As the Rugby World Cup in France draws nearer, towering South African lock Eben Etzebeth, acknowledges that the All Blacks cannot be written off, despite their struggles in 2022.
The All Blacks’ reputation took a battering in 2022, not least after shipping a home Test series defeat to Ireland for the very first time.
Defeats in last year’s Rugby Championship put further pressure on head coach Ian Foster but they ultimately bounced back to claim an unexpected Rugby Championship title, effectively saving Foster’s job. Foster has no ruled out leading the All Blacks post-Rugby World Cup and speculation continues to mount around who replace him later this year.
Despite their travails, old rival Etzebeth suggests that only a fool would discount New Zealand’s chance in France later this year. “Those people that don’t put them in the conversation don’t know much about rugby,” the 31-year-old told News24.
“The All Blacks will always be there. They are one of the toughest teams at a World Cup and they’ve won it three times for a reason.
“They are going to be massive favourites to win the World Cup, along with teams like France, Ireland and other teams that are doing well also. And obviously, we’ll be backing ourselves, so it’s going to be an interesting World Cup.”
“I think the World Cup is open. I think there are about seven or eight teams that are really going to be competitive at the World Cup. Wales are probably not doing that well but they’re always good at the World Cup. England will come back, Australia will be good, Argentina is always a tough team, so it’s going to be difficult.
Etzebeth is aware of the challenges that lie ahead for the Springboks, who will face Ireland and Scotland in Pool B, unarguably the tournament’s ‘Pool of Death’.
“We’ve got a tough pool with Scotland and Ireland in it and you must finish at least second to make the quarter-finals. Getting through the pool is going to be a tough ask but we’re looking forward to seeing how we go.”