Cape Town - While one match should never
serve as some kind of catapult, the thought of Eben Etzebeth leading the
Springboks in 2017 suddenly looks less far-fetched than it might once have
The muscular second-rower - significantly,
perhaps - combined a thunderous personal performance with more-than-credible
maiden Super Rugby captaincy of the Stormers in a 41-10 thumping of the Kings
in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
This outcome, with a bonus point in tow,
left the Capetonians with a healthy 100 percent win record after three games,
ahead of their bye weekend in the next round.
The 25-year-old Etzebeth had already been
named official vice-captain to Siya Kolisi this year by coach Robbie Fleck, and
ran out in front for the first time at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium as the flanker
was rested from this encounter.
Already a relative “veteran” of 54 Test
caps for the Boks, the big, athletic and combative No 4 was a bastion of
urgency and industry against the Kings, making a string of forceful carries and
being no less imperious in the lineouts.
The exchanges were feisty and more than a
little ill-tempered early on, when the Kings were fairly bothersome to the
much-fancied visitors, and you got the sense that riling Etzebeth and one or
two other Stormers forwards with known short fuses was a specific part of their
While turning the other cheek completely in
argy-bargy situations is seldom likely to be a feature for the lock, he
generally kept his cool well and stuck to his task of retaining focus among his
Dealing with the Japanese referee Shuhei
Kubo is not the easiest for a lot of Super Rugby captains, given his fairly
limited English, but Etzebeth seemed to get the diplomacy and communication
aspects mostly right.
He is clearly the sort of distinguished
player others in his team are going to look up to – in more ways than one –
whether he is officially in charge or not, and the signs from his first
leadership of the Stormers were almost indisputably positive.
It was one of his best individual games in
some time, for a player who sets the bar high anyway, and maybe the extra
responsibility was a spur in that man-of-the-match-earning excellence.
One thing has to be considered in
Etzebeth’s favour over the Bok captaincy: in a Test team not overloaded at
present with absolute “must picks” he is certainly an exception, already
established as one of the planet’s premier tight forwards.
He does not deserve to suddenly jump to the
front of the queue for the vacant Bok captaincy, simply based on a once-off
leadership against the limited Kings.
There will still be other reasonably
attractive candidates, including Stormers team-mate and friend Kolisi, Warren
Whiteley, Handre Pollard, Pat Lambie and overseas-based customers like Duane
Vermeulen and Francois Louw in the event that being based abroad as national
captain is considered acceptable.
But he is well familiar to Bok coach
Allister Coetzee from the latter’s tenure at the Stormers, and Saturday’s
evidence at least showed that Etzebeth is just entering the radar …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing