The Springboks will forget about the looming Rugby World Cup temporarily, as they focus on their clash against the All Blacks in London on Friday says South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth.
The toughest man in the Springbok team, Eben Etzebeth, has once and for all put to bed any suspicions that the Boks and the All Blacks will be keeping something in reserve in Friday night’s Battle of Twickenham.
The man nicknamed Eben the Angry after he almost ripped off the head of Wallaby prop Allan Alaalatoa in Sydney last year, looked incredulous when a reporter asked him if the Boks faced a dilemma of wanting to gain confidence by beating the Kiwis but without destroying themselves in the process, with the Word Cup imminent.
“Let me stop you there. I disagree with you,” Etzebeth said before adding with chilling candour: “This week we are not worried about the World Cup. We will think about that on Saturday. In the meantime, it is the Springboks versus the All Blacks. It is impossible to play them and hold something back. We are going to give everything to win. If it goes well, that will build confidence going to the World Cup but, as I said, first it is the All Blacks.”
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Etzebeth, the fourth most capped Springbok of all time (112 Tests), said the sense of occasion at Twickenham will ensure this encounter between the bitter rivals on neutral territory is unique.
“There are so many South Africans in that part of the world. The bus trip to Twickenham is always special. From a long distance from the stadium, you start to see the green jerseys of our supporters. And in the game, you hear their voices and it lifts you up.
“We will be playing for our country, for the Springbok jersey, and at one of the best stadiums in the world in front of 80,000 people against our biggest rival, the All Blacks – if you asked that to any one of them, they will give you the same answer.”
In fact, Etzebeth could well have been having a conversation with his rival from the All Blacks, Ardie Savea, who echoed the Bok enforcer’s sentiments about this game.
“The term ‘World Cup warm-up’ is not part of our vocabulary,” Savea told reporters in London. “We want to go out there firing and banging.
“For me, every Test is hard, and that’s just an internal gut feel I put upon myself. The standard in every game is tough and you want to get prepared for that.”
When the two teams last met, the Boks were blown away by the All Blacks in the first half of their match in Auckland before saving face to lose 35-20.
“Obviously we learned from that one that we have to switch on from the start,” Etzebeth said. “They came with a massive start out of the blocks. In those 20 minutes, they were definitely a better team than us. We are preparing better this week to also make that quicker and better start.”
The All Blacks are on a roll. They have not been beaten in their last 10 games and the Boks will have to deliver a performance of the intensity that destroyed the Kiwis at Mbombela last year if they are to win.
“They naturally play good rugby,” Etzebeth conceded. “Last year, there were one or two games where they weren’t at their best, but even the best teams go through a dip. I always knew the All Blacks would come back, they are one of the better teams in the world.”