Cape Town – Many of them are staple
presences in Springbok sides picked by coach Heyneke Meyer, but the
significant Sharks contingent in his plans are also showing increasingly
glaring signs of mental and physical fatigue.
is with the Test portion of the 2014 season only about to begin, against
Wales in the first of two clashes at Kings Park on Saturday.
common denominator in Saturday’s non-Test, 47-13 victory over the
so-called and frankly overly-hyped World XV at Newlands was the fact
that the six players in Meyer’s starting line-up from the Super Rugby
log-leading Sharks generally struggled to do full justice to their
known, indisputable reputations.
It is not a criticism ... it is
simply the sobering reality of the majority of them having played more
or less non-stop for nine weekends, including a four-week Australasian
tour with their franchise.
The pressures have been greater than
for any other compatriot outfit, because when you are riding high and
pushing desperately hard for rights to that important, possible home
final, there is just no room for stepping off the pedal.
result, Sharks coach Jake White has demanded routine duty from his
hard-core Boks, and his talk before the overseas leg of rotating certain
hard-pressed troops largely amounted to nothing.
franchise had little reason to beef about their itinerary this year,
given its massively heavy emphasis on home matches in the first half of
ordinary season which allowed them to become pace-setters pretty swiftly
and stay there -- even if the rest of the playoffs-chasing pack has
closed in threateningly of late.
But one drawback was a tougher
second half of fixtures, plus the Sharks’ two byes coming a bit too
early to allow them a decent breather near the business end: the last of
their two sit-out weekends was as far back as April 4/5.
various Boks from the Durban-based team have begun to shed some
sharpness, even as their professional pride keeps them ticking as best
That probably applies especially to the forwards, who
take the greater bodily pounding: little wonder, then, that the
normally trusty front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis
(vastly improved in the second half at Newlands, mind you) and Jannie du
Plessis were way down on scrummaging effectiveness against the
cobbled-together “global” crew.
Blindside flank Willem Alberts --
custodian of another notoriously taxing position physically – also
struggled to consistently impose himself on the day, even as he did some
In truth, both teams had farcically little prep
time for the game, and it may have been one reason why a good many
discerning rugby followers opted to give the contest a wide berth in
terms of attendance; there were all-too-noticeable swathes of empty
seats at the venue on a blustery but rainless Cape winter’s evening.
is entirely possible that, subconsciously, a few Bok players knew they
had to somehow leave enough gas in the tank for the three Tests to
follow the useful enough friendly, and Meyer was probably quite
justified afterwards in suggesting that his side’s scrum angst (the most
notably shortcoming even as several other boxes were comfortably
ticked) isn’t going to give him nightmares for the next few days.
least the shortcoming came into the open in a non-Test environment,
with improvement next Saturday now quite likely as a result, and he also
made the point that South Africa were sturdy scrummagers with similar
personnel at their disposal last year.
Even so, Wales will offer a
stern challenge on that front, with such gnarly front-row veterans as
Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins on this safari, and the tourists will be
well aware that such players as Mtawarira and the older Du Plessis
brother have been over-employed in recent weeks and possibly vulnerable
as a consequence.
A problem for the Bok brains trust is that
decent alternatives - if they feel that is a consideration - hardly fall
off the trees in the orchard.
Neither of substitute props Gurthro
Steenkamp or Coenie Oosthuizen (the latter still swimming rather
against the tide to adapt to tighthead?) set the turf alight when
introduced on Saturday, whilst remember that last year’s youthful option
at No 3 for Meyer, Frans Malherbe, has sat out several weeks in the
wake of a clearly nasty concussion.
How is Meyer to handle the “Sharks fatigue” situation?
is delicate, because he needs to win Test matches and justifiably his
instincts are to engage his most desired names on paper; stability is a
key hallmark of his coaching ideology and he hates handing out caps
But maybe he is simply going to be forced – whether
this weekend or thereafter – to indulge in the sort of rotation practice
that, in a country like New Zealand with its more central contracting
and priority for the national side, should really have occurred in Super
Rugby, preceding the June Bok agenda.
For instance, is versatile
back Frans Steyn, with his confessed chronic knee condition, really
going to get through further rugby every week for the next three
Broadly speaking, the Bok coach probably wishes to
build on the many promising signs displayed against the World XV, and
thus not tinker too extensively with his side for the first Wales Test.
But he also knows deep down that some players are close to running on empty ... perhaps with grave longer-term effects.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing