‘Huge setback’ for Boks as Sanzar suspends Etzebeth for head-butting

2012-09-11 00:00

EBEN Etzebeth has paid a heavy price for Saturday’s innocuous attempt at a head-butt and the 20-year-old Springbok lock will miss this weekend’s Rugby Championship clash against the All Blacks in Dunedin.

Etzebeth, goaded during the weekend international in Perth, aimed a head-butt at veteran Wallaby lock Nathan Sharpe and he has been suspended for a fortnight.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said last night he would not appeal the decision, which effectively rules Etzebeth out of just the one Test.

“Losing Eben is a big setback in a very important week of our preparation, but I have the utmost confidence in the players that are in New Zealand with us.”

Meyer had said earlier in the day that he would call up the French-based Bakkies Botha to fill the gap if Etzebeth was banned. In a later statement, however, he said a decision about replacements would be made only later in the week, and this surely rules out bringing Botha across the world to sit on the bench.

While it did not appear as if Etzebeth had made contact with his opposite number in Saturday’s Test game — and the referee took no action against him in spite of Sharpe’s theatrics — the Sanzar judicial hearing yesterday found him guilty and he was suspended until Monday, September 24.

No Rugby Championship Tests are scheduled for September 22 and this will allow Etzebeth to return for the Boks’ first home Rugby Championship international against Australia in Pretoria on September 29.

Nigel Hampton QC, who headed the Sanzar judicial hearing, had no doubt that Etzebeth intended to head-butt Sharpe.

“This was a deliberate act done as a part of an episode of escalating tit-for-tat pushing and shoving between the two players. As to sanction, intentional striking with the head into the face of another is not to be countenanced under any circumstances,” he said.

Etzebeth has been the most consistent performer in the Bok pack and Meyer said yesterday it would leave a massive hole in the second row. Meyer has two reserve locks — Andries Bekker and Flip van der Merwe — in the touring squad.

“Eben is playing superb rugby. He was awesome against the Wallabies and he will be one of the greats going forward.

“It is a huge setback because we have some sort of continuity in our tight five now and he has done well with Juandre [Kruger]. I believe that Eben has improved in every single Test he has played and, even though he is a youngster, he has a huge physical presence.”

The Boks have other concerns, with Jannie du Plessis (hamstring), fellow-tighthead Pat Cilliers (elbow) and Bryan Habana (ankle) all under an injury cloud.

While team doctor Craig Roberts said yesterday he was confident Habana would be ready for Saturday, both Du Plessis and Cilliers are in doubt and a replacement tighthead prop may have to be flown in from South Africa.

Meyer said the All Blacks had a huge advantage in experience and depth. “When they bring in youngsters they play them around the experienced guys. They have a very experienced captain [Richie McCaw] and what makes them a quality team is that even on days when they don’t do it 100% right, they still win games.

“The great thing about their game plan is that even when they are under pressure like in their last game, they still come through and they make it look so easy. That’s why they’re the world champs.”

Meyer bristled at the suggestion that the Boks had only a kick-and-chase game.

“It’s all about defence. I know people want you to get the ball at the back and run through teams, but that will usually work in the movies; it doesn’t work at this level any more.”

He said statistics showed that both the Pumas and Wallabies kicked more than the Boks in their recent meetings. He added that the Boks had wasted three of four overlap situations against the Wallabies and they would have to take those chances against the All Blacks.

“But, I will be honest; you aren’t going to outplay them with their own game in New Zealand. You have to be clever and be tactically astute and you have to be disciplined.”

Meyer said that he was also hoping that the rugby gods would smile on the Boks.

“If you want to win away in this competition, especially against New Zealand, you need some luck as well. If you look at all the previous Boks wins in New Zealand, there is some sort of luck involved. That’s been the case for the last 100 years.

“I love New Zealand and it’s great to be in New Zealand. But it doesn’t get any easier when you have to measure yourself against the best. This is the ultimate challenge.”

Saturday’s Test kicks off at 9.35 am (SA time) at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin and Irish referee George Clancy will take charge.

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