Pretoria - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has been given a massive boost with the news that he should be able to pick as close to his strongest side for this weekend’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld.
The supersport.com website reports that team doctor Craig Roberts cleared props Frans Malherbe, Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira and lock Eben Etzebeth for action and crucially also gave captain Jean de Villiers the all-clear to play this weekend after spending the last few months on the sidelines with injury.
The only big casualty is Victor Matfield, who was ruled out last week with a tear in his knee cartilage and will be assessed again later in the week to find out if he makes the return trip to Argentina.
But Roberts gave the all clear to De Villiers, who is set to resume his role as captain and lead the team into battle in his favoured 12 jersey this coming weekend.
The Boks had specifically kept De Villiers out of the Currie Cup over the past weekend to nurse his way back into the starting line-up.
And by all accounts the South African player of the year for 2013 is ready to continue where he left off in the Test arena last year.
"We’re really happy with Jean," Roberts explained.
"He didn’t do all the sessions last week, so if we had a double session he would only do the morning session.
"We brought him in slowly and we’re happy with where he is, he has progressed nicely over the week."
The other concern was the neck injury to Mtawarira, and with these things the medical staff usually err on the side of caution to be sure. But six weeks off and after taking part in all the physical training sessions over the past week, Mtawarira should pack down at loosehead this coming weekend if he is selected.
"We’re happy with Beast, he’s coming back from a neck injury and he did a full squad training last week," Roberts added.
"He did all the scrums, he did everything and had no symptoms of stiffness, which is really a good sign as well. Roberts added that match fitness, and not just fitness was a prevailing factor when taking into account the ability of players to return to the Test arena, and for that reason the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Frans Malherbe were released last week to play for Western Province.
"We’re happy with his progress."
However, this ongoing assessment would be on a match by match, and case by case prognosis.
"There definitely is match fitness, it one of the reasons we sent Frans and Eben back to play – they’ve been out of action for a number of months and that is a long time to be away, especially for a forward.
"They always say you have to take the hits and make the contact to get match fit but obviously any time a player plays a game you’re exposing him to injury.
"Sometimes, however, you do need to get that game time under your belt.
"It is more of a performance kind of thing, so you can get your confidence and perform better next week.
"That is the reason we released those two.
"Beast has only been out for six weeks, and we’re happy with him in terms of where he is going.
"At this stage it is horses for courses, position-specific and player-specific."
Roberts said that he was happy with no injuries as there had been some heavy sessions and he would assess Matfield later in the week to decide if he will make the trip to Salta in Argentina or not.
"We had some big heavy sessions, it was a week where we could put in a lot of hard work.
"The one area where we did have an injury was Victor Matfield.
"He has a little tear in the cartilage of his knee, he saw an orthopaedic specialist and he has responded well to rest and treatment at the moment.
"We were a little bit concerned that he might have to have a scope on it and we might have to had cleaned the cartilage out.
"It doesn’t look like that is the case, but it does mean that he is out for the game this weekend.
"We will reassess later in the week to see if he is available for the tour to Argentina.
"Other than that we managed a few guys load.
"Today it is all systems go and we have a full squad training.
"It’s looking good for the weekend."
And while the Boks never will want to talk too soon, a fully fit squad is the first step to achieving their goal of five points from this game.
And a positive start to this year’s Rugby Championship.