Grieving Captain Etzebeth From South Africa's Rugby Team Springboks to Play Against All Blacks
© AFP 2023 MICHAEL BRADLEYEben Etzebeth of South Africa takes part in the South Africa captain's run ahead of their rugby test match against New Zealand at Mt Smart in Auckland on July 14, 2023
© AFP 2023 MICHAEL BRADLEY
Stand-in South Africa skipper Eben Etzebeth will play against New Zealand on Saturday despite the death of his father, a team official told AFP.
The 31-year-old lock's dad died on Tuesday, casting doubt on whether Etzebeth would play in the Rugby Championship showdown in Auckland or return home to support his family.
Etzebeth took part in the captain's run at Mount Smart Stadium on Friday morning, with Springboks media manager Zeena Isaacs confirming to AFP that he would play.
A South African Rugby official had described Etzebeth as "extremely close" to his father, Harry.
"It's very, very sad. We have done everything in our power to be there for Eben," Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick told reporters on Friday. "He made a choice to play and I would like to think that he wants to do it for his dad. We're 100 percent behind him."
Etzebeth is standing in as skipper, with the Springboks' regular captain Siya Kolisi sidelined by a knee injury.
The match will be his first since suffering a shoulder injury three months ago.
New Zealand captain Sam Cane said he commiserated with his South African counterpart.
"It's been a pretty tough week for him and his family. As a team, we send our condolences to the Etzebeth family," All Blacks captain Sam Cane told reporters. "It must be pretty tough for him being on the other side of the world. We'll see each other at the coin toss and then do battle on the field."
Both sides come into the clash on the back of commanding opening-round Rugby Championship wins.
The All Blacks hammered Argentina away 41-12 last Saturday, the same day South Africa beat Australia 43-12 in Pretoria.
South Africa's veteran No. 8 Duane Vermeulen, who led the team against Australia, is among the replacements with six forwards and two backs named on South Africa's bench.
This season's Rugby Championship has been trimmed back to three rounds due to the World Cup, which kicks off in September.
Saturday's Test in Auckland is considered a probable title decider and Cane is anticipating a tough clash between the rival packs.
"You can see by the bench they have picked, it's going to be a game that will be won up front," Cane said. "We are in for a big challenge. I'm just looking forward to it. It's going to be all on."