Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says that Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth will need at least four more weeks to recover from a serious shoulder injury. JON CARDINELLI reports.
In January, the Stormers confirmed that Etzebeth would be sidelined for at least four months. Even then, some feared that the 67-Test lock would not recover before the three-game series against England in June.
On Thursday, Fleck was asked to give journalists at a press conference in Cape Town an update on the big man’s progress. At best, Etzebeth will be back in action for the Stormers in mid-May, just three weeks before the first clash against England in Johannesburg. At worst, the powerful lock will take more time to rebuild his formidable frame and miss the series altogether.
‘The expected return date is four weeks’ time,’ Fleck said with a small shake of the head. ‘But with this kind of injury, it’s all about what happens on a daily basis, how it reacts, and so on.
‘The good news is that he’s feeling really positive. The medical staff have been encouraged about the improvements over the past couple of weeks. It all comes down to how the injury responds, though. It’s not something we can rush. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a long-term injury, and a big one.
‘Like I said, he’s positive. We’ll hope for his return in four weeks, but we know there are no guarantees.’
It’s bad news for the Stormers as well as for the Boks. Lock JD Schickerling has been ruled out for an extended period with an arm injury, and Fleck said on Thursday that hooker Bongi Mbonambi – who is still recovering after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in February – won’t be back in action until after the June break. The Boks are likely to be without Mbonambi as well as Etzebeth until the Rugby Championship later this year.
The Boks are spoiled for experienced options at No 5 with Lood de Jager, who won the SA Rugby Player of the Year award in 2015, and Pieter-Steph du Toit, who claimed the top prize in 2016. Franco Mostert is another who has enjoyed an extended run in that position for the Boks in recent years.
New Bok coach Rassie Erasmus does not have as many options at No 4, though. Erasmus may decide to start two of the aforementioned No 5s in the same second-row combination – that is if Du Toit isn’t selected at blindside flank. Alternatively, a promising youngster like the Bulls’ RG Snyman – who played for the Boks against the Barbarians in 2016 – could be asked to fill the gap.
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