The Springboks could enter the 2011 Rugby World Cup year with a few 2010 defeats, as the best team might not be selected for all Test matches leading up to the tournament.
Experts at a media workshop in Johannesburg on Wednesday agreed that a number of standout players will have to be carefully managed in the next two years.
Springbok fitness and conditioning coach Neels Liebel and sports scientist Tim Noakes said this would be vital to ensure top players were are fit and in peak condition for the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.
Noakes showed a series of graphs on how players used excessively in a season tended to either get injured or under-perform the following year.
Liebel agreed senior players like Victor Matfield, 32, Bakkies Botha, 30, and John Smit, 31, should still be available for the 2011 World Cup—but on condition that they were properly managed.
Noakes warned that John Smit collapsed in 2008 after a strenuous season.
Fourie du Preez, he pointed out, played 1 835 minutes of rugby this season—the equivalent of 24 matches. Du Preez still had three Tests on this year’s outgoing tour ahead of him.
“It is highly unlikely that he won’t be injured next season,” said Noakes.
He pointed out that the form of former Springbok centre Marius Joubert, after a season of 38 matches, went downhill to the extent that he never played for South Africa again.
“Heinrich Brüssow has to be watched,” Noakes said, as had Morne Steyn.
All the players needed a single continuous break of at least eight weeks to recharge.
“Jake White was prepared, on our advice, to rest players for the away Tri-Nations series before the World Cup in 2007,” said Noakes.
“The Springboks lost both the away Tri-Nations Tests against Australia and New Zealand, but that gave our players the chance to go into the World Cup rested, motivated, uninjured and in peak physical condition.
“In fact, Jake had 30 completely fit players he could pick from for the final against England.”
Noakes said the Boks in 2006 had a poor year—so much so that White’s head as coach was called for. But it was necessary to give some players a break from the game.
“The saving grace of the Springboks is that they have [lately] cut down on training, but that is to a large extent offset by the players being trained into the ground by their provinces,” said Noakes.
He warned that there would be a price to pay: for the player, the country and also in the psychological plane where it will give opponents the confidence that the Boks were on their way out.
Liebel said the Springbok management were in constant discussions with the unions, but had to accept that the provincial and franchise coaches were measured by their results and would often opt for their best selections.
How to counter that?
Noakes agreed with a suggestion that the only way to really monitor and control the game as well as the training time of players was for them to be contracted by SA Rugby.
Liebel said teams managing their players the best were also at the top of the tree in the provincial and Super 14 competitions.
The Bulls, who used only 28 players in their 15 Super 14 matches, were a prime example of good management of players.
The Springboks’ success this year could also be contributed to good management of the players, with the injuries this year coming down significantly.
The recovery time of injuries within seven days was also much improved, and a cut-down on training time coupled with more attention to recovery were instrumental in that, Liebel said.—Sapa