Paris – Towering Springbok enforcers who both won Rugby World Cup titles before signing for Toulon: The similarities between Bakkies Botha and Eben Etzebeth are stark.
Botha hung up his boots in 2014, a World Cup winner in 2007 who helped Toulon win three European Champions Cup titles.
Etzebeth, the final galactico signed by outgoing president Mourad Boudjellal for Toulon, was a vital weapon in South Africa’s armoury as they pounded England to win the World Cup in Japan last month.
The 28-year-old lock has so far played three games for the Mediterranean club, scoring a sensational intercept try in his Top 14 debut last week.
“Bakkies was at Toulon when I started with the Springboks in 2012. I came across him in 2013 when he came back into the team,” Etzebeth told the bi-weekly Midi Olympique rugby newspaper in a wide-ranging interview.
“It was great to pack down with him,” the pair actually only playing 19 minutes together for the Boks, in a 28-10 victory over Australia on September 27, 2014.
“Bakkies played for Toulon and South Africa, he’s a rugby legend. But I am not Bakkies! It’s a new departure for me, and I want to create my own memories at the club.”
Etzebeth, who turned down a chance to move to Toulon in 2015, added: “I was a young player when Toulon won the Top 14 and wrote itself into the history books of our sport by winning three Champions Cup titles.
“Then there were so many great players who defended the jersey: Wilkinson, Giteau, Habana, Vermeulen, Botha.
“There are a lot of South Africans, as if we have a special relationship with this club.
“I had a coffee with Bryan Habana before coming and during the World Cup Duane (Vermeulen) gave me the top places to eat, where to visit and make the most of nature.”
Etzebeth’s participation at the World Cup was called 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 42-year-old homeless man.
“Firstly, and this is what I explained to the legal authorities, it’s completely false. I was at the place where the incident occurred and I did nothing wrong. I said nothing. I’ve always been someone who loves people,” Etzebeth told Midi Olympique.
“It’s unfortunate, but the people who took it out on me are accusing the wrong person. I think that they have other motives because it’s false. We’ll see what happens in the future, but the truth will end up coming out.”
Etzebeth admitted to having had a frank discussion with Bok coach Rassie Erasmus before departing for Japan.
“Fortunately, he believes in his players and trusted me,” he said.
“He knew that I had been honest with him and that I would never have done what they accuse me of, not least a few days from the World Cup.”
Turning back to Toulon, the lock joked that the town was so nice it could become the new family holiday destination.
“When I arrived, Liam Messam invited me to dinner. Everyone told me: ‘You’ll see in Europe it’s cold everywhere apart from Toulon!’.
“But I haven’t crossed the world to go on holiday in the sun and have a good time. I want to win trophies. When you have the chance of already having won some, you want more of them.”
Etzebeth could come up against Springbok teammate Cheslin Kolbe when Toulon take on Toulouse in the Top 14 on Sunday.
Leaders Bordeaux-Begles travel to Pau while second-placed Lyon host Bayonne.