EBEN Etzebeth ended 2019 on top of the world and South Africa’s giant lock has no plans to stay anywhere other than at rugby’s summit after an impressive start to life in Toulon.
The Springboks’ World Cup success in Japan was built around the power and experience of forwards such as Etzebeth.
Since the Far East, Etzebeth has become the latest in a long line of marquee players to join French giants Toulon.
The Top 14 outfit are riding high domestically and are in a good position to bid for Challenge Cup glory. Etzebeth says despite all he has achieved, his passion remains as high as ever.
“I spoke with Duane Vermeulen and Bryan Habana and they only told me good things about Toulon,” Etzebeth told The Rugby Paper.
“It’s a great change of scenery and I’ve been enjoying it even more than I thought I would. The winter is hardly like a winter and the guys have been great with me.
“I’d done my time in Cape Town. I played for the Stormers for eight years and it was time to move on. I still have aspirations to play for South Africa, but my focus is on the Challenge Cup and the Top 14.
“I came off a massive high with the World Cup, but now being part of this team is a good experience.”
Etzebeth has 85 Springbok caps aged 28 and looks more than capable of making the next World Cup.
His new chapter in Toulon has seen him hit the ground running. There was – unusually – a 40-metre debut interception try against Clermont, but the nuts and bolts of his game remain.
Etzebeth’s terrifying physicality and dominance of the scrum and line-out have been more than evident as he has taken his World Cup form to France.
“At the start of 2019 I wanted to win trophies and I want to win trophies here too,” he said. “It’s nice when you actually do it. It’s been a great season so far, but I’m still not satisfied.
“I want to go on and win trophies for this team. You have to give your all every weekend and one day when I retire, hopefully I will be able to look back and say I had a great career.
“It’s always nice to be part of a winning team. We’re taking it week by week and if we keep going, we could be standing there with a cup at the end of it. We will give 100 per cent.”
Etzebeth is likely to play a big part against the British & Irish Lions in the summer of 2021. His two-year deal with Toulon is unlikely to impact his future international ambitions too much.
Etzebeth’s World Cup participation was thrown into doubt when he was accused of using racist slurs against four men in August. He is also charged with assault after allegedly insulting, assaulting and pointing a gun at a homeless man. He denies the charges.
“It’s completely false,” he said. “I was at the place where the incident occurred and I did nothing wrong. I said nothing.
“It’s unfortunate, but the people who took it out on me are accusing the wrong person. I think they have other motives because it’s false. We’ll see what happens in the future, but the truth will end up coming out.”