Eben is not a fool at line-out contesting
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is confident Eben Etzebeth will combat second season syndrome when the prodigious lock starts his first Super Rugby match of the season against the Waratahs this weekend.
Etzebeth shot to prominence in his debut season of Super Rugby last year and went on to earn 11 Test caps for the Springboks and the coveted SA Rugby Young Player of the Year award.
The 21-year-old made his return from injury off the bench in last weekend’s loss to the Blues in Auckland and replaces the injured De Kock Steenkamp in the starting line-up for Saturday’s match in Sydney.
After his meteoric rise in 2012 Etzebeth will be a marked man this year but Coetzee believes the giant lock will take his second season in his stride.
“He understands that it’s his second year and that people will take note of him and mark him,” Coetzee said on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be quite interesting to see how he handles his second year as a marked man. No-one knew him last year and he did really well but this is the year that he has to front up.”
Etzebeth will be a key player in the set phases against the Waratahs and although Coetzee feels a degree of rustiness won’t make him as efficient a ball-poaching lock as the man he replaces, the Stormers coach warned the Waratahs would need to be wary of the youngster’s all-round ability and aggression.
“He might not be as sharp as De Kock at this point in time but one has to remember how good he was last year. I’m not sure he’s quite there yet, but Eben is not a fool at line-out contesting,” he said.
“We know his aggression and he’s a highly competitive player. He won’t sit back and be beaten [to the ball] every time, so I’m positive he will be better this week.”
Coetzee felt Etzebeth would also have the mental capacity to brush off any possible deliberate attempts by the opposition to aggravate him.
“He’s matured and he’s learned. He was suspended in the Rugby Championship [last year] and you learn from those experiences. You don’t want to take the aggression of a player away but there has to be self control and we’ve spoken about that,” said Coetzee.
“So hopefully there’s no rush of blood and he keeps his emotions in control and he has good leaders around him to help him with that. There’s a fine line between discipline and aggression and I’m looking for disciplined aggression from the pack this week.”
Coetzee said they have focused on their set-pieces this week and are relishing the clash with the Wallaby-laden Waratahs pack.
“Set-piece is going to be massive … it’s going to be crucial for both teams,” said Coetzee.
“It’s a great challenge for us and a great opportunity for players to play against international players. We’re looking forward to the challenge. We’ve prepared really well and although our set-piece has been solid, I’m looking for big improvement. We have to keep our concentration at scrum time and make sure of our accuracy in the line-outs.”
Coetzee said they would look to pressurise flyhalf Bernhard Foley in an attempt to neutralise the backline following the Sydney side’s 11-try destruction of the Southern Kings last weekend.
“He’s a devastating player once he gets time and space. Once nine and ten operate easily they’ll find gaps and won’t need to kick because they always have a good platform.
“They play behind a solid pack of forwards and solid set-piece, so we will have to force them to kick and use the possession to launch properly from that,” he said.
Coetzee added that their tactical-kicking would have to be pin-point to ensure dangerman Israel Folau isn’t given space to launch a counter attack.
“We have to make sure we execute our kicking game well and work extra hard on our kick-chase. The one try they scored against the Kings came from a kick-return, therefore if your line isn’t intact and you don’t work hard in the chase they’ll punish you,” he said.