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Fri Apr 18 00:16:11 SAST 2014

New crop of players swiftly into the breach

Dan Retief | 11 March, 2012 09:530 Comments

THE first time I heard the name Etzebeth called out during a Varsity Cup match, memories of long-gone times and an incident in a Bellville pub came flooding back.

As rugby writer and sports editor of The Cape Times during the halcyon early 1980s when Western Province won five Currie Cups in a row, I ran into a tricky situation one night in a bar after a game in the northern suburbs when an angry group, infuriated by something I had written, threatened to make their point rather more pointedly than was necessary.

It was then that a gruff voice enquired whether there was a problem and why they were bullying his friend. Great was my relief when the voice belonged to Cliffie Etzebeth: Springbok wrestler, WP prop and sometimes lock, and a man not to be meddled with.

So when I spotted a strapping young lock by the same name doing strong work for UCT, I immediately enquired whether he might be of the same Etzebeth clan that produced such great characters as Cliffie and his brother Skattie.

Turned out he was. Eben Etzebeth, all 2.03m and 120kg, is a nephew of Cliffie, a man the late Oom Boy Louw in his inimitable way always referred to as "Cliffzebeth".

Just 20, Eben Etzebeth made his Stormers debut at lock against the Sharks in round two and confirmed the impression that he has all the makings of a Springbok.

He is typical of the young players who - even at this early stage of the season - are marking 2012 as a watershed year in international rugby. With most of the major nations persevering with mature squads after 2007 and into the 2011 Rugby World Cup, many old-stagers have now moved on or out and a massive changing of the guard is underway.

Eben Etzebeth, who at the Stormers will be strongly pushed by Rynhardt Elstad to be Andries Bekker's lock mate, is just one of the new names to get used to as coaches - some of whom will also be bidding for international positions by the time of the next World Cup in London in 2015 - look to the next generation.

It will be a source of comfort to new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer that so many candidates to fill the vacancies left by Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw have come forward so quickly.

At the Bulls, Juandre Kruger looks a lock to be reckoned with, while Flip van der Merwe, who was seen as the natural successor to provide the tough physicality of Botha before briefly slipping out of the picture, is again showing the form that won him 11 test caps.

The march of youth is a phenomenon apparent in every theatre of the competition. Flyhalf Johan Goosen has not disappointed since making the step up to Super Rugby and others such as loose forwards Jacques Potgieter (a Meyer signing at the Bulls), Nick Koster and Siya Kolisi; props Pat Cilliers, Dean Greyling and Steven Kitshoff and strong-running fullback Jaco Taute are showing determination to be part of the future.

Although not as marked in the period after the 2007 World Cup because so many teams chose to bank on experience, the 2008 Super 14 nevertheless brought players such as Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Heinrich Brussow, Adriaan Strauss, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw to the fore in South Africa and Quade Cooper, Will Genia, James Horwill, David Pocock and Kieran Read, Zac Guildford and Cory Jane in the ranks of our Sanzar partners. This year it seems the landscape is going to change even more dramatically.

So take note of new names such as Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes flyhalf), Nick Crosswell and John Hardie (Highlanders loose forwards), Ben Tapuai (Reds centre), Bernard Foley (Reds fullback), Tim Nanai-Williams (Chiefs wing), Tyler Bleyendaal (Crusaders flyhalf) and a number of forwards, who have been in the background and need more time to mature, to come into the picture come the June internationals.

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