Eben Etzebeth boost for Stormers ahead of Hurricanes clash
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck received a boost upon arrival in New Zealand with the news that lock Eben Etzebeth could be ready to face the Hurricanes in Wellington this weekend.
Last Friday‚ following the Stormers’ 35-8 win over the Jaguares at Newlands‚ Fleck indicated that Etzebeth wouldn’t play against the ‘Canes after failing an on-field Head Injury Assessment (HIA).
Etzebeth was withdrawn at halftime after a clash of heads against the Jaguares‚ but did travel with the squad to New Zealand.
But on Tuesday defence coach Norman Laker revealed from New Zealand that Etzebeth had made faster than expected progress.
“Everybody is fit so far‚” Laker said.
“Eben obviously had the concussion on Friday‚ but he has passed his stage one of his HIA protocols. Everyone is looking fit and I am confident that everyone can play on Saturday.
“Because Eben played on Friday‚ there was an extra day of recovery for him. He did a little bit of training today. We are confident that he might be ready.”
Etzebeth was due to miss a game on tour anyway as part of a Springbok resting agreement. Given that Chris van Zyl and Salmaan Moerat are on tour‚ Fleck would be unwise to risk the decorated Bok this weekend if his fitness is in any doubt.
Laker admitted that the Hurricanes‚ with the brilliant Beauden Barrett pulling the strings from flyhalf‚ posed the biggest defensive threat to his side so far this season.
Coupled with the likes of Ngani Laumape and Jordan Barrett‚ the Hurricanes are a formidable attacking force.
But where they Stormers have been superb since around two‚ when they started their three-match winning streak with a tight 19-17 win over the Lions‚ has been up front.
Their power in contact and on the gain line‚ both on attack and defence has been key to wins over the Lions‚ Sharks and Jaguares. By winning the physical battle they upset their opponents and knocked them off attempted expansive game plans.
The pack‚ with or without Etzebeth‚ will have to attain the same standards against the Hurricanes while also improving their lineouts‚ which were again messy against the Jaguares.
The Stormers lost three throws on their own ball against the Argentineans‚ but they also won two against the throw. Considering the Jaguares had the competitions’ best lineout stats going into the game‚ there might not be cause for undue alarm.
“Saturday will definitely be a big challenge for us as a team to see where we are defensively‚” Laker said.
“Beauden [Barrett] is a world-class flyhalf and has his brother Jordie playing in the backline too. They create a lot of opportunities for those playing around them‚ but we are not going to focus on individuals‚ because there are other players who can create opportunities.
“We will just be focusing on ourselves and how we can improve as a team.”