Etzebeth’s new empowerment
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.
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