August 20, 2018 / 6:37 AM / 3 months ago

REFILE-Rugby-Etzebeth exceeds expectations on return

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By Mark Gleeson

CAPE TOWN, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Eben Etzebeth felt as if the rugby world had forgotten him after spending eight months on the sidelines due to injury but the South African lock’s performance against Argentina at the weekend is sure to have jogged a few memories.

Etzebeth sustained nerve damage to his neck and shoulder playing against Wales last December but the 26-year-old looked as if he had never been away on Saturday as the Springboks beat Argentina 34-21 in Durban in the Rugby Championship.

Coach Rassie Erasmus acknowledged that his decision to slot the 2.03 metre tall lock straight back into the side raised some concerns.

“Everybody was saying to me, ‘How can we put him straight into this test?’” Erasmus said as the Springboks prepared to depart for their return game against the Pumas in Mendoza.

“But we knew how fit he was and how hard he has worked and we were confident he would get through the game. But the way he played surprised us, especially for a guy who hasn’t played for so long.”

Etzebeth, who has 68 caps, was a central figure as the Boks’ pack wore down their opponents. He broke through the Argentine defence with several leg-pumping drives and produced a high tackle count on defence.

It had been a tough road back for Etzebeth and in the buildup to the test he opened up about the difficulties he faced in returning to fitness.

“It’s almost like the rugby world has forgotten about me,” he said, adding that seeing the physio every day was a “lonely world”.

Etzebeth’s rehabilitation took longer than expected and he missed the entire Super Rugby season for the Stormers as well as three tests in June at home to England.

“For me, I just love Springbok rugby and seeing them play and not being there, was very emotional,” Etzebeth added.

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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