22 November, 2017, 12:00 am
South Africa are hopeful captain Eben Etzebeth will be fit to face Italy in Padova on Sunday as under-pressure coach Allister Coetzee hinted he would select his strongest possible team to avoid another demoralising defeat.
Giant lock Etzebeth was forced off in the final stages of Sunday’s slender 18-17 victory over France in Paris after receiving a blow to his lower leg, but x-rays revealed no substantial damage.
“The X-rays we did on Sunday all came out normal. We expect it just to be a soft-tissue injury and will manage it accordingly. He has a good chance of playing on Saturday,” Springbok team doctor Konrad von Hagen told reporters yesterday.
Coetzee will have extra depth at lock and among the loose forwards this week, with the return to training of the versatile Pieter-Steph du Toit after a concussion received in the record 38-3 loss to Ireland in the opening match of the tour.
“Pieter-Steph is busy with the last steps of his return-to-play protocols, but I expect him to be available for selection,” Von Hagen said.
There is concern over hooker Malcolm Marx, one of the stand-out players in what has otherwise been a disappointing 2017 for the Boks, as he tries to shake off a shoulder injury.
“Initial X-rays showed everything is normal,” Von Hagen said, adding that a decision on the Marx’s availability will be made after a follow-up MRI scan later today.
One of a number of dismal setbacks for Coetzee during his two years at the helm was a 20-18 loss in Florence in the 2016 Autumn Internationals, the first time South Africa had been beaten by Italy.
A repeat of that this year could well end his reign as coach, meaning there will be no rest for his top players this week.
“The whole idea for us this week is to play with our strongest possible team so that we can build more momentum and continuity,” Coetzee said.
“There will be opportunities for the wider group in the last match,” he added, pointing out that some of his squad will be back on duty for their overseas club sides when South Africa complete their tour against Wales in Cardiff on December 2.