Rassie Erasmus has confirmed that Eben Etzebeth is the favourite to start against Argentina in the Rugby Championship opener on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI in Durban reports.
Etzebeth has been cleared of a serious shoulder injury – an ailment that’s kept him sidelined for more than eight months – and will make his comeback against the Pumas at Kings Park this weekend. Erasmus delivered the good news at a press conference held in Umhlanga on Monday.
‘We just received the clearance from the specialist,’ the Bok coach said. ‘He’s been training full on with us [at the Boks] ever since the end of the Stormers’ Super Rugby campaign, but we’ve been waiting on this [the final clearance].’
Etzebeth led the Boks in 11 out of 13 Tests last season. He hasn’t played a competitive game of rugby since the Test against Wales in Cardiff last December, though, and will need to be managed carefully.
‘His match fitness is a concern,’ conceded Erasmus. ‘It’s for that reason that we won’t see him playing much more than 60 minutes this week.
‘I’d prefer to start a player who is in this situation than play him from the bench,’ the Bok coach added. ‘If we start someone else and then there is an injury in the first minute, we might be in trouble [with a player lacking match fitness coming on].’
Erasmus said that he would make selections this week with the opposition in mind. He confirmed that the Boks won’t take Argentina lightly, especially after the South African teams’ results against the Jaguares in the recent Super Rugby tournament.
‘The Jaguares won all their matches in Australasia, and beat all of the South African teams. Argentina now have the same coach in Mario Ledesma [who recently replaced Daniel Hourcade] and the players will have a good idea of what’s expected of them. I’m sure they will love being the underdogs for a game.’
Changes are expected in midfield, with André Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am mentioned by Erasmus as his preferred starting combination.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) August 13, 2018