Eben Etzebeth is set to play his first competitive game of rugby in 10 months when South Africa face Argentina in their Rugby Championship-opening Test at King’s Park on Saturday.
Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus confirmed that last year’s captain had been given the medical all-clear and was likely to play the first hour against the Pumas having only just returned from a shoulder injury followed by a back problem.
“His match fitness is a concern and it’s for that reason that we won’t see him playing much more than 60 minutes this week,” Erasmus said on Monday.
“We just received the clearance from the specialist. He’s been training full on with us ever since the end of the Stormers’ Super Rugby campaign, but we’ve been waiting on this [medical clearance].
“I’d prefer to start a player who is in this situation than play him from the bench. If we start someone else and then there is an injury in the first minute, we might be in trouble.”
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Eben Etzebeth, 26, brings an enormous physical presence to the second row and is a solid lineout option with 67 caps to his name since his debut 2012.
His return alongside that of loose forward Warren Whiteley and hooker Malcolm Marx has added significant strength in depth for Erasmus compared with the side that beat England 2-1 at home in June.
“We are blessed in the forwards, it’s been a long while since we had so many front-rowers and good hookers available,” Erasmus said.
“There are also a lot of second-rowers and we are mixing and matching the loose-forwards at this stage.
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New Argentina coach Mario Ledesma has wasted little time in making his mark on the side by naming six uncapped players in an extended squad for the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship.
“There is tremendous talent in the backs as well, but not a lot of experience. It doesn’t mean we will be successful immediately, but it’s a good sign.”
Erasmus is well aware that the Boks are expected to brush aside an Argentina team who have won just two of their last 18 tests – against Italy and Georgia.
But the coach expects a much improved South American outfit after a solid Super Rugby campaign for the Jaguares, who make up most of the Pumas side.
“The Jaguares won all their matches [on tour] in Australasia and beat all of the South African teams,” he said.
“Argentina now have the same coach in Mario Ledesma and the players will have a good idea of what’s expected of them.”