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    Etzebeth’s rehab well on track

    2014-02-28 07:34

    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.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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