Sport

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Eben Etzebeth crowned SA Rugby’s best for second consecutive year

Eben Etzebeth crowned SA Rugby’s best for second consecutive year
Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth. (Photo: Gaspafotos / MB Media / Getty Images)

Double Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth became only the second player to win back-to-back SA Rugby Player of the Year awards.

Player of the Year awards are a reward for a high level of consistency over the course of a season. Eben Etzebeth is certainly deserving of his second SA Player of the Year gong by that measurement.

But his stellar performances in 2023 were just an extension of a career, in which his average performance is usually at a level few players can aspire to. And when Etzebeth really plays well, it’s otherworldly.

Etzebeth, now 32, who made his Test debut in 2012, was this year rightly acknowledged on a short list of exceptional candidates for the award – Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe and Damian Willemse – on the back of a phenomenal year for SA rugby.

The Boks winning Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2023 was the crowning glory, but the Stormers made the United Rugby Championship final too.

For all Etzebeth’s brilliance in 2023, nothing summed up his game-deciding influence as much as his monumental performance against France in the quarterfinals of RWC 2023.

The Boks’ 29-28 win in the quarterfinal over the hosts at Stade de France in Saint Denis was the match of the tournament. And it was one of the greatest Test matches of all time.

There were some individual performances in that match that went beyond brilliant – from France hooker Peato Mauvaka and scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, to the Boks’ Kurt-Lee Arendse, Ox Nché, Jesse Kriel and Handré Pollard’s collectors’ items.

But no display that October night, and arguably no performance throughout the entire year in any corner of the world, was as colossal as Etzebeth’s against Les Bleus.

He scored what was the match-defining try 12 minutes from time, dragging three French defenders over the line. Earlier he stopped a certain French try with the most courageous out-stretched arm in RWC history. His intervention saved five points, literally by his fingertips, but even more so, by his sheer willpower.

In that match, Etzebeth was seemingly everywhere, all at once, taking a lineout here, making a huge tackle there and cajoling teammates everywhere. He even earned only his second yellow card in more than 110 Tests in that contest for being marginally high in a tackle. It was a performance that had everything.

“Eben was at the front of the Springboks’ charge to their second Rugby World Cup title, backed up by the rest of the squad, coaches and management, all of whom deserve recognition for a remarkable season for South African rugby,” said SA Rugby Union president Mark Alexander.

“The 2023-season will be ingrained in our memories for decades to come, with the Springboks setting the tone and doing so much for nation building and social cohesion in South Africa, but all of our national teams did well, and we are proud of all the winners.”

Other winners

Springbok wing Canan Moodie also did the double by again walking away with the Young Player of the Year Award, while Libbie Janse van Rensburg cleaned up in the women’s categories by being named Springbok Women and Provincial Player of the Year for 2023.

Janse van Rensburg – the highest international points’ scorer in the history of South African rugby – featured for the Springbok Women in both 15s and sevens last year, and spearheaded the Bulls Daisies’ challenge to win the Women’s Premier Division.

The other nominees were former winners Nadine Roos (2022), Aseza Hele (2019), and Babalwa Latsha (2017), as well as Rights Mkhari, herself an international in 15s and sevens rugby.

Moodie was voted as the Young Player of the Year for a second successive season after another year of stand-out performances for the Springboks and the Bulls, beating challenges from his fellow Boks in Jaden Hendrikse and Evan Roos, as well as Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Ruan Venter.

Coach of the Year

Following their triumph in France, Jacques Nienaber and the Springboks won the awards for Coach and Team of the Year, while Ricardo Duarttee was named Springbok Men’s Sevens Player of the Year, and Corné Beets the Junior Springbok Player of the Year.

In a new category, voted for by supporters on social media, Cheslin Kolbe won the SuperSport Fans’ Moment of the Year award for his charge-down of a Thomas Ramos conversion in the RWC quarterfinal against the hosts. 

Manie Libbok (Stormers – URC Fans’ Player of the Season), Ruan Pienaar (Cheetahs – Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year) and Cameron Hufke (Boland Kavaliers – Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year) also walked away with awards on the night for their performances at franchise and provincial level.

The award for Associate Member of the Year was re-introduced in 2023 and the SA Deaf Rugby Association (Sadra) were named the deserved winners. South Africa finished fourth in the World Deaf Rugby Championship in Argentina and after an internal audit, Sadra was judged to be well-governed and growing its footprint in South Africa.

“It was especially heart-warming to see the big strides made by women’s rugby in the last couple of years,” Alexander said.

“Libbie’s performances for the Springbok Women, as they finished third in WXV 2 and were crowned champions of Africa yet again, and in the colours of the Bulls Daisies, as well as that of all the other nominees representing our country across the world, were testament to the great work done in women’s rugby.

“To Jacques Nienaber, Canan Moodie and the Springboks for their awards, congratulations. It’s well deserved, and we are immensely proud of what you achieved last year. The same goes for Ricardo Duarttee and Corné Beets, as well as all the nominees in these various categories.

“Cheslin Kolbe’s charge-down of the conversion in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal underlined the commitment and work rate we saw from the Boks in France, and the fans agreed. DM

Winners

SA Rugby Men’s Player of the Year: Eben Etzebeth
Springbok Women’s Player of the Year: Libbie Janse van Rensburg
SA Rugby Young Player of the Year: Canan Moodie (Springboks /Bulls)
Springbok Sevens Men’s Player of the Year: Ricardo Duarttee
Junior Springbok Player of the Year: Corné Beets
Team of the Year: Springboks
Coach of the Year: Jacques Nienaber (Springboks)

Gallery

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