BEST DAY EVER – EBEN

‘Etze­beth was al­ways in the lead­er­ship mix’

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

EYE­BROWS were raised on Satur­day when it was learned that Eben Etze­beth – and not Siya Kolisi or Beast Mtawarira – was to lead the Spring­boks in the third Test against France at El­lis Park.

But af­ter the Boks had wrapped up the se­ries 3-0 with a 35-12 win, coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee ex­plained ev­ery­one in the Bok squad knew ex­actly who would take over from War­ren White­ley were he to be ruled out dur­ing the se­ries. And that hap­pened on Fri­day when the Lions man was with­drawn from the side be­cause of a groin in­jury.

“Eben is the team’s vice cap­tain and we’d al­ready de­cided and planned (at our camp) in Plet­ten­berg Bay what would hap­pen if War­ren was ruled out at any stage,” said Coet­zee.

“We didn’t de­cide on the day that Eben would cap­tain the team. The play­ers knew ex­actly who was in line to take over the cap­taincy du­ties and they also know who’ll take over if Eben is out.”

Etze­beth be­came the Boks’ 59th cap­tain on Satur­day, a day he said was the best of his life. “Wel­come to the best day of my life,” he said af­ter he’d led the Boks to a re­sound­ing se­ries tri­umph. “The last 24 hours have been un­be­liev­able. War­ren has done an out­stand­ing job, so it was easy for me to slot in ... es­pe­cially with strong lead­ers in El­ton, Siya and Beast around me.”

White­ley’s fate will be known to­day af­ter be­ing as­sessed by the Lions’ med­i­cal team. “He’s had a groin strain through­out the se­ries, but we’ve man­aged him,” said Coet­zee. “He un­for­tu­nately fell awk­wardly dur­ing a line-out ses­sion on Thurs­day and hurt it again. A sonar showed he has a lit­tle tear and we felt it was best to not risk him.”

The Lions, who’re look­ing good to fin­ish among the top teams on the Su­per Rugby points table, will be des­per­ate to have their cap­tain fit and healthy in the lat­ter stages of the com­pe­ti­tion. But the Boks, too, will hope White­ley doesn’t have to un­dergo any op­er­a­tion, which may put him in jeop­ardy of miss­ing the Rugby Cham­pi­onship.

Coet­zee said he was hop­ing to see a South African team go all the way when Su­per Rugby re­sumes. “We’ve be­come brothers here at the Boks, but I also know we’re go­ing to go out there now and smoke each other in Su­per Rugby.

“I’ve told the play­ers they are in the 31 and it is only they who can play them­selves out of the group. They un­der­stand that. I’d now like to see one of our teams go all the way to the fi­nal and win­ning it, so that I get even more con­fi­dent Boks back when we get to­gether for the Rugby Cham­pi­onship.”

Added Etze­beth: “These three weeks with the Boks have been the best ever for me. We had time to pre­pare prop­erly, we got to know each other and care for each other ... and there are no lit­tle groups in the squad any­more. Usu­ally, af­ter be­ing away from home for four weeks, you can’t wait to get home, but I nearly feel like I want to stay here for an ex­tra week.”

PIC­TURE: AP

FIERCE COM­PETI­TOR: France’s Kevin Gour­don is har­ried and ha­rassed by the Spring­boks’ 59th cap­tain in Eben Etze­beth in this line-out dur­ing the third Test against Les Bleus on Satur­day at El­lis Park. A much im­proved Bok side won the se­ries 3-0.

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