RUGBY: ‘When Eben Etzebeth comes on to the pitch, it’s not to talk’  – Boks and Les Bleus set for epic showdown

RUGBY: ‘When Eben Etzebeth comes on to the pitch, it’s not to talk’  – Boks and Les Bleus set for epic showdown

The plot lines are drawn. The Boks have gone with a 5-3 bench, including Handré Pollard, Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk as backs in reserve. It’s hardly a surprise since Pollard was deemed fit to be in contention.

France have in turn selected skipper Antoine Dupont, just 20 days after undergoing facial surgery to have a metal plate inserted in his cheek after he fractured it playing against Namibia.

The Boks have preferred Duane Vermeulen over Jasper Wiese at No 8 and have decided to go with the attacking instincts of Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok as their starting halfback combination.

France have omitted the dangerous Melvyn Jaminet from the bench, preferring to add the powerful Sekou Macalou, who can play flank and wing, among the reserves.

Both teams have hard buggers up front. It will be thunderous and subtle, intelligent and instinctive and wonderful and nerve-shredding all at once. 

In short, it has all the ingredients of a sporting epic that will leave one side bereft and another elated but spent. The victor will have to do it all over again a week later.

It was a brutally physical contest the last time the sides met, almost a year ago in Marseille. Pieter-Steph du Toit was red-carded, as was Dupont, albeit 50 minutes apart, while the clash was always on the edge.

France won 30-26, but it could’ve gone the other way just as easily. It’s likely to be a similarly tight encounter on Sunday night at the Stade de France.

“Violent is the right word,” France No 8 Charles Ollivon responded after a brief pause to reflect, after being asked about their last meeting 11 months ago. “We’re expecting the same kind of match. We know the South African style.

“They’re well prepared to make a physical mark on their opponents. They’ll stay true to themselves. If I know [Toulon teammate] Eben [Etzebeth], when he comes onto the pitch, it’s not to talk. Once they’re in the game, they just keep rolling out the steamroller. They’re not going to change. We’ll be ready.”

France vs South Africa preview

Antoine Dupont of France will be back on the field on Sunday, 15 October, to face the Springboks, despite having just undergone surgery after fracturing his cheekbone. (Photo: Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Brutal Boks

Bok skipper Siya Kolisi didn’t shy away from the perception that the Boks are brutal, but did add the caveat that the intention is always to be within the law.

It’s how they play. Forward dominance is what every team at this level strives to earn. Seldom does a side win with its pack beaten.

Given the stakes, would Kolisi be working extra hard to keep up communication with referee Ben O’Keeffe? Not really.

“We do play physically, we do play on the edge, but we train it over and over again to stay legal,” Kolisi said. “We train to tackle below the ball and in training, penalties are called for offside and all those kinds of things.

“Our training is like a match day and if you cause those penalties in training, then you obviously bring in the ref. Our goal is to not bring the ref into it.

“That’s why our technique is so important. But at the same time, you can’t go out there in fear. We can’t go out there in fear of doing something crazy. You have to live on the edge because that’s what our game is about. That’s who we are as the Springbok team. We play as hard as we can for 80 minutes. That’s rugby.

“People enjoy rugby because it’s brutal and creates opportunities for players with great footwork to show the beautiful side of rugby.

“Our forward p

…. to be continued
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