England are less than 48 hours away from possibly being crowned Rugby World Cup champions for the second time in their history when they take on South Africa.
Saturday’s showdown with the Springboks is set to be a bruising encounter led by their imposing second row Eben Etzebeth.
Etzebeth, who turned 28 on Tuesday, is one of the best in the world in his position but his participation at the Rugby World Cup to begin with was in doubt.
Eben Etzebeth will be a key component to South Africa’s quest to win the Rugby World Cup
The mammoth second row will start for the Springboks against England on Saturday in Japan
Head coach Rassie Erasmus selected the lock in his 31-man squad for Japan, despite claims that he was involved in a bar fight and another altercation on the street at a beach resort in South Africa.
Local media reports claimed two men were allegedly racially and physically abused in the coastal town of Langebaan in the early hours of August 25 by a group that included Etzebeth.
Local men Enver Wilsnach, 42, and Shiyaad Smith, 21, have both laid charges with the police that Etzebeth assaulted them by striking them in the face with a firearm after a night out.
Etzebeth has since issued a public denial saying he was not involved.
‘It is completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone in Langebaan as has been reported on social media. Multiple witnesses can corroborate that,’ the 6ft 8in second row said in a statement.
SA Rugby said it had ‘no tolerance’ for acts of violence or racism ‘but we also trust our people to act responsibly and tell the truth. We have spoken to Eben and he categorically denies any physical or racial abuse.’
The late-night incidents are alleged to have happened the day before South Africa’s World Cup squad was announced.
A lawyer representing two men allegedly attacked and racially abused by Etzebeth has claimed also that the player ‘pistol whipped’ both his clients.
Away from rugby, Etzebeth has publicly denied allegations that he was involved in a bar fight and another altercation on the street where two men were racially and physically abused
The alleged victims have both laid charges with the police that Etzebeth assaulted them by striking them in the face with a firearm in the early hours of August 25 in the Langebaan area
Attorney Nigel Samuels also revealed that South African police officers had seized the Springbok’s legally held firearm and sent it to be DNA tested at a laboratory.
It is alleged the lock forward had taken his firearm from its holster and hit two local men three times with it while using racial slurs against them after a night out drinking.
Unclear CCTV of a scuffle was later posted on social media along with an image of a man bleeding heavily who friends of the alleged victim said had been struck by the player.
Although these allegations came to light two months ago, forensic testing of the weapon used in the alleged assault was only announced at the beginning of October. He is yet to be charged although the South African Human Rights Commission wish to take him to the Equality Court.
Mr Wilsnach told News24: ‘I was a fan of his and I am disappointed in him. I’m hurt by what happened and shocked that he was still sent to the World Cup but cannot say more.’
Etzebeth during the Rugby World Cup semi-final clash with Wales at the weekend and Enver Wilsnach (right) who claims that he was attacked by the Springboks’ lock forward
Meanwhile Mr Smith said: ‘We’re supposed to look up to him. He plays for the Springboks. What happened changed the way I see him’.
The allegations are extremely serious but in a country that was ruled by apartheid for 46 years it’s highly sensitive.
South African sports retailer Totalsports has decided to remove its posters of the lock from their 300 stores ahead of Saturday’s final over the ‘media controversy’ surrounding him.
‘The media controversy surrounding Eben Etzebeth has been felt in our stores,’ they said in a statement.
‘As a brand, we don’t do controversies, we do sport – so we made the decision to remove his poster. Without taking sides or passing judgment, we wanted to make sure all our customers feel comfortable in our stores.’
South African sports retailer Totalsports has decided to remove 300 of its posters of Etzebeth
Totalsports’ decision has received backlash from some of the South African public – highlighting how sensitive the issue is.
While the off-the-field allegations are still lurking in the background, Etzebeth has the goal of winning South Africa’s third Rugby World Cup very much at the forefront of his focus.
The 28-year-old is a world-class operator who will constantly get over the gainline.
Upon Erasmus’ squad announcement, he was one of only five players in the squad with more than 50 Test caps – underlying how key his experience would be.
And that has been underlined in the tournament, where the Springboks are yet to lose a line-out – the only team with a flawless record. To boot he has a 94 per cent tackle success rate through his five matches in Japan.
England’s second row Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes know they are going to be in a battle against Etzebeth who stands at 6ft 8in and weighs over 18st 8lb.
He is renowned for his incredible strength and his huge biceps which were recorded at 19 inches in circumference.
South Africa have a flawless line-out record at the Rugby World Cup – winning all of their balls
The 28-year-old (right) can bench press over 175kg and can incline press two 75kg dumbbells
In the gym he benches over 175kg and can incline press two 75kg dumbbells – such is his strength that the latter have been specially made for him.
Speed is also another asset he possesses with a top speed of 17.4 miles per hour and he’s only 0.65 seconds slower than Usain Bolt over 40 meters.
With 83 caps to his name, the man mountain – who has captained his country before – will be hoping his 84th Test will a special one on his birthday week.
England have been warned.