Eben Etzebeth, the most-capped member of the 2021 Springbok squad who ended the season with 97 Test caps to his name, will return to South Africa later this year after signing a contract with the Durban-based Cell C Sharks.
The 30-year-old Etzebeth will be reunited with two of his national and former DHL Stormers team-mates in Durban, in Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and Bongi Mbonambi, both of whom joined the KwaZulu-Natalians in the last year.
Etzebeth left South Africa for Toulon in 2019, but he was released early from his contract with the French giants earlier this week.
A statement from Toulon issued on Sunday read: “Eben Etzebeth has expressed his desire to put an early end to the contract binding him to Toulonnais in order to return, for personal reasons, to South Africa. Aware of the difficulties encountered by the player, the club took note of this request and accepted it.”
The Cell C Sharks announced on Thursday that they had concluded a deal with the towering lock – one of the five nominees for the SA Rugby Player of the Year Award last year – who made his Test debut for the Boks in 2012, and was a key member of the Rugby World Cup-winning squad in 2019.
Etzebeth, who also featured in the 2015 RWC in England, started in 92 of his 97 Tests and also captained the Boks on 12 occasions between 2017 and 2019.
His presence will significantly bolster a Sharks pack that already includes Test players in Kolisi and Mbonambi, as well as props Ox Nche and Thomas du Toit, and No 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
“I’m looking forward to coming to the Sharks and living in Durban,” Etzebeth said on the Sharks’ social media channels on Thursday.
“A big factor was probably family, and being closer to home, as well as representing a great team like the Sharks, where I can see things are happening.
“And Siya is there – we’ve been big friends since Under-19 in Stellenbosch, and now we’re going to be playing together for the Sharks – along with Bongi, Ox, Thomas, Lukhanyo (Am), (Makazole) Mapimpi, some other guys I know and I’m also excited to meet a bunch of other new guys.”
Ultimate peer recognition for Am, Davids and Roos
In a landmark moment for professional rugby players in South Africa, three players have been recognised by their peers with Players’ Player of the Year awards.
Since its inception in 2005*, the South African Players’ Player of the Year has been chosen by the players from predominantly the men’s fifteens game. This year, members of MyPlayers decided to make the circle bigger, introducing three categories: Men’s Fifteens, Men’s Sevens, and Women.
Players had a week to vote for their favourites, and the 2022 recipients of the professional game’s most sought-after peer-to-peer accolades are:
- Men’s Fifteens Players’ Player of the Year: LUKHANYO AM (other nominees: Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, Evan Roos, Damian Willemse)
- Men’s Sevens Players’ Player of the Year: ZAIN DAVIDS (other nominees: Selvyn Davids, JC Pretorius)
- Women Players’ Player of the Year: NADINE ROOS (other nominees: Ayanda Malinga, Aphiwe Ngwevu, Sizophila Solontsi)
Eugene Henning, CEO of MyPlayers, remarked: “Following the 2021 MyPlayers Awards, several players approached us about the format and categories of the annual player-led honours. It was felt that the Blitzboks and Bok Women, sevens and fifteens, didn’t have a fair chance to be recognised beyond categories such as Best off the Bench, Backline Player or Most Improved Player of the Year. Subsequently, we retired almost all existing categories and introduced only three Players’ Player of the Year awards. By doing this, the players are acknowledging the status and growth of South African rugby beyond the men’s fifteens game.”
Henning congratulated the three recipients: “In 2020 and 2021, the players named Lukhanyo as the Best Defender of the Year, but there is so much more to his game than his defensive abilities. Despite suffering an injury against the Wallabies in Sydney, his fellow players still cast the vast majority of votes in his favour, and him being named Men’s Fifteens Players’ Player of the Year comes as no surprise.
“Zain was included in the HSBC Dream Team following the 2022 World Rugby Sevens Series during which he scored 13 tries, made 68 carries, 18 line breaks and 91 tackles. What the Men’s Sevens Players’ Player of the Year Award shows is that he is also a magnificent team player, and I don’t think there can be a better way to conclude one’s season than receiving this sort of recognition from your teammates.
“Nadine was nominated in the most tightly contested category of the three, and I think that says something about the team spirit and effort of the Bok Women to elevate the game to a different standard, over the past two years in particular. Nadine is a member of both the national fifteens and sevens squads, and her performances at the recent Sevens World Cup in Cape Town underscored her class as a player, while this reward illustrates how highly her teammates regard her as a player and person. By being named the first Women Players’ Player of the Year, she’s breaking new ground for women’s rugby in South Africa, and her example will inspire many more girls to follow in her footsteps.”
