Etzebeth describes 'lonely', 'emotional' spell on sidelines

Eben Etzebeth (Gallo)
Eben Etzebeth (Gallo)

Durban - On Saturday, Eben Etzebeth will play his first competitive rugby match in over eight months when the Springboks take on Argentina at Kings Park in their Rugby Championship opener. 

The 26-year-old missed the entire 2018 Super Rugby season with the Stormers with a serious shoulder injury. 

His last Test was on December 2 against Wales in Cardiff, and since then the second-row powerhouse has spent countless days away from his Stormers and Springbok team-mates. 

The injury required surgery, and his left bicep reduced significantly in size as a result. 

Now, after what he describes as a "lonely" period, Etzebeth can get back to doing what he does best. 

Coach Rassie Erasmus has said in the build-up to the game that he does not see Etzebeth going much further than the hour-mark on Saturday, but that hardly seems to matter to Etzebeth right now. 

"I hope he plays me for the full 80 minutes," Etzebeth joked from the team hotel in Umhlanga on Thursday.

"It's obviously been a long time. I think the rugby world has forgotten about me. It's been more than eight months so it's just nice to be back in a team environment.

"Doing rehab with a phsyio every day is a lonely world, so just seeing the guys and having Siya (Kolisi) as my room-mate ... it's just great."

Etzebeth, who was captain of the national side for most of 2017, has watched Kolisi's rise to leadership with keen interest. 

He watched all of the Bok games against England in June, and acknowledged that it had been difficult not being involved.

"I was actually very emotional, especially watching the guys run out and sing the national anthem," he said.

"I just love Springbok rugby and seeing them play and not being there was very emotional. Knowing I'm going to run out with them on Saturday is an awesome feeling.

"When those guys line up and sing the national anthem, I think that's the best song I can sing. You obviously miss the jokes and everything in between, but in the end it's the 80 minutes on the pitch where you get to test yourself against the world's best and that's what you miss."

The word from the Bok camp is that Etzebeth has been operating at full-tilt for a number of weeks now, and Erasmus has no concerns over his lack of match fitness this year. 

Etzebeth will have a familiar face next to him in the second row, with Stormers team-mate Pieter-Steph du Toit making the move back to lock from the No 7 role he filled in June. 

On paper, that must still be Erasmus' favoured lock pairing as plans for the 2019 World Cup in Japan next year. 

Before then, though, Etzebeth must show that there is no ring rust and that he can reach the heights that made him one of the most respected and feared locks in world rugby.

"You can sit here and say you're ready, but at the end of the day Saturday is when the rest of the world is going to see if I'm ready to play again," Etzebeth said.

Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:05.


South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Damian Willemse


15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro

Substitutes: 16 Diego Fortuny, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia
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