Springbok enforcer Eben Etzebeth says those who have written off New Zealand as challengers to South Africa’s crown at France 2023 “don’t know much about rugby”.
A home Test series defeat to Ireland for the first time in their history in 2022 shattered the All Blacks’ aura of invincibility, before more defeats followed in the Rugby Championship that placed coach Ian Foster’s head on the chopping block.
The Kiwis bounced back to claim an unlikely Rugby Championship title, and saved Foster’s job, yet ongoing discussions over his successor have clouded their World Cup preparations.
Ireland has been the most consistent team in world rugby for the past three years and are currently ranked No 1, and are closely followed by France, but Etzebeth insists the All Blacks cannot be discounted as title contenders at the sport’s global showpiece in six months’ time.
The Boks face Ireland and Scotland in Pool B, while the All Blacks clash with France in Pool A, and speaking during a sponsorship event in Johannesburg on Wednesday, the towering lock told News24: “Those people that don’t put them in the conversation don’t know much about rugby.
“The All Blacks will always be there. They are one of the toughest teams at a World Cup and they’ve won it three times for a reason.
“They are going to be massive favourites to win the World Cup, along with teams like France, Ireland and other teams that are doing well also. And obviously, we’ll be backing ourselves, so it’s going to be an interesting World Cup.”
He added: “I think the World Cup is open. I think there are about seven or eight teams that are really going to be competitive at the World Cup.
“Wales are probably not doing that well but they’re always good at the World Cup. England will come back, Australia will be good, Argentina is always a tough team, so it’s going to be difficult.
“We’ve got a tough pool with Scotland and Ireland in it and you must finish at least second to make the quarter-finals. Getting through the pool is going to be a tough ask but we’re looking forward to seeing how we go.”
The Springboks’ 2023 World Cup pool opponents Scotland and Ireland look ominous in the Six Nations, and centre Lukhanyo Am has taken notice of the European sides’ performances.
“It’s good for rugby. The European sides, France, Scotland and Ireland, are performing really well,” he said.
“For us, going there and facing these quality sides is going to be a challenge but a good one for us. It’s going to be really interesting because in our pool we have two of the top five teams in the World Rugby rankings.
“We need to face them to get out of that pool and they are playing really good rugby at the moment.
“They are the teams to beat but we’ll see how things will turn out at the Rugby World Cup.”
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