United Rugby Championship: Eben Etzebeth enjoying life at the Sharks under Neil Powell’s coaching

Springbok second-row Eben Etzebeth has sung the praises of Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell and said he is enjoying life under the former South Africa Sevens head coach’s guidance.

Etzebeth returned to South Africa late last year, after a three-year stint at French club Toulon, and has caught the eye with several impressive performances in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and Champions Cup.

Positive impact

Powell has made a positive impact since stepping down from his position at the Blitzboks to join the Sharks. He started his reign as the Durban-based outfit’s director of rugby last year but also became their head coach when they parted ways with Sean Everitt last November.

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His coaching reign coincided with an upturn in the Sharks’ fortunes. They’ve won four out of five URC matches and reached the round of 16 in the Champions Cup after winning three out of four games in that competition.

Their fine Champions Cup form was also rewarded with Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Makazole Mapimpi and Jaden Hendrikse included amongst the list of nominees for the 2023 EPCR Player of the Year award.

“I can’t comment on last season because I wasn’t there but so far I’ve experienced Neil in a very positive way,” Etzebeth told reporters after being named as SA Rugby’s Player of the Year for 2022. “His rugby knowledge is great and he definitely brings some new tactics to the game because he’s got that sevens background.”

Etzebeth is confident Powell will continue to improve and make a successful transition from Sevens to the 15-man code.

“Neil is a great coach. He hasn’t been part of the 15s system for that long but he’s an even better person,” added the 31-year-old.

“He’s also like a sponge, he just wants to learn more from coaches around him [and] from some of the senior players.

“He’s definitely not a know-it-all type of personality and that’s sometimes what you need in a rugby team. And I must say, he’s been doing that job so well and the guys really respect him.

“He was respected at the sevens, he was phenomenal there and he’s already a great coach for me. He will become a legend… I don’t know how long he will stay at the Sharks, but I think he will be a great 15s coach in future. It’s awesome to work with him.”

Happy at the Sharks

Etzebeth, who played most of his professional rugby with the Stormers from 2012 to 2019, is happy with the team environment at the Sharks.

“For me it’s nice to be back in South Africa and playing with individuals who are such great players,” he added.

“It’s a great team. And with Neil also taking over… he’s a phenomenal person and great coach. It’s nice to be part of a system like that again. Also, the backroom staff at the Sharks is incredible. I’m enjoying my life and rugby there in Durban.”

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