Besides receiving identical trophies, the three recipients are also rewarded with a family and/or friends getaway from The Safari Guys. More details on these prizes will be communicated to the three recipients and on social media.
Being named Men’s Fifteens Players’ Player of the Year really means a lot to me. It remains a special award to receive, and what makes it great is that it was voted for by my teammates and fellow players.
I am honoured. This has really been an amazing season for me. I had a good start, and I finished it on a high as well before I got injured. Throughout, I felt in good form, and importantly, I felt confident every second I was on the field. For the season that lies ahead, I really hope to take up where I left off.
I always strive to set an example for my teammates, whether that’s on or off the playing field. On a personal level, this recognition means the world to me. Yes, I play every game as if it’s my last, but I can only hope that my fellow Blitzboks reap the rewards of my efforts. Being named Men’s Sevens Players’ Player of the Year confirms that I am contributing to our team’s success.
In that regard, I must acknowledge the support structures and people I have around me. This enables me to convert individual effort into strong team performances, and while this is an individual award, it does belong to the team as well.
This is the first year members of MyPlayers were given the opportunity to nominate and vote for a Men’s Sevens Players’ Player of the Year, and I think this is a fairer reflection of the South African rugby landscape. I sincerely believe sevens plays a massive role in this country and the team has worked incredibly hard over many years to attain the status sevens now enjoys here and abroad. Just as with fifteens players, we are also goal-driven individuals, and having an accolade such us this rewards players for working hard, playing to inspire others, and chasing our individual and collective goals.
I live by the mantra, “Work hard in silence, and let success make the noise”. When I reflect on what it means to me to be named as the first Women Players’ Player of the Year, I have to reflect on the people I spend most of my time with – my teammates. In the off-season, we run the most, work the hardest, and those are the times when we have to push and pull each other through tough moments in pursuit of our ultimate goals. It’s also when players really get to know one another; how hard someone is willing to work and what they stand for.
My teammates know me as someone who always works incredibly hard. I’m tough in training and in matches, and I value a collaborative environment where individuals succeed because of the team. I attach tremendous value to this accolade because it means my contributions are being seen and felt. I want to be known as someone who is always professional and whose work ethic and personality contribute to the wellbeing of the team. Being voted Players’ Player of the Year by them and knowing that they believe in me is truly special. In team sports, having the backing of one’s teammates is a major factor in an individual’s ability to perform.
The introduction of the Women Players’ Player of the Year category is a significant moment for women’s rugby in general. I recall a conversation we had in the team a while back: We wondered when women were going to be given the opportunity to nominate and vote for players in similar categories to those the men have had for quite some time. Now, we can finally say this reward is an acknowledgement of the growth in women’s rugby in South Africa, especially during the last two years.
Players are being seen, and this will undoubtedly contribute to further growth of the national sevens and fifteens women’s teams. Had the teams not developed, there wouldn’t have been players to nominate. But there’s a healthy rivalry among players in both squads, and that allows us to improve our individual and team standards to a level where recognising players becomes a natural progression in the game. This award will serve as an incentive for every player to work even harder.
*Previous recipients of the Men’s Fifteens Players’ Players of the Year award: John Smit (2005), Kabamba Floors (2006), Willem de Waal (2007), Jean de Villiers (2008), Morné Steyn (2009), Gio Aplon (2010), Bismarck du Plessis (2011), JP Pietersen (2012), Willie le Roux (2013), Duane Vermeulen (2014), Jaco Kriel (2015), Jean-Luc du Preez (2016), Siya Kolisi (2017), Malcolm Marx (2018), Pieter-Steph du Toit (2019), Duane Vermeulen (2020), Cheslin Kolbe (2021).
Aki Banned For Eight Weeks
Aki will be unavailable for the westerners’ next five URC games, including the derby clashes with Munster and Leinster, and will also miss at least the first two of Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series fixtures.
He will definitely be absent for the Tests against South Africa and Fiji, but could return to face Australia on Saturday, November 19 if he ‘successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme’.
After an act of foul play against Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla, referee Gianluca Gnecchi showed Aki a red card in the 60th minute of the game under law 9.20(a).
