OPINION | Etzebeth’s silence doesn’t help him and has started to undermine the Boks
It was not the air of anticipation you have before kick-off.
The Captain’s Run‚ or pre match day final drill in which teams perform the routines they hope to repeat in the game‚ hardly ever gets this kind of media attention.
Moreover‚ the Springboks’ next match is against Italy‚ so why the hype?
An inordinate number of written and photo journalists‚ as well as cameramen were waiting for the Springbok team’s arrival at the splendid Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on Thursday.
The media had gathered‚ naturally to capture some imagery of the practice‚ but more importantly‚ to see if Eben Etzebeth would show up.
News had emerged from South Africa that Etzebeth was due to return home.
This would have represented a sudden turn of events - an about-turn the Bok camp at no point appeared to have the inclination of performing.
In fact‚ they’ve been overtly supportive of the strapping lock saying that until fresh evidence in his alleged assault and verbal abuse case‚ that will now be heard at the Equality Court‚ emerges‚ he will remain part of the furniture.
He has been part of the Bok furniture since 2012.
He is a towering figure in every sense in the Bok set-up and it perhaps says something of the head space he’s in that he was the first Springbok to emerge from the tunnel on Thursday.
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He walked tall‚ determined in stride‚ chin very much up. There was even a hint of a smile.
His teammates followed close behind but whether Etzebeth decided to pointedly walk out in front is anyone’s guess.
The Boks claim to have been cocooned from the brouhaha back home around the Etzebeth case.
Some higher up the SA Rugby food chain questioned the timing of the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC) decision to refer the matter to the Equality Court.
The expeditiousness of the case is surprising given how slow the wheels of justice turn back home. Some high ranking politicians richly benefit from its tardiness.
SA Rugby‚ seemingly keen to vegetate on the matter‚ was sparked into action after the case was referred to the Equality Court.
They will now‚ rather belatedly‚ launch their own internal investigation. Given the seriousness of the allegations this should surely have been done a while back.
Coach Rassie Erasmus has been saying all along he believes Etzebeth’s version of events because he has a long established relationship with the player.
He was‚ after all‚ part of a decision to bring the player into the Stormers’ fold a decade ago.
From believing the player one moment‚ SA Rugby launching an investigation is a clear escalation of the matter‚ or are they just doing it because they need to be seen doing something?
SA Rugby have also made the point that the matter has to be treated as one between employer and employee at its core.
They have to remain cognisant of the Labour Relations Act but equally‚ they have their own code of conduct to uphold.
If say‚ Marvin Orie was the player in question‚ would they have held the same position?
Because of Etzebeth’s profile in the team they have deliberately dragged their heels. You don’t find 2.07m locks of sheer muscle and bone with 81 caps around every corner.
He is an integral part of this campaign and despite the fact that the Boks are actually well stocked in the lock department he will leave a void should he depart the scene.
Apart from giving evidence at the SAHRC‚ Etzebeth has remained mum on the issue. SA Rugby have been careful for him not to cross paths with the media on this marathon tour.
The Etzebeth matter has however‚ become the giraffe in the room. It has become that because SA Rugby’s communications department has buried its head in the sand. It will blow over‚ they thought.
Should the Springboks progress deeper into this tournament‚ as much as Etzebeth provides them outrageous physical output‚ he will become a liability to them off it.
The Boks will need to establish where those lines meet and whether it is still worth having him in the team.
The irony is‚ the longer they win here‚ the more currency they potentially lose at home.
When team captain Siya Kolisi was asked in a press conference how the Etzebeth matter impacted the team and about his relationship with his long time chum‚ he said he didn’t know much about the case.
He didn’t answer the second part of the question.
Time will tell whether Etzebeth is guilty of all that has been laid at this door.
He grew up in a bellicose environment in which taking one for the team is part of the code but he has and will continue to find that silence is the oxygen of rumour and conjecture.
Etzebeth’s silence doesn’t help him‚ but more importantly‚ it has started to undermine the team.