Sport

LOCKED AND LOADED

Etzebeth set for 100th Test appearance in third clash with Wales

Etzebeth set for 100th Test appearance in third clash with Wales
Eben Etzebeth bears down on Kieran Hardy during the Springboks' second Test against Wales in Bloemfontein on 9 July 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily) Maverick)

Lock Eben Etzebeth will earn his 100th Test cap at the Cape Town Stadium in the deciding third Test against Wales on Saturday.

A decade has passed since a raw, aggressive young lock named Eben Etzebeth made his Test debut against England and on Saturday he will earn his 100th Test cap.

The sides are locked at 1-1 in this compelling series. After last weekend’s callow and experimental team came up just short in the second Test, with Wales winning 13-12, coach Jacques Nienaber returned to his more senior players for the deciding third Test.

Besides Etzebeth, scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, flyhalf Handré Pollard and prop Trevor Nyakane are the only survivors from the Bloemfontein setback.

Hooker Bongi Mbonambi will make his 50th Test appearance in the match.

Etzebeth’s milestone comes in his home city, although not on the ground where he forged his name. It was at Newlands with the Stormers and Western Province, and in the green and gold of the Boks, where the Etzebeth aura developed.

In the decade since he debuted in a 22-17 win over England, Etzebeth has enjoyed many highs and some lows. Captaining the Springboks in 2017, a 2019 World Cup win and a series victory over the British & Irish Lions in 2021 are obvious highlights. 

Last week’s unusually sloppy play in the last quarter, where he conceded several penalties that allowed Wales back into the match, was an obvious low.

The thing with Etzebeth is that he seldom has a bad game. He was quiet by his own high standards in the first Test of this series, which the Boks won 32-29 at Loftus. He had a more eye-catching performance in the second Test, as the only starting survivor from the first, but let himself down in the final minutes. He is motivated to atone.

“He took the two penalties he conceded last week personally,” Nienaber said. “That speaks volumes about his character. He knows that discipline is key to winning games – especially because of how tight they are these days.

“Rugby is a team sport and for both Eben and Bongi, they have the opportunity to play in these milestone games because of the contribution of the team.

“If you lose your 1ooth Test it will haunt you for the rest of your life, but the focus is on their performance and jobs firstly.”

The Bok mentor has worked with Etzebeth since he forced his way into the Stormers team in 2012, when Nienaber was the club’s defence coach.

“Eben has always been an athlete. When he started out as a 20-year-old he played for the Stormers and the Springboks before he played for Western Province. He has developed leadership attributes and led his country. It’s nice to see him develop and grow. He was a kid when he started but he is a grown man now.

“He has matured. We were all naughty when we were younger and he was no different, but then you get some brains as you become older. That’s the growth of a rugby player.”

As big as the British & Irish Lions series

With the series deadlocked, Nienaber admitted that the second Test defeat was a disaster and that the third Test was reminiscent of the corresponding fixture against the British & Irish Lions a year ago.

“This definitely feels like the Lions series,” he said. “Not that the other weeks haven’t felt ‘big’, because they were. It’s as big as the Lions.

Etzebeth Test Wales

Eben Etzebeth on the charge against Scotland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on 13 November 2021. (Photo: Steve Haag / Gallo Images)

“Every game is about results for us. Even losing last week was a disaster for us. We selected that team because we believed it could beat Wales and for 78 minutes it did. Ill-discipline gave Wales the opportunity to get back in our half and put us under pressure.

“We selected 42 players and believed they were good enough to beat Wales. Our plan was to win the first two Tests while giving everybody a run.”

Hendrikse surprise

The elevation of Jaden Hendrikse above Faf de Klerk in the starting line-up was perhaps the biggest surprise of the selection.

It was a reward for a strong performance from Hendrikse in the ill-fated second Test and also an indication that Herschel Jantjies has fallen down the pecking order after a mediocre United Rugby Championship campaign for the Stormers.

“We all know Faf brings lots of experience and is a world-class scrumhalf,” said Nienaber. “But we all saw Jaden’s performance last weekend and we really thought that he performed well. He had a well-balanced game (in the second Test). He kicked well, his passing accuracy was really good, and he got a nice rhythm on our attack. His defence was strong, and all aspects of his game were very good.

“If you look at our squad and the 42 that are here, there is a lot of competition and many in-form players knocking hard on the door. I think for the players who you would call the established players – the guys who have won a World Cup and a British & Irish Lions series – it’s key for them to focus on their performance week in and week out.

“For the other guys, if they perform well, that’s the way they get selected. Jaden will know that Faf will come hard for him to get his spot back, because he is a fighter. Jaden’s challenge now is to keep putting consistent performances in like he did on the weekend.”

Changes

Nienaber named a backline featuring the versatile Damian Willemse at fullback, with Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi back on the wings, while the regular centre pairing of Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am will again partner up in the midfield.

The Bok coach retained the halfback pairing of Pollard and Hendrikse, while regular Bok captain Siya Kolisi reclaimed the captaincy in loose trio with Pieter-Steph du Toit (flank) and Jasper Wiese (No 8).

In the other changes up front, Lood de Jager pairs up with Etzebeth in the second row, while Nienaber named a new front row of props – Trevor Nyakane and Frans Malherbe on either side of Mbonambi, who made his debut off the bench against Ireland in June 2016 and will become the 45th Bok to reach half a century of Test caps.

There were an array of changes among the replacements, which again feature a split of six forwards and two backs, with Steven Kitshoff (prop), Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith (utility forwards), and Elrigh Louw (flank) featuring alongside scrumhalf De Klerk and fullback Willie le Roux.

Of his team selection Nienaber said: “We selected a team and player combinations that we think will be the best for this specific game.

“We had an honest discussion with the players, telling them what we require from them this weekend and what we would like to see in terms of their performance, and hopefully they can produce the goods and we can get the desired result.

“We have high standards as a team, and we would like to maintain that and build momentum with a challenging season lying ahead.

“We pointed out from the outset of the series that Wales will be desperate and they showed that in the last two weeks. We are expecting another hard grind against them and the fact that they will be playing for their first series victory ever in South Africa will make them even more desperate to push us to the limit this weekend, so we know it will be an epic battle.” DM

Springbok team:

15 Damian Willemse, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Trevor Nyakane.

Reserves: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Elrigh Louw, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Willie le Roux.

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