Springbok hard-man Eben Etzebeth is buzzing with excitement for the Test season to begin.
The 27-year-old, who has played in a whopping 74 Tests and captained the Boks before, goes into the international season, which culminates with the World Cup in Japan, on the back of a difficult first six months of the year.
A number of injuries prevented Etzebeth from settling in the Stormers team during Super Rugby, but he said on Thursday he was ready to get stuck in again.
“Everything is looking good. We’ve been training full out, and I should be ready next week,” said the towering lock.
“I think I only played seven Super Rugby games, so obviously I’m excited for the Bok season. I’d like to think I’m quite fresh, seeing that I haven’t played a lot this year.
“But, I need to get some game fitness behind me, and I’d like that to happen as soon as possible.”
Etzebeth could run out next week when the Boks open their Rugby Championship campaign with a match against Australia at Ellis Park. National coach Rassie Erasmus has indicated two completely different teams will be in action in the first two Tests of the year - next week against the Wallabies and the week after that against the All Blacks in Wellington.
Who’ll play against who will be revealed by Erasmus next week, but one thing is certain; the competition among the locks in the Boks squad is pretty fierce, but it’s something Etzebeth said was bringing out the best in every man.
“There’s great competition ... it’s me, there’s RG (Snyman), Lood (de Jager), Franco (Mostert), Marvin (Orie) and then also Rynhardt Elstadt and Pieter-Steph du Toit, but it’s good for the team. It’s a head-ache for coach Rassie, but it’s exciting as we’ve all lifted our game.”
Elstadt (Toulouse) and Mostert (Gloucester) have come into the squad from outside the Super Rugby teams and, according to Etzebeth, have brought something new and different to the squad. “They’ve come in after long seasons up north, so they’re obviously match fit, but they also bring something different to the group. They might also be able to pass on some information on other players who we might come up against.”
Etzebeth said the Wallabies would pose a big test for the Boks next weekend even though only the Brumbies of their Super Rugby teams did anything meaningful in the recent Super Rugby competition.
“Everything changes when you pull on the national jersey,” said the 123kg giant. “The Wallabies are always strong and you can’t read anything into form based on what happens with provincial teams. It’s the same with us, when you put on the Bok jersey you get yourself up for every opponent.
“I’m very excited to play some Test rugby again ... getting the chance to play for the Boks is the reason why we all play rugby.”@jacq_west