Eben Etzebeth

Eben Etzebeth Just Got Owned: RWC Diary

As the Rugby World Cup hots up and the intensity grows, Peter Florence continues his snapshot vignettes in response to the tournament’s big moments.

23 September, Stade de France

What just happened? Did you see that? Replay. WTF? Replay. Shit. I mean, I know it was billed as a big game, but, good grief. Replay again. Wow. End of an era. Calling Cape Town. The ravens have left the tower!

This is a guy, 6ft8, 18 stone and some; in a strong field, the most nakedly aggressive rugby player in living memory; lineout leaper, monster-mauler, brutal ball carrier; This is the guy who broke the bar bells in the gym, who curls 75kg in each hand, who eats three buffalo for breakfast. And Eben Etzebeth, Bok of Boks, the talismanic face of South African rugby just got owned. James Lowe, 6ft2, 15 stone, just picked him up and drove him, legs akimbo, flailing helpless in the air, back 5 metres. There’s a stats thing called a Dominant Tackle. A tackle that reverses momentum. Prime example: Josh Adams vs Fiji. Well this was something else. This was a Tackle of Total Humiliation, a tackle of myth-busting, career-shaking, rout and ridicule. Irresistible Force meets irresistibler force wearing a shamrock above the heart.

It was a helluva game. Skill, speed, and far, far fewer fouls than in any other game so far. Who won? Everyone. Ireland maintain their aura of confidence. South Africa now know what to do if they get to rematch in the final. But two things we thought we knew for sure are gone, before our very eyes. The fluent speed and grace of Ireland’s backline can be checked, and the overdog intimidatory power of the Boks pack is no more. The Lowe-Etzebeth tackle will rack up views on every platform. The more eloquent image is of Siya Kolisi in the dugout surveying the endgame, impassive, calculating.

Good men in tartan calibrate their task, gird themselves for their dreams. Never has it been truer that to win the World Cup you have to beat the best teams.

In a bunker full of screens Fabien Galthié is re-watching the 7 video feeds and talking dark and low with Shaun Edwards.

In another quiet room in Paris, the RWC MVP is checking his patient, who lies still under a cloth of gold, as his cheek knits back together, and the gods watch over him as he sleeps.

In Dublin’s fair city the party has started.


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