- Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi are set for individual milestones when the Springboks meet Wales on Saturday.
- Etzebeth will become just the seventh Springbok to play 100 Tests.
- Coach Jacques Nienaber recalls how Etzebeth’s physicality stood out when he started working with him 10 years ago.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber says Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi can be proud of reaching their respective international milestones this weekend, but the team will always come first.
When South Africa take on Wales in Cape Town on Saturday, Etzebeth will become just the seventh Springbok to play 100 Test matches for his country.
Hooker Mbonambi, meanwhile, will earn his 50th cap.
Only Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana, Tendai Mtawarira, John Smit, Jean de Villiers and Percy Montgomery have played more Springbok Tests than Etzebeth, and at just 30 years old, he has already secured legendary status and still has a lot of rugby ahead of him.
Nienaber was full of praise for a player he started coaching at the Stormers a decade ago, but he was also very deliberate in not detracting from the rest of the players he is relying on to win the series on Saturday.
“Both Eben and Bongi have big individual milestones, but rugby is a team sport. They’ve been given the opportunity to play in these milestone games because of good team performances,” said Nienaber.
“It’s a very proud moment and their families will be proud, but the key thing is that if you lose your 100th Test, I think it haunts you for the rest of your life and if you win it, that special day will stay with you forever.
“Their main thing is to focus on what the team needs. Both those guys have been warriors for South African rugby.”
Nienaber says that Etzebeth’s physicality always stood out, right from the very beginning, but also commented on how satisfying it had been seeing the player mature over the years.
“He was always an athlete, and when he started out he played for the Stormers before he played for Western Province,” said Nienaber.
“I remember the young Eben, and now I see a guy that has a lot of leadership attributes and has captained the Springboks. It’s nice to see him become a man from the young kid he was when he started playing for us.
“We’re all naughty when we’re young, and then you get brains and responsibilities, and I think that’s the growth of a rugby player.
“The two penalties he conceded last weekend, Eben took personally, and I think that speaks volumes about him. He knows discipline is key for us to get victories at this level with how tight the games are, and he’s a big leader in terms of that.”
Etzebeth has just completed a move to the Sharks in Durban from Toulon in France, but on Saturday, he will return to the city where it all started for him.
Kick-off is at 17:05.
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Elrigh Louw, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Willie le Roux