The burly Eben Etzebeth might only have recently returned from injury, but c’mon, even while running below his best, he is still better than all the rest – and not only in South Africa but worldwide.
CAPE TOWN – Over the next few weeks, our rugby writers will be debating their Springbok choices from No.15 to No.1 for the upcoming series against the British & Irish Lions. Today we focus on No.4 lock …
MORGAN BOLTON’S CHOICE: Eben Etzebeth
The burly 29-year-old might only have recently returned from injury, but c’mon, even while running below his best, Etzebeth is still better than all the rest – and not only in South Africa but worldwide.
He is the Bok enforcer, and when he is operating at 100%, he is simply irrepressible. Strong in his carries and line-out work, massive in defence, and now a leader in any team that he plays in, the No.4 lock operates on the line when it comes to his stature and intimidation tactics.
If the Lions are to be bullied in the front, then it will be Etzebeth who rallies the pack to the cause.
RG Snyman is arguably just behind him in that department – if he can stay away from pit fires – while many would argue that Marvin Orie is more a No.5 than a No.4.
To that I say, sure, Orie might not be as physical with ball-in-hand, but if you want a lock to tackle all day long, then he is your man.
MIKE GREENAWAY’S CHOICE: Eben Etzebeth
Last month, Etzebeth suffered a freak finger injury at Toulon, requiring surgery, and the major concern over whether he would make the series against the Lions reflects how vital he is to the Springbok cause.
He is not just this country’s leading enforcer, but it is doubtful he has a rival in the world when it comes to sheer physicality and aggression.
At 29, Etzebeth is in his prime and absolutely crucial to the Boks hope of winning the series.
Etzebeth joined the French giants after the World Cup, and has quickly written himself into French folklore because of his bullyboy play.
The good news is that it appears that his finger issue is a thing of the past.
WYNONA LOUW’S CHOICE: Eben Etzebeth
Etzebeth missed six weeks of action with a finger injury and only returned to the pitch last month, but he’s certainly done enough to prove that he’s ready for the tourists.
While his fourth try of the season and that fine running line in the build-up was a lekker touch to Toulon’s win over Castres at the weekend, even more pleasing has been the second-row beast building form as the Lions series nears.
With Lood de Jager and RG Snyman in a race against time to be fit, the Bok honchos will be hoping that Etzebeth remains unscathed, as more injury and uncertainty will no doubt seriously strip their second row.
ASHFAK MOHAMED’S CHOICE: Eben Etzebeth
If it wasn’t for last year’s Covid-19 postponement, Etzebeth would have been celebrating his 100th Bok Test this year.
Yes, he is already on 85 caps at the age of 29, which underlines his importance to the national team.
Etzebeth is the meanie No.4 lock who will lead the charge in the physical stakes – and is a supreme ruck-cleaner – but he is worth so much more than that.
He is an excellent line-out jumper, and while he does the hard ball-carrying at close quarters, he has more than enough agility to produce some telling offloads in the wider channels too.
And, of course, no-one gets past Etzebeth in a defensive situation.
He has recovered from a recent finger injury, and will look to climb into the likes of Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones.