Etzebeth steaming to Big Vic's Bok record ... despite virus hazard

2020-05-14 13:11
Eben Etzebeth
Eben Etzebeth (Gallo Images)

The effects of the global coronavirus pandemic this year could put a spanner in the works for Eben Etzebeth ... but perhaps only to a limited extent.

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Even if this Test season were to be a write-off for the Springboks - that is obviously a very worst-case scenario - the second-row hard man remains well on course to topple Victor Matfield’s record for most Bok caps (127).

Almost unnoticed, understandably, in the afterglow of the World Cup 2019 triumph in Japan, Toulon-based Etzebeth moved to 85 Test caps after playing in six matches at the tournament.

It means that the 28-year-old is not only powering ever closer to joining the elite “100 caps or more” club, a six-strong group currently made up of Matfield, Bryan Habana, Tendai Mtawarira, John Smit, Jean de Villiers and Percy Montgomery: he is also an ever-rising threat to Matfield’s supreme landmark.

There is a strong case for suggesting that only a really disruptive injury period or two, coupled possibly with a deeply curtailed 2020 campaign due to Covid-19, will thwart the former Stormers/WP favourite’s charge toward the 43 extra caps needed to eclipse the retired lineout king.

Especially if the current Bok season does end up being a suitably full one (though the 13 scheduled Tests currently looks over-optimistic), a fit and firing Etzebeth may only need around four further years to get to the magical 128 as he is averaging closer to 11 than 10 caps per season.

He has a history, too, of tending to experience his worst battles with the “treatment table” in the earlier parts of calendar years, meaning that he is seldom absent for green-and-gold requirements.

All going well, then, he could reach the milestone by around the age of 32 ... keep in mind that even 33 or 34 is a common enough age for a still forceful international lock forward.

Matfield, of course, soldiered on to a rare 38, still playing extremely decent rugby until he called it quits following the Boks’ third-place finish at RWC 2015.

But in Etzebeth’s favour for an assault on the record is how much younger he began his Test career: while Matfield was already 24 when he made his debut against Italy at Port Elizabeth in 2001 (the start of a glittering 15-year Bok career), Etzebeth was a mere 20 when Heyneke Meyer daringly but successfully picked him for the first Test against England in Durban in 2012.

Matfield got to Etzebeth’s current tally of 85 appearances in his ninth Bok season (2009), whereas Etzebeth hit that mark in his eighth, and several years younger into the bargain.

Etzebeth has few nearby challengers in caps terms among the present Bok squad: closest to him among SA players still on the Test radar going forward is Frans Steyn on 67 - and he has turned 33 on this very day, with a limited future likely for the Test side.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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