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Etzebeth relishing Toulon atmosphere, eyes Kolbe showdown

After two European Challenge Cup outings, Eben Etzebeth finally made his home Top 14 debut for Toulon in Sunday's 41-19 trouncing of fellow big spenders Clermont in front of a near-capacity 17,000-plus crowd at the Stade Felix-Mayol.

FILE: South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth gestures during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between South Africa and Italy at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecop in Shizuoka on 4 October 2019. Picture: AFP

PARIS - There has evidently been no World Cup hangover for South African lock Eben Etzebeth, a key cog in the Springbok team that stormed to the Webb Ellis trophy in Japan last month.

Etzebeth has since touched down in France to play for Toulon, where outgoing president Mourad Boudjellal has, over the years, shipped in many well-known Boks such as Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana, Joe van Niekerk and Duane Vermeulen.

The latter played alongside Etzebeth in Japan, where the Boks beat England 32-12 in the final, and it was partly down to his recommendations that the towering lock ended up on the French Mediterranean coast.

After two European Challenge Cup outings, Etzebeth finally made his home Top 14 debut for Toulon in Sunday's 41-19 trouncing of fellow big spenders Clermont in front of a near-capacity 17,000-plus crowd at the Stade Felix-Mayol.

And there could not have been a better start, Etzebeth intercepting a pass by Clermont fly-half Camille Lopez and sprinting in for a try from 40 metres after four minutes.

"I didn't really see that Clermont were playing flat," Etzebeth said.

"I just wanted to rush my defence to stop their attacking line and I saw the fly-half was going for a miss pass... so I put some gas on to go for the ball and it worked out."

Toulon outscored Clermont by six tries to three, Etzebeth omnipresent throughout in the club's eighth straight win.

STANDING OVATION

He was a persistent nuisance in the attacking line-out and put in several big hits. The notoriously vocal Toulon crowd afforded him a standing ovation when he trudged off after 70 minutes.

"Eben was massive," said Toulon general manager Patrice Collazo.

"Our pack of forwards wanted to give our backs some good ball.

"We also had a very aggressive defence. We knew we had to trouble them in contact and stifle them in defence, and we succeeded in doing that."

Collazo added that Etzebeth shone alongside Italian veteran No 8 Sergio Parisse and giant flanker Swan Rebbadj.

"Swan was huge in the backrow and as for Sergio Parisse, I have the impression he gets younger every weekend," Collazo said of the 36-year-old.

Etzebeth said he was already looking forward to returning to the Mayol.

"As you walk out in the under pass from the bus, with all the supporters, it's amazing," the second-rower said.

"It was a full stadium, I must say, one of best atmospheres I've ever played in... playing with a bunch of guys and coming together as a team, it's really great to be part of it."

Looking ahead, Etzebeth revelled in the fact he could be coming up against fellow World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe and possibly five other South Africans on the books of Top 14 rivals Toulouse.

"I look forward to a nice big Christmas this week, playing Toulouse next Sunday and playing against fellow South Africans, that'll be nice," the enforcer said with a grin.

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