What the English newspapers are saying ahead of the Test between England and South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
Eben Etzebeth is on the cover of the latest edition of SA Rugby magazine. The man who has succeeded the great Bakkies Botha has had a big role to play at the gainline in recent years, and will be a key man when South Africa tackle England at Twickenham.
The English press hold Etzebeth in high regard. Today, two of the big dailies have run some striking images of the imposing Bok lock. They make the point that Etzebeth, and second-row partner Lood de Jager, are larger than counterparts Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury.
‘Now bring on Bok bruisers,’ screams the headline in the Daily Mail. The paper has run a picture of a half-naked Etzebeth, and highlighted his impressive abilities. One of the sidebars reminds readers how Etzebeth was involved in an off-the-ball scuffle with Bok teammate De Jager when the Stormers faced the Cheetahs earlier this year.
That’s not to say that the Boks are being tipped to win the physical battle. Chris Foy of the Mail believes that Lawes offers ‘greater athleticism, mobility, and explosive force’. The England lock himself has, however, vowed to hit the likes of Etzebeth with all he has this Saturday. ‘I prefer to stop a big guy, and I pride myself on being physical,’ he said.
‘South Africa must ditch their obsession with physicality’ barks the headline in The Daily Telegraph. The paper has also highlighted the sheer size of Etzebeth. One remark puts the strength of the man into perspective: ‘Etzebeth can bench press 385 pounds, the equivalent of one-and-a-half Anthony Joshuas.’
The Telegraph’s Dan Schofield, however, is not completely convinced. ‘As other countries have eliminated the physical gap, the Springboks have not made the jump in skill levels.’ His views are backed up by none other than former Bok captain Corné Krige, who was considered to be the quintessential hardman in his heyday.
Krige says that New Zealand have shown that being skilful as well as physical is the key to taking rugby forward. ‘I do think that South Africa has placed too much emphasis on physicality and neglected our skills.’
The Telegraph also quoted former Bok prop Robbie Kempson, who said: ‘We were brought up on the premise that physical dominance is the greatest asset you can have.’
Meanwhile, The Times has looked at ‘How the Boks put a ten-year hex on England’. Jannie du Plessis is pictured kneeling on the Twickenham turf and screaming at the sky following South Africa’s win in 2014.
Chief rugby correspondent Owen Slot has spoken to several former England players who ‘can’t believe that it’s stretched that long’. Slot notes that, during that period, South Africa weren’t always the better team, but ‘found a way to finish with their noses in front’. After analysing the Boks’ decline in recent years, Slot concludes that history may be against England this weekend, ‘but the circumstances are not’.