Johannesburg - Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has defended a decision to take his jaded stars on a three-Test tour of Europe that starts on Friday against France in Toulouse.
Some South African medical experts believe the world and Tri-Nations champions are playing with fire by including veterans like skipper John Smit and locks Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez.
Apart from three Tests against the British and Irish Lions and six against Australia and New Zealand, top players were involved in the Super 14 and Currie Cup competitions during a gruelling season that began last February.
"I did talk to a few players about staying at home but they wanted to be part of the Springbok 'family'. We are the number one side in the world and want to stay there," De Villiers told the South African media.
He slammed provinces who give Boks little rest and then complain when they were called up by the two-time world champions for the traditional end-of-season Europe tour.
"We cannot play them into the ground at national level and rest them when internationals come round. It should be the other way with a plan to rest them at national level."
Renowned Cape Town-based sports scientist Tim Noakes has warned De Villiers that a great 2009 season for the green and gold has taken its toll, especially on senior forwards like Smit, Matfield and 'enforcer' Botha.
"It was clear in the Currie Cup semi-finals last month that the Springboks were tired and pacing themselves. Some of them should have been left at home," stressed Noakes.
"A deal should be made with the Super 14 coaches that these guys only participate in the series after the fourth round because they require an eight-week break."
South Africa have already suffered one shock with the 'dirt trackers' losing 22-17 last Friday to a virtual second-strong Leicester Tigers team at Welford Road in the English midlands.
And the cost was high with the entire run-on front row of hooker-cum-captain Chiliboy Ralepelle and props Gurthro Steenkamp and Jannie du Plessis ruled out of the remaining four fixtures through injury.
South African rugby columnists are also nervous with the headline "Bok tour to Europe has ambush written all over it" atop an article by leading writer Clinton van der Berg.
"The French have produced some scary performances in the European Cup of late, while playing in Toulouse on a cold, windy Friday evening will hold little appeal for the Boks.
"Italy will provide a gentle enough buffer before the Test against Ireland, which also holds potential terrors. With some of the Springboks looking jaded, an icy tour could be in prospect," warned Van der Berg.
After Toulouse there are Tests against Italy in Udine on November 21 and Ireland in Dublