Etzebeth’s new empowerment

    2013-05-22 15:48

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – He may still be only 21, but Eben Etzebeth has just been handed a fresh string to his increasingly impressive bow.

    The fast-emerging Springbok lock, in only his second season of Super Rugby though already with 11 Test caps to his name from a meteoric first-class “arrival” in 2012, will call the lineouts for the injury-ravaged Stormers in their Newlands clash with the Reds on Saturday (17:05).

    “It’s a great opportunity for Eben,” said coach Allister Coetzee at Wednesday’s team announcement media briefing, when asked who would fill the important strategic void in the absence of such core pack customers as Andries Bekker and Duane Vermeulen.

    “He’s moving to No 5, and getting him to call the lineouts against such an experienced Reds (rival as) James Horwill ... he’s done well; it’s all part of his development and here’s the Real McCoy for Eben now.

    “It’s exciting, and a great opportunity.”

    It is an amazing thought that despite his own youth, the firebrand Etzebeth – there may be some extra pleas for him to keep his sometimes short fuse in check on Saturday – will be much the more experienced of the two second-rowers for the franchise in their attempt to return to winning ways after three overseas tour losses on the trot.

    That is because Nelspruit-born Gerbrandt Grobler, who only turned 21 himself in February, makes his starting debut for the Stormers against the 2011 champions, and will be handed the No 4 shirt.

    The Stormers were unable to call on any of Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Rynhardt Elstadt or Michael Rhodes for possible lock duty against the Reds, given the injury plague.

    “Eben will play to his strengths,” explained Coetzee, when asked whether Etzebeth would still play his tighter, more No 4-style game despite his swap to five.

    “He can play both types of game; he can play tight, more towards the ball, but he’s also been carrying well, so that’s basically the role we will expect of him.

    “Gerbrandt coming in at four ... he must make sure he does play towards the ball and handles cleanout jobs for us. Aggression at the breakdown will be required, because with someone like (open-side flank) Liam Gill there, the Reds have a great stealer.”

    Something that will aid Etzebeth’s calling chore on Saturday is the welcome return to the hooker’s slot of Tiaan Liebenberg, a pack leader in his own right and easily the squad’s most street-wise No 2.

    Bok coach Heyneke Meyer will probably watch Etzebeth’s new lineout empowerment and switch to No 5 with more than a little interest: he is not completely averse to the idea that Toulon’s in-form Bakkies Botha (at 33, the established Bok is far from a tight-forward has-been) could be paired with someone like Etzebeth for South Africa, although has always cautioned that at least one shrewd lineout strategist is also required in the second row.

    Someone like Botha, whose speciality is as an “enforcer”, has traditionally been happy not to make lineout calls, especially as he spent so many years in Test or Super Rugby alliance with that great athlete and schemer Victor Matfield.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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