Eben targets French heavies

Eben Etzebeth says the Springboks ‘can’t wait to climb into the French’ at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI in Pretoria reports.

The Boks said farewell to a number of key forwards at the end of the 2015 season. Victor Matfield hung up his boots at the end of the 2015 World Cup, while Schalk Burger made his intentions clear when he signed a contract with English club Saracens.

Bismarck du Plessis, who like Burger, will go down in history as one of the most physical players to wear a Bok jersey, was not considered for Test selection in 2016. Duane Vermeulen missed 10 out of 12 Tests due to injuries.

The Boks battled without these behemoths in tow. Etzebeth, who carried out the enforcer role to brutal effect in the years between 2012 and 2015, found life a bit harder in the trenches without the likes of Du Plessis, Burger and Vermeulen providing support.

The 2017 Test season will commence when the Boks host France at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. The Boks have everything to prove after losing eight of their 12 Tests last year. Unfortunately, it may be left once again to Etzebeth to carry the physical load alone, as Vermeulen has been ruled out for the entire series.

On Tuesday, Etzebeth refused to entertain the suggestion that the Boks, as a collective, don’t have what it takes to subdue and conquer the French. The Bok lock was calm and collected when speaking about the physical challenge that awaits at Loftus.

‘We can’t wait to climb into the French,’ Etzebeth said. ‘They’re a very physical side, but we will embrace that contest at the set pieces and gainline.’

Warren Whiteley will lead the Boks for the first time this Saturday. Etzebeth, as one of the leaders in the team, will provide support.

Etzebeth believes that it’s possible to be a leader as well as one of the chief aggressors in the Bok pack. When asked if there was a risk of overdoing it against France this Saturday – by crossing the line and conceding penalties and yellow cards– he reminded everybody about his outstanding disciplinary record.

‘That’s just a perception, and I suppose people can believe what they want,’ he said simply. ‘I know what I can bring to the team, and I know that in over 100 games for the Stormers and Boks, I’ve only conceded two yellow cards.

‘Discipline is going to be crucial this Saturday. You don’t want to give away points or cards in a game like this, as the opposition has what it takes to punish you on the scoreboard.

‘I’ve enjoyed being a leader in this team,’ Etzebeth continued. ‘I captained the Stormers in two games this season and it was a great experience. We’ve spent some time building this new culture at the Boks, and I’m excited about the season to come.

'I want to make an impact, but at the same time, I’m confident that the seven forwards around me can also do a job.’

Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli