Stormers lock said.
“Whatever it takes, he can get a guy up there. Even if a game is five weeks away, you already know who’s going to start. There’s clarity for the whole team, so nobody goes behind closed doors and complains.
“I think the reason why 2019 felt so special was because of where we had come from and the space we were in about two years before that … I think we were sixth in the world or something, then everything started going for us.
“Our country was also in a bad state … when we got back, the trophy tour was unbelievable, besides opening that beer at eight in the morning!”