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Cape Town – The Springbok medical team are “pleased with the progress” made by Eben Etzebeth, and the young Stormers lock is set to be fit for Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against Argentina at Newlands.
Etzebeth’s participation was in doubt last week after he visited a specialist in Johannesburg to assess his hip cartilage injury. The specialist found that the problem was not too serious, but the 20-year-old was unable to train for the rest of last week.
But Etzebeth was back at full tilt on Monday, alongside Stormers partner Andries Bekker, who appears to have edged out Juandré Kruger for the No 5 jersey. Team doctor Craig Roberts said at a media briefing last night that Etzebeth took a full part in the morning training session.
He was also a keen participant in the afternoon practice at Westerford High School in Newlands on Monday, carrying the ball strongly and making tackles. But he suddenly stopped, and felt his left groin and hip area. Bok physiotherapists Vivian Verwant and René Naylor assessed Etzebeth, and he sat out of the rest of the session.
But he didn’t look to be in any great deal of pain, and was in good spirits. Roberts was also satisfied with his recovery.
“Eben Etzebeth had his first training session today, and we are really happy with how he progressed. He did quite a few lineouts. We pulled him out of the second session this afternoon, which was always part of our plan, and now it’s about seeing how he responds to the training. We’ll make the call on him tomorrow or later in the week, but we are pleased with his progress so far,” Roberts said.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow what his chances are of playing. Functionally, he has done very well – we are happy with him. It is about how he responds, and part of that is whether there is any stiffness after training, which we can only see tomorrow.”
Bekker ran freely during the session and appears to have been given the nod over Bulls man Kruger, who started all three Tests against England when Bekker was out with a back injury. Coach Heyneke Meyer will name his team tomorrow.
“We’ve had quite a few injuries, especially with the two locks,” Meyer said. “Andries is 100 percent at the moment, but he’s got a history there, and Eben ... So you want to make sure about the bench as well, you can’t take a risk. You need at least two out of three 100-percent fit locks.”
Roberts feels that Bekker is in good shape. “Andries was coming back to his best form in Super Rugby, so we are happy with his progress. Obviously he is a big, tall guy who is at risk of those kinds of things, and we are happy to manage him as best we can to make sure that he is in the best condition going into the games,” he said.
“But so far, I must say that he has done really well in terms of the training and rehabilitation. We’ve learnt over the years what Andries responds to.”
The “probable” Bok team ran in formation at training, with Lwazi Mvovo at left wing and Bryan Habana at No 14. Zane Kirchner was back at fullback after missing the last two England Tests due to injury.
Flank Willem Alberts was also back in training after sitting out last week with a knee niggle, while Sharks teammate Keegan Daniel missed out due to a spider bite, although he will train later in the week.
Francois Hougaard’s tactical kicking and decision-making was not at its sharpest against England, but for the moment, he seems to have warded off a challenge from Ruan Pienaar at scrumhalf. That could also be due to the fact that Pienaar is coming out of a pre-season at Irish club Ulster. “It was frustrating to wait for Ruan, but it’s great to have him back,” Meyer said. “He hasn’t played since the England Tests. But he was sharp in training and his kicking has been spot-on.”
The Bok mentor said that he expected Argentina to implement a few new tactics now that former All Black coach Graham Henry is an advisor to “Los Pumas”. But he felt that their traditional strengths upfront and tactical kicking will still be on display at Newlands.
“Because a lot of their players are in France, their mentality is similar to South African and European players. They are very good at set pieces, strong in scrums and lineouts, and also mauling. They are also a good pick-and-go side, and play a lot like England,” said Meyer.
“They are very good at playing from your mistakes. That’s how they scored and beat France, playing from turnovers. With Graham Henry there, the New Zealanders like to put those grubbers through, especially with (flyhalf Juan Martin) Hernandez back. But you don’t change overnight, and they have their mentality and won’t change their game too much.” – Cape Times