The particular law states that a player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.
In his responses to the judicial officer overseeing the disciplinary process (Pamela Woodman from Scotland), Aki had accepted that he had committed an act of foul play which warranted a red card.
She determined that his actions towards Senatla were reckless and took into account, among other things, the speed, force and high degree of danger in his actions.
Ms. Woodman determined that, had it been based on this conduct alone, the offending would have been categorised as mid-range on the scale of seriousness.
However, she also considered Aki’s actions and demeanour towards the referee in connection with the issue of the red card, which she found did not meet the expected standards of conduct or respect.
This was also taken into account (in accordance with URC’s disciplinary rules) in determining that his offending was at the top-end on the scale of seriousness, which warranted an entry point sanction of 10 weeks.
The judicial officer then considered if there were any mitigating factors and found that Aki’s acceptance that he had committed an act of foul play (during the off-field disciplinary process), expression of remorse, apologies to both the opposing player and referee, and willingness to engage with his provincial coaching staff on a plan to address this issue, were relevant mitigating factors.
These mitigating factors warranted a reduction in the sanction of four weeks.
Aki’s previous suspensions for red cards in 2019 and 2021 for foul play involving head contact, as well as his suspension and warning for previous conduct relating to interactions with referees, were considered aggravating factors, which the judicial officer decided warranted a further two weeks of sanction.
As a result, the Ireland international will be suspended for a period of eight weeks. As previously stated, should he complete the Coaching Intervention programme then the sanction will be reduced by one week.
Fixtures Bundee Aki is unavailable for:
Vodacom Bulls v Connacht, September 30, BKT URC
Connacht v Munster, October 7, BKT URC
Connacht v Leinster, October 14, BKT URC
Connacht v Scarlets, October 21, BKT URC
Ospreys v Connacht, October 29, BKT URC
Ireland v South Africa, November 5, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Fiji, November 12, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Australia, November 19, Autumn Nations Series (substituted if the player successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme)
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Jones names squad for training camp
England will begin preparations for their four home Autumn Nations Series fixtures in November during the camp. The squad will meet in Richmond on Sunday 2 October and train at Twickenham Stadium.
First call-ups for camp include Northampton Saints’ Alex Coles and Saracens’ Hugh Tizard, both players having previously appeared for England U20s.
Manu Tuilagi and Sam Simmonds are back in the squad following injury and there are returns for Ben Youngs, Alex Mitchell, Tom Pearson and David Ribbans.
England face Argentina in the first of their four matches at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday 6 November (2.15pm KO). They will then host Japan on Saturday 12 November (3.15pm KO), followed by New Zealand on Saturday 19 November (5.30pm KO). Their final match is against South Africa on Saturday 26 November (5.30pm KO).
“With a year to go to the Rugby World Cup, this is a big opportunity for players to come in and impress,” said Jones. “We want them to show real energy and enthusiasm and that they want to be a part of this massive year.
“It doesn’t mean that those who have been left out won’t be considered for the Autumn Nations Series matches. We’ll be looking at club games, form and fitness and the door is left open for those players.
“We finished the Australia tour well. It was a fantastic experience, particularly for the younger players. We now have to start again, but we’ll build on what we’ve done there and continue that momentum.”
Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)
Alex Coles (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 37 caps)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 41 caps)
Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears, 39 caps)
Jamie George (Saracens, 69 caps)
Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)
Jonny Hill (Sale Sharks, 15 caps)
Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 14 caps)
Tom Pearson (London Irish, uncapped)
David Ribbans (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 2 caps)
Patrick Schickerling (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)
Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 14 caps)
Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 23 caps)
Hugh Tizard (Saracens, uncapped)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 64 caps)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 70 caps)
Jack Walker (Harlequins, uncapped)
Jack Willis (Wasps, 4 caps)
Henry Arundell (London Irish, 3 caps)
Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 12 caps)
Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 97 caps)
Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)
George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 6 caps)
Will Joseph (London Irish, 1 cap)
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 69 caps)
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, 1 cap)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 42 caps)
Guy Porter (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 13 caps)
Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 13 caps)
Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 46 caps)
Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, 3 caps)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 117 caps)
Unavailable for selection due to injury: Alfie Barbeary, Nic Dolly, Alex Dombrandt, Charlie Ewels, George Ford, Sam Jeffries, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Courtney Lawes, Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson.
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