CAPE TOWN – Performing at 85 percent is obviously not as good as it gets, but if you’re Eben Etzebeth, 85 percent should still be pretty good. That 85 percent, however, just isn’t good enough in this case.
That percentage refers to Etzebeth’s progress after he sustained nerve damage in his neck and shoulder during the Springboks’ end-of-year tour last season.
And according to Stormers coach Robbie Fleck, the powerhouse second-rower won’t be ready until the “second or third week in June”, which rules him out of the Test series against England.
Etzebeth has been training with the Stormers over the last few weeks and that has ignited some hope that his return might be around the corner.
But Fleck ruled that out. “No (he won’t be ready next week). We were hoping that he’d be ready, but medically he hasn’t been passed fit and rugby wise he’s not ready,” he said.
“He’s desperate to be playing, he wants to play for the Stormers and certainly he wants to play for his country, but we have to make the right decision for him and for the group going forward and we need to look after him.
“It’s looking realistic that he could be ready by the second or third week in June.”
Fleck said that getting a few minutes in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge in June might be a more realistic goal for Etzebeth.
“I’d like to think that he’ll get some game time during the June break with Western Province or some more training time with us, but we’re looking at getting him back more towards the Jaguares game (June 30).
“He’s around 85 percent at the moment. His arm and neck are improving quite quickly, so he’s getting better and better, so once he’s passed medically fit it’ll just be a rugby decision. Then he just needs game time and a bit of confidence.”
Etzebeth’s delay in returning makes the Springboks’ injury concerns even bigger, with lock Lood de Jager and hooker Malcolm Marx already ruled out with injury.
“That’s not my decision (whether he plays for the Boks in June), but he hasn’t been passed medically fit by our medical team,” said Fleck.
“He just hasn’t got 100 percent of his strength back in that arm; as soon as he gets it to 100 percent compared to the other arm, he’ll be passed fit. So it’s just a matter of time, it’s not too far away.”