Up where we belong: Eben Etzebeth is ready to return to international rugby against Argentina on Saturday after nine months out with a shoulder injury. Picture: RYAN WILKISKY/ BACKPAGEPIX
Up where we belong: Eben Etzebeth is ready to return to international rugby against Argentina on Saturday after nine months out with a shoulder injury. Picture: RYAN WILKISKY/ BACKPAGEPIX

After nine months on the sidelines‚ which included missing the entire 2018 Super Rugby campaign‚ lock Eben Etzebeth is set to be unleashed against the Pumas on Saturday.

Etzebeth‚ 26‚ suffered shoulder nerve damage playing against Wales in Cardiff last November. His recovery hit several setbacks because of problems with the nerve.

Etzebeth confirmed in a conversation it was similar to the injury that ended former Bok prop Deon Carstens’ career.

But on Monday Bok coach Rassie Erasmus confirmed that Etzebeth would be considered for selection against Argentina for the Rugby Championship opener at King’s Park.

"We just received the clearance from the specialist‚" Erasmus told the media in Durban.

"Eben has been training full on with us ever since the end of the Stormers’ Super Rugby campaign‚ but we’ve been waiting on this [an official all-clear from a neurosurgeon].

"Eben’s match fitness is a concern. It’s for that reason that we won’t see him playing much more than 60 minutes this week. I’d prefer to start a player who is in this situation than play him from the bench.

"If we start someone else and then there is an injury in the first minute‚ we might be in trouble."

Etzebeth trained with the Stormers in the final weeks of their campaign as well and one of the biggest challenges Robbie Fleck (Stormers coach) faced‚ was keeping Etzebeth in check.

The 67-Test veteran was his usual aggressive and physical self in training‚ even though he was not yet 100% fit. The coaching staff had to make sure he held back.

Fleck said that he would not have qualms starting with Etzebeth and Erasmus clearly thinks the same.

Etzebeth does not need to prove his Test credentials but he does need to show that he is fit and ready to grow into the Rugby Championship each week.

His return with the likes of loose-forward Warren Whiteley and hooker Malcolm Marx adds significant strength in depth for Erasmus from the side that beat England 2-1 at home in June.

"We are blessed in the forwards, it’s been a long while since we had so many front-rowers and good hookers available. There are also a lot of second-rowers and we are mixing and matching the loose-forwards at this stage," the coach said. "There is tremendous talent in the backs as well, but not a lot of experience.

"It doesn’t mean we will be successful immediately, but it’s a good sign."

Etzebeth offers captain Siya Kolisi the same leadership support that No8 Duane Vermeulen gave against England.

Etzebeth captained the Boks 11 times in 2017 and played the barking sergeant-major to Kolisi at the Stormers in 2017 when the latter captained the franchise for the first time.

TimesLIVE, additional reporting Reuters

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