World Cup-winning Springbok lock Mark Andrews believes Eben Etzebeth is being set up for disappointment by the South African coaching staff.
Andrews, a member of the Springbok team who won the Webb Ellis Cup on home soil in 1995, feels coach Heyneke Meyer and forwards coach Johann van Graan are not fully utilising the strengths of the Test rookie.
Speaking on SI Radio, Andrews said Etzebeth is being used as a ball-carrier in the national set-up, which is resulting in him neglected his primary rucking responsibilities.
The 77-Test cap veteran said that while his role as ball-carrier can be understood at provincial level, the luxury afforded to national coaches - in strong runners such as Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen and Adriaan Strauss - should see a shift in focus as far as Etzebeth’s role in the Springbok composition is concerned.
“I would have loved to see Eben Etzebeth play with someone like Bakkies Botha or Victor Matfield,” said Andrews.
“He has an incredible talent. The maturity he has been showing in the line-outs has been fantastic and he has a huge amount of confidence in carrying the ball up.
“However, I think that he may be set up by the media, the public and maybe the coaches for a fall later in his career if not sooner in the sense of that he isn’t really doing the job that he should be doing.
“Every single effective pack in world rugby – from international down to club rugby – has one of the second rows who has the ability to bring a physical presence to the game and normally that comes down to ruck time.
“What’s lacking with the Springboks at the moment is we have quite a few players who think they are ball-carriers and Etzebeth has been put in that position at Western Province where he has to be a ball-carrier.
“However, I think at the Springboks the situation should be different. It worries me that someone like Willem Alberts is hitting more rucks than anyone else in the team, when he is one of our most effective ball-carriers.
“Now we have a guy like Etzebeth standing out a lot of the time waiting to carry the ball up and it has happened a few times already when he’s lost the ball when he’s close to the try-line. I think his role should be to hit rucks and the Springboks need someone like him to own the breakdown.
“The All Blacks have always believed in owning the breakdown, but at the moment – and I have probably watched him more than most because it’s a position I played in – I don’t see him hitting rucks.”
Andrews added that Etzebeth is partly to blame and encouraged the SARU Young Player of the Year to improve his workrate at the rucks.
“He has all the ingredients to be a world-class player and be the anchor of the Springbok pack for years to come, but right now in the early stage of his career we need somebody to pull him aside and say ‘you have some key parts in your game that is expected of you and one of them is hitting rucks and you haven’t been doing it all season’.
“He got away with it in the Currie Cup and in Super Rugby where a very physical Stormers pack has allowed him to play a looser game, but at the Springboks it is going to be critical going forward to have a guy like Etzebeth, who ticks all the boxes, to hit the rucks. He actually runs away from breakdowns instead of running towards them.
“I think if somebody works with him on that and point it out as an opportunity to improve his game, he will become a world-class second row.”
Touching on Etzebeth’s current lock partner, Juandre Kruger, Andrews said: “You can’t fault his game. I just don’t think – and it’s a hard thing to say and it’s a hard thing for a player to hear and I hope I get proven wrong – but I don’t think he will be a world-class player.
“He just doesn’t have the size and enough of those world-class attributes in his game but he’s a good, solid player. He’ll give you 100 percent for 80 minutes.”
Andrews noted Stormers second row Andries Bekker, who was ruled out of the end-of-year tour due to a toe injury, as a special talent.
“He is a world-class player. The height he is, he can dominate line-outs, he can tackle, he can carry the ball. He has enough ticks as I call it to make him a world-class player,” said Andrews.
“He started his career where I ended it – out on the wing," Andrews quipped. "But he developed his game, he became very physical and abrasive in his style.
“As he picked up a couple of injuries he’s been shying way from the physical side again but hopefully he’ll sort himself out physically and get back into a mould in the Bok side.”
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