DURBAN - Eben Etzebeth has been a giant in World Rugby, both physically and as an enigma of tough lock play, for a number of years now. And for that very reason, it was strange to see him slip off the world stage with a serious shoulder injury.
Even the man himself says he feels like the rugby world has forgotten about him, but tomorrow, he will have a chance to re-introduce them to what he can do in the green and gold.
Etzebeth, unsurprisingly, is excited to get back on the park, but what did come across when he spoke to the media about his return was just how emotional this journey to recovery has been.
“It has been a long time,” Etzebeth admitted. “It is almost like the rugby world has forgotten about me! It has been more than eight months so it is just nice to be back. It is great to be back in the team environment... doing rehab for eight months, seeing the physio every day, it is a lonely world, so to be back in the team environment, having Siya (Kolisi) as my roommate, waking up next to him every morning, it is great to be in an environment like that again!”
The lock had to sit by and watch as his teammates lined up, under new coach Rassie Erasmus, in a new era for the Springboks, to take on England - and win. And, an emotional Etzebeth said that it was hard to watch them sing the national anthem without him.
“I was very emotional watching the guys play against England, especially when they run out and sing the national anthem,” Etzebeth said. “For me, I just love Springbok rugby and seeing them play and not being there, was very emotional, so being back at it, and knowing I will run out there on Saturday is an awesome feeling.”
Rassie Erasmus was pleased with the return to Bok action of Whiteley, Louw, Etzebeth and Marx: “Our forward depth is very good indeed and the competition for places in the team is healthy, which can only be a good thing for us as we continue to build the depth of our squad.” pic.twitter.com/f5ba7zPNkI
Etzebeth, known for his grunt and physicality, but probably less so for his singing voice, says he is really looking forward to those first few bars of Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika tomorrow. “One of the big things I missed was when the guys line up and sing the national anthem, I think that is the best song I can sing!
“Then obviously after that is the kickoff and the game. But, you also miss the in between things, but those 80 minutes on the pitch where you can test yourself against the world’s best, you miss that”