Bok skipper: Etzebeth lifts his hand

2017-03-11 21:18
Eben Etzebeth (Photo supplied)
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 seemed.

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 strategy.

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 charges.

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 …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  eben etzebeth  |  rugby


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