Eben Etzebeth

Pundits talk about Eben Etzebeth’s physical power as though describing some otherworldly gift. As proof they cite feats like his bouncing of Sharks hard man Bismarck du Plessis off his left shoulder during a trademark charge upfield last year. The 21-year-old is more sober about the incident. “Ag, it was more about being excited to be back on the field after a few weeks of injury,” he says. His rise to rugby dominance was meteoric. Early on, in high school in Cape Town, he was the little guy who slotted in anywhere in the backline. Better known as a sprinter and high-jumper, Etzebeth only grew late in his teens. By 2009 he was near his current 2.03m and 120kg frame and playing lock at Craven Week. He was a star of the Varsity Cup-winning University of Cape Town Ikeys in 2011. His severe running and mauling impressed the Western Province selectors and, in February 2012, aged just 20, he debuted for the Stormers. By June he was a Springbok, starting for a winning outfit against England in Durban. It was the sort of rise a young bloke from Goodwood might find difficult to handle. But the towering Etzebeth has taken it in his ample stride. “Andries [Bekker, his lock partner] helped a lot,” he explains. “But I really loved becoming friends with guys I had only ever seen on TV. Even the guys you play against. On the field you hate them, but afterwards you’re friends.” Responding to forecasts that he’ll become a legendary Springbok enforcer, the deep-thinking Etzebeth is composed. “That is what’s expected of me. But I also enjoy running with the ball, which not all number 4s do. I love flowing rugby. What I really want to do is win trophies for my teams. The World  Cup for the Boks would be the ultimate.” — Ian Macleod