Rugby Championship

Boks still sweat over locks

2012-08-13 22:13
Eben Etzebeth (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The second row may be the lone area causing some ongoing head-scratching for Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer and his lieutenants ahead of the Castle Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at Newlands on Saturday.

Meyer hopes to reveal his team within the squad environment on Tuesday, although the official announcement of the match-day 22 remains scheduled for around lunchtime on Wednesday.

“I’m not quite 100 percent (on selection) yet,” he said at a press conference on Monday.

But he did drop heavy hints that lock issues are playing on his mind more than most, with the fitness of Stormers pair Eben Etzebeth and Andries Bekker - perhaps his desired first-choice alliance - the key to things in that department.

“Andries ... is 100 percent at the moment but he’s got a history there (of injuries) and Eben (must also still be further assessed) ... you have to think about your bench too; you can’t take a risk there.

“At least two of your three locks must be (totally) fit.”

Meyer’s statements followed a routine squad injury update from team doctor Craig Roberts, who said: “We’re very happy with where we are at the moment as a team.

“We had a good training session this morning where everyone trained except for Keegan Daniel, who picked up quite a nasty spider bite under an arm over the weekend ... out of the blue we had to deal with that, and with antibiotics over the next couple of days he should be fine.

“Eben had his first training session today (after a largely favourable diagnosis on his hip problem) and we are really happy how he progressed; he did quite a few lineouts.

“We pulled him out of the second session (at Westerford High School) in the afternoon which was always our plan and now we’ll just see how he responds to the training ... we’ll make the call on him tomorrow or a bit later in the week.”

Pressed for a percentage chance of 2012 first-class find Etzebeth featuring against the Pumas, Roberts replied: “I’ll tell you tomorrow. Functionally, he’s done very well; it’s how he responds to the training load and whether there’s any stiffness or anything, which can only (be judged) tomorrow.”

Quiet fears in some circles that the 2.08m Bekker may still be labouring with back trouble, an old bogey, would not necessarily have been laid to rest with the doctor’s revelations: “You saw in Super Rugby how he was coming back to his best form and playing more and more rugby. So his progress has been good.

“Obviously he’s a big, tall guy so he’s at risk for those sort of things (back problems) so for us it is to manage him as best we can and make sure he’s in the best condition entering games.

“So far I must say he’s done really well in terms of the training and rehabilitation. We’ve learnt over the years what Andries responds to, and that’s why he does certain (preparatory) things differently to some other players. But you individualise (programmes) for everyone anyway.”

The uncertainty to varying degrees over the Stormers second-rowers means that the Bulls pair, Flip van der Merwe and Juandre Kruger - the latter did well in his maiden series against England recently - are presumably still very close to Meyer’s plans.

Elsewhere, the Bok side seems to be coming together reasonably logically, with Frans Steyn almost certainly back as inside centre after his honeymoon break for the Port Elizabeth Test against England (the Boks’ least impressive showing of the three in a 14-14 draw) and Bryan Habana more and more likely to be asked to shift to less familiar right wing to accommodate Lwazi Mvovo on the left after JP Pietersen’s withdrawal through injury.

Bulldozing blindside flank Willem Alberts appeared to move freely in training on Monday.

“Willem had a little knock to his ribs in the Super Rugby final (in Hamilton recently) and last week we really just managed him,” Roberts explained.

“Today he did all the contacts and we’re happy with the way he came through.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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