Eben Etzebeth says rumours of the Springbok coaching team’s impending departure hasn’t impacted on the team’s preparations ahead of the clash against Wales. JON CARDINELLI in Cardiff reports.
Late last week, it was rumoured that Bok coach Allister Coetzee and assistant Matt Proudfoot were exploring alternative employment options at a club in Japan. It’s believed that neither Coetzee and Proudfoot will be part of the Bok coaching team going forward.
The Boks finished the 2015 season ranked No 3 in the world. Since then, they have won 11 of their 24 Tests and have dropped down to fifth on the World Rugby ladder. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see Coetzee and company getting the boot in the coming weeks.
That said, a number of these players will be part of the new order in 2018 and in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup. Speaking from the team hotel in Cardiff, the captain confirmed that his charges are desperate to end the tour and the season on a high.
‘If you coach the Boks or play for the Boks you have a whole rugby-mad nation that’s looking at you,’ said Etzebeth. ‘They want you to win every weekend. We know that there is always pressure and that tomorrow’s game will be another pressure Test.
‘We’re looking forward to it. We prepare every day for Tests like these.’
Etzebeth was handed the captaincy after Warren Whiteley broke down with a serious groin injury in June. The game against Wales will mark his 11th at the helm of the Boks.
‘It’s been a good year for me. Warren led the team well in the first two Tests and then unfortunately had that injury. I thought that I would get the opportunity for one Test, then I heard that Warren wouldn’t be back for the Rugby Championship. Then I heard that he wouldn’t be back for this tour.
‘So I’ve had an extended run in the position. I must say that I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed working with Allister, who’s an absolutely amazing coach. I’ve enjoyed working with these players. They’re good people on and off the field. It’s been a very good and humbling experience.’
One has got the sense throughout the week that the coaches and players know that their time together is coming to an end. Etzebeth, however, stressed that there was still plenty to play for in the Test at the Millennium Stadium.
‘When I woke up this morning, I realised it’s 1 December,’ he said with a smile. ‘It’s a feeling you get when you’re a South African. You know that the December holidays are just around the corner.
‘I’m excited because I’m playing for the Boks again tomorrow. For me, it’s like playing your first Test all over again.
‘It’s so special. I know that after tomorrow, I will have to wait – that is if I get selected – another six months to play for this amazing team again. I’m just going to enjoy every moment of tomorrow’s game. I think the rest of the guys feel the same way.’
Wales will be without a host of players upfront. Etzebeth made it clear that the Boks will look to target the Dragons at the set pieces on Saturday.
‘We always look to our scrum as a weapon. We are a set-piece team. We like scrumming, we like lineouts, we like the mauling battle.
‘So we don’t really care who they have playing for them. We’re going to go for them at the scrums, at the mauls, and at the lineouts.’
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) December 1, 2017
Photo: Gabriele Maltinti/Gallo Images