Stormers coach Robbie Fleck pretty much poured cold water over the possibility of Eben Etzebeth returning for the Springboks in next month’s series against England.
The influential 26-year-old lock and leader has not played competitive rugby since last year’s European tour after sustaining knee and arm injuries against Wales in Cardiff.
Etzebeth has returned to training, heightening expectations that he could be available for the Stormers from next week, but isn’t anywhere near being selected.
“Eben hasn’t even been passed fit medically yet,” Fleck said on Thursday ahead of the Stormers’ meeting with the Sunwolves in Hong Kong on Saturday.
“He’s definitely been training but I’d say he’s only about 85% ready to return. The problem is he still hasn’t regained 100% strength in his arm. That needs to first increase but it’s only a matter of time.”
Instead, the target is for Etzebeth to play for Western Province in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge during the first week of June, which coincides with the Boks’ Test against Wales in the US.
But it would be extremely risky to rush him back into international action after that.
“To be honest, we’ll only consider him after the international break. Realistically, we’ll look at him for the game against the Jaguares,” said Fleck.
“Whether he’s involved with the national side before that is not my decision. That’s up to Rassie Erasmus but we’ve been in contact with the Boks throughout Eben’s injury. He’s desperate to play again naturally but we want to make the best decision for the player.
“If Eben is passed fit medically, then it’s really just about helping him gain some match fitness.”
Etzebeth’s probable absence adds to a growing Springbok casualty list, which includes hooker Malcolm Marx and Etzebeth’s lock partner Lood de Jager.
Incumbent Springbok skipper Warren Whiteley is also in a race against time to overcome a knee injury.
Stormers: SP Marais, Seabelo Senatla, JJ Engelbrecht, Damian de Allende, Dillyn Leyds, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Dewaldt Duvenage, Nizaam Carr, Cobus Wiese, Kobus van Dyk, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Chris van Zyl (c), Wilco Louw, Ramone Samuels, JC Janse van Rensburg. Bench: Scarra Ntubeni, Carlu Sadie, Frans Malherbe, Jan de Klerk, Siya Kolisi Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Paul de Wet, EW Viljoen.