Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Stormers’ main tight five asset, Eben
Etzebeth, may return to Super Rugby action slightly ahead of schedule.
Unfortunately for fans of the Newlands-based franchise,
miffed by the heavy 34-10 first-round loss to the Lions in Johannesburg and
just a little nervous about the home follow-up against the Hurricanes on Friday
(19:10), his expected time of arrival in the 2014 competition is still only
earmarked for around mid-May.
By then a fair bit of water will have passed beneath the
bridge, as the Stormers will be at least 11 games into their 16-match programme
ahead of the knockout phase of the tournament.
But if there’s still anything at stake by then for the
Capetonians, the muscular, already world-renowned second-rower may just be
filtered back into combat at a priceless time, with some five fixtures left for
a big push for the six-team finals series.
Coach Allister Coetzee revealed with some satisfaction to
Sport24 this week, after a challenging few days for him and the squad, that
Etzebeth’s rehab from an ankle operation was progressing smoothly.
“Yes, I spoke to Eben in the week and he is walking freely
in his (moon)boot, doing his prescribed rehab work comfortably and on track for
a mid-May return to our (plans).”
That would not be the worst result for the Stormers if that
forecast proves accurate, as Etzebeth had tweeted when he went in for the
surgery at the start of December that he expected to be ruled out for six
months – making a June comeback more likely at the time for the abrasive
22-year-old, who picked up the injury against France on the Springboks’
unbeaten end-of-year tour.
But if he is given the all-clear two or three weeks earlier,
he might feature in all, or at least some, of the obligations against the Force
(home, May 17), Cheetahs (home, May 24) and Sharks (away, May 31) ahead of the
June Test window, when his presence for the national team would obviously also
be keenly sought.
The Stormers then wrap up their pre-KO campaign against the
Bulls and Sharks in Newlands derbies, on July 5 and 12 respectively.
“It’s been the second year running where we’ve started the
campaign without Eben,” said Coetzee ruefully.
“Who knows, maybe he will (bolster) us at exactly the right
time, although it’s up to us all in the meantime to stick to our part of the
deal and be in contention – also for when other players like Juan de Jongh and
Cheslin Kolbe are available again.”
Better short-term news is that De Kock Steenkamp, often
Etzebeth’s partner in a first-choice Stormers lock combination on previous
occasions, is expected to be fully fit for consideration for the first overseas
tour match against the Crusaders on March 8.
“De Kock will definitely be on tour with us from the start
of it,” Coetzee said.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing