Enforcer Etzebeth to bring up century of Springbok appearances

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South African rugby forwards are renowned for their size and physicality -– and they don’t come bigger or more imposing than Eben Etzebeth, who will play in his 100th Test in the series-deciding third Test against Wales at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.

Standing a towering 2.03 metres (6feet 6inches) and weighing 122 kg (19stone 2pounds), the 30-year-old Springbok lock will become the seventh and youngest South African to reach the 100-cap mark.

Hailing from a tough neighbourhood, he has a well-earned reputation for physicality, throwing his full body weight into rucks and mauls.

His very presence oozes menace.

There was a time when the name Etzebeth struck fear in the bars of Parow, in Cape Town's unsalubrious northern suburbs, but he combines power with discipline.

Two uncles were Springbok wrestlers and renowned bar-room brawlers.

Cliffie, who died in a car accident in 2018, admitted in an Afrikaans-language newspaper interview in 2010 he and his brother Skattie, who died in 1993 while collecting a debt, often were involved in fights.

Eben's father, Harry, was a younger brother who stayed away from trouble and became a policeman.

Eben admits to being an 'enforcer' in the Springbok pack but says he doesn't indulge in foul play.

He has only received two yellow cards for the Springboks.

"You can get away with a bit of pushing and shoving but if you punch someone then you risk being on the sidelines," he said in a 2014 interview.

"They are small margins but we are all professionals."

- 'A political issue' -

Etzebeth captained the Springboks in 12 Tests before Siya Kolisi became the full-time captain in 2018.

Former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, who gave Etzebeth his first Test cap in 2012, told SA Rugby Magazine in 2021: "There are certain players in rugby that others dread coming up against. Eben is one of those players."

But, said Meyer, he played to the rules.

"It's important to have that balance as an enforcer. On the one hand, the team needs you to get stuck in. On the other, you need him to stay on the park.

"A lot of opponents tried to provoke him in the early stages of his career. The All Blacks were very good at pushing players in that manner. Eben didn’t take the bait, though."

Echoes of the old Etzebeth reputation emerged shortly before the 2019 Rugby World Cup when he was accused of assault and using a racial slur outside a bar in Langebaan, north of Cape Town.

The case became a political issue, with the complainants seeking financial compensation, but petered out due to lack of evidence.

SA Rugby cleared Etzebeth after an internal investigation and he went on to play a key role for the Springboks as they went on to lift the trophy in Japan.

In an age of tactical substitutions and the so-called 'bomb squad' used by coach Rassie Erasmus in Japan, Etzebeth has started all but six of his matches for South Africa.

During the World Cup, he started in all South Africa's fixtures apart from the relatively easy games against Namibia and Canada, when he was on the bench.

Just last week, Etzebeth was the only player in the starting line-up in the second Test against Wales who had played in the first match.

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber congratulated Etzebeth and hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who will play in his 50th Test, but said the focus on Saturday would be on a team effort with the series at stake.

cb/pi