DUBAI // If points were handed out for originality, South Africa would start their World Cup against Japan this evening a try to the good, thanks to Robert Ebersohn's choice of hero. Ebersohn is one half of the most highly rated sibling partnership in South African sport since the Morkel brothers, Albie and Morne, stormed international cricket.
He and twin brother Sias turned 20 last week. While Robert will be the Springboks' go-to guy in Dubai this weekend, his brother will be playing fly-half for the national under 20 side on their tour of South America. They attended Grey's College in Bloemfontain, South Africa's premier rugby establishment, where Ebersohn also excelled at athletics. He was the fastest hurdles athlete in the country at under 15 level, but he said: "You did athletics so you were faster for your rugby. It was always the second choice."
Given the overriding obsession for rugby, it would be safe to assume he grew up idolising Francois Pienaar, or Schalk Burger, or Bryan Habana. Not so. "I have a lot of heroes, but not so many rugby heroes," said Ebersohn, who played a key role in South Africa winning the Dubai Rugby Sevens in November. "Hansie Cronje [the disgraced former South African cricket captain] failed, and he could still stand up and say sorry and that he was guilty. He is taking the blame, and guys like that I admire because of their honesty, rather than guys who make it big in rugby."
Cronje sullied his reputation due to his involvement in cricket's match-fixing scandal. When trouble found Cronje, he sought consolation in religion, and Ebersohn is also a devout Christian. "Sport was part of our background growing up, but we are also a close Christian family. We know sport cannot be the centre of your life. "When rugby is over, what is left in your life? That is more or less how we base our lives. We love playing sport, but you can't play rugby for the rest of your life, there has to be something else.
"We have a very close bond between me, my brother and sister [Annerie, 19, a budding athlete] and mum and dad. That is one of the things that contributes to being a better me." Cronje encouraged team prayer meetings during his stint as cricket captain. It is an idea shared by some of the sevens side. "Out of the 12, there are maybe seven or eight of us who come together twice a week and have Bible study or chat about it," added Ebersohn.
"Part of the Bible is David and Goliath. David was a small man and he killed giants. We definitely take that on to the battlefield." firstname.lastname@example.org