A clash at the top of the domestic table means Springbok rugby players will have to play through their end-of-season weariness.
After the emotional roller coaster of Ellis Park last weekend, it comes as something of a shock to realise that there are only three weeks left of the domestic season.
This weekend sees the conclusion of log play in the premier division of the Currie Cup and Friday night features the final of the First Division, the Pumas against the Kings in Nelspruit.
The latter is academic in the greater scheme of things, because the Pumas won the log and will thus play at home and away against Griquas for the honour of playing in the premier division in 2014. The Kings finished as log runners-up, which means they will feature in neither Super Rugby nor Currie Cup premiership rugby next year. How the mighty have fallen.
In the premier division, all three fixtures are relevant, although Griquas coach Pote Human has decided to rest his key players for the match against the Lions in Johannesburg. There is much logic in the decision, because the Griquas have frightened every team they have played this year but conceded a half-century of points in each of their past two fixtures. They need to be as fresh as possible to rebuff the Pumas, a side lacking in defence but more than capable on attack.
The Lions will be looking for a five-point haul at home, with the possibility that they might finish third if the Cheetahs slip up against the Bulls, or fail to register a bonus point win. The Bulls have an outside chance of making the semifinals but need to beat the Cheetahs handsomely in Bloemfontein with four tries and avoid giving up a bonus point themselves. A very similar scenario, in fact, to the one the Springboks faced last week.
The big one
The final match of the weekend is the top-of-the-table clash between the Sharks and Western Province in Durban. Both teams will be strengthened by their returning Springboks and the side that wins will top the log. Both are already assured of a home semifinal, so the battle is for the right to host the final. The Sharks have rushed back the front row of Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira, while Province will have Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi in the starting line-up.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has made it plain that he would far rather see his players rested prior to the post-season tour to Europe, but clearly that is not going to happen. These are the kinds of pleading that annually fall on deaf ears and 2013 will be no exception.
The counterargument from the provinces is that the coach should be using the end-of-year tours to blood youngsters. The players, as always, are the helpless pawns in the political game.
That may not always be the case, however, as this week the International Rugby Players' Association (IRPA) flexed its growing muscles with the announcement of an advisory group made up of 48 current players drawn from all forms of the game. Among them are Jean de Villiers, the captain of South Africa, and All Black centre Conrad Smith.
De Villiers said: "It is important for the game that the professional players have representation. It allows the players to have input into key issues, but also take some responsibility for ensuring the positive development of the game. IRPA and its player advisory group provide this on the international rugby scene."
Meanwhile, Kelly Brown of Scotland made his point in a way that should give a few administrators pause for thought. Brown said: "It is difficult to know where to turn to when you have issues relating to your working conditions at national team level. Thankfully, through the player advisory group, we have the opportunity to discuss these issues with peers from other countries."
The IRPA's press release says the new group will assess just about everything affecting its members – "season structure, player development programmes and dual careers, player mental and behavioural health and wellbeing, game integrity, wagering and corruption, anti-doping, concussion, game rules and regulations, agents, competition structures, player release, insurance, tournament terms of participation, employment standards and conditions and the establishment of independent national player associations".
It marks a significant advance for player power. Since the game went professional in 1996, the big decisions have been made by "amateur" governing bodies in consultation with professional media houses. In two years' time, when the current Sanzar (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby) deal with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is renegotiated, it seems highly likely that the IRPA will have a say.
It is a step in the right direction, although it is difficult for South Africans enervated by strikes in the public sector to welcome a union to the bargaining table. But as the name of the game is rugby union, perhaps it was always going to be inevitable.