South Africa: Eben Etzebeth wary of Ireland, France and New Zealand at ‘open World Cup’
Springbok enforcer Eben Etzebeth has identified France, Ireland and New Zealand as the biggest threats at what he described as an “open” Rugby World Cup later this year.
The 31-year-old has taken note of the fine form displayed by Les Bleus and the men from the Emerald Isle in recent years but feels there are numerous other countries who should not be underestimated as well.
Expects several teams to be competitive at World Cup
“I think the World Cup is open. I think there are about seven or eight teams that are really going to be competitive at the World Cup,” Etzebeth told News24.
“Wales are probably not doing that well but they’re always good at the World Cup. England will come back, Australia will be good, Argentina is always a tough team, so it’s going to be difficult.
“We’ve got a tough pool with Scotland and Ireland in it and you must finish at least second to make the quarter-finals. Getting through the pool is going to be a tough ask but we’re looking forward to seeing how we go.”
The All Blacks are usually amongst the favourites ahead of any World Cup but an inconsistent Test campaign in 2022 – in which they suffered a shock series loss against Ireland on home soil – has seen them drop down the pecking order.
Etzebeth is not falling for that, however, and feels the Boks‘ arch rivals should not be taken lightly.
“Those people that don’t put them in the conversation don’t know much about rugby,” said the behemoth second-row.
“The All Blacks will always be there. They are one of the toughest teams at a World Cup and they’ve won it three times for a reason.
“They are going to be massive favourites to win the World Cup, along with teams like France, Ireland and other teams that are doing well also. And obviously, we’ll be backing ourselves, so it’s going to be an interesting World Cup.”
Etzebeth has been playing superbly over the past 12 months and his fine form has been rewarded with SA Rugby’s Player of the Year award earlier in 2023.
He was a regular in the Springboks’ matchday squads throughout 2022 and shone during the latter stages of his stint with French outfit Toulon and continued to impress when he joined the Sharks late last year.
He believes the fact that he is enjoying his rugby is a big reason for his excellent performances.
“It’s a difficult one to pinpoint but if you’re a happy rugby player, you’re probably a better rugby player. So, I’m happy to be back in South Africa, recently happily married,” said Etzebeth.
“You always work hard and you’ve got good coaches and players around you and that also helps.
“Those guys around you, the good team structure, and the good plans that coaches give you mean you can freely go into a game without worrying about anything else.
Playing with world-class players helps
“You know you’ve got world-class players around you and you can focus on your own stuff and try to get better at your own things.
“I’m happy to be at the Sharks and playing for a South African franchise. South Africa is the best country in the world, so it’s awesome to be back.”
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