Johannesburg - Irresistible force paradox be damned – this is what it probably looks like if an unstoppable force meets an immovable object after two legendary Springboks collided into each other regarding French club Toulon and legacy.
And it was legendary Springbok and 2007 World Cup winner Bakkies Botha that began rolling into the close proximity of 2019 World Cup winner Eben Eltzebeth, when then the 42-year-old publicly questioned the commitment of the incumbent Springbok lock in an interview with rugby publication Midi Olympique earlier this week.
Botha, who won three European Championships and a Top 14 title with Toulon between 2011 and 2015, seemed just a little peeved at Etzebeth’s recent decision to ditch the club and return to South Africa to join the Sharks for personal reasons. The veteran of 85 Tests did acknowledge that Etzebeth was arguably the best lock in the world, but it came across more as an underhanded compliment than high praise.
Said Botha in the French publication: "Eben Etzebeth? Incredible fighter, best second row in the world.
"But I regret that he only shows his best face with the Springboks. In Toulon, he is still a little injured, concussed and in the end, never plays. Obviously, he was not made for France and he will turn his back on the problems the club went through to return to South Africa.
"It's disappointing. I love Eben. But you can't say when you arrive in Toulon: 'I want to be champion of France' and leave some time later without having marked the club in one way or another.
"His first season was not bad but it is not enough. When you recruit a world-class player, it's for him to make a difference."
Etzebeth did not take kindly to Botha’s criticism, the 30-year-old responding to Botha on his Twitter account on Monday: “@BakkiesBotha4 – Noted. Next time you want to ENFORCE an opinion, you’ve got my number #exspringbokteammates #onthoujouerekode (roughly translated as remember your honour code).”
Etzebeth's tweet certainly got tongues wagging, dividing opinion on whether to support Team Bakkies or Team Eben. Many believed it scandalous for Botha to talk "out of turn," while others agreed with his evaluation.
Botha’s criticism, although harsh, is not entirely without merit.
Since being signed in 2019 with Toulon, Etzebeth has made 28 appearances and his tenure at the French club has been one pock-marked by injury. Indeed, the 97-Test veteran only last week returned to the fold for the club after a lengthy three-month break due to concussion, only to injure his calf muscle a few days later, which has sidelined him again for at least another month.
The frustration surrounding Etzebeth is real in France, with Toulon president Bernard Lemaitre going so far as to call players of Etzebeth's ilk a “handicap” in January. There is no doubt that his decision to return to South Africa has further exasperated a fair share of stakeholders, pundits and supporters in the south of France.
Etzebeth is set to join the Sharks in July, so he still has a few months to play for Toulon once he returns from his most recent set-back.