Bereaved South Africa captain Eben Etzebeth has decided to play for the Springboks in their Rugby Championship fixture against old foe New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday.
Lock Etzebeth lost his father Harry to cancer on Tuesday, after he had been selected to lead the side against the All Blacks.
It was left up to the 31-year-old whether he wants to play, and he has chosen to line-up in what could be the Rugby Championship decider in a shortened competition this year to accommodate the Rugby World Cup in France.
Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and hooker Bongi Mbonambi took over media duties on Friday at the Boks’ traditional captain’s press conference.
“Eben’s loss, which is also our loss because we are a family, is very sad. We are with him. If there is one thing about us as a team, we are there for each other,” Stick told reporters.
“Eben has made the choice to play. I would like to think he is doing it for his dad. But it is a big loss for us as a team to lose a parent.”
The Boks have not been victorious in Auckland since 1937, but South Africa have won two of their last three matches against the All Blacks, and claimed a win and a draw in their previous two visits to New Zealand, with both matches staged in Wellington.
“We have spoken about playing the All Blacks away from home and how special it is to win,” Stick said. “The majority of us were there in 2018 when we won in Wellington. We all live for that, to come to New Zealand and play the All Blacks.
“To beat them you have to stand against them physically, but also match the high tempo game they always bring.”
South Africa swept aside Australia 43-12 in Pretoria last weekend but have made 10 changes for the match in Auckland. One of those to keep their place is Mbonambi.
“It is different challenge,” he said. “Australia was a good start but we have quickly put it behind us. We have put all our focus into this week and executing tomorrow.
“New Zealand are a good scrummaging team. They have a massive pack, good lineout system and they carry the ball very well. Both teams will want to make a statement before the World Cup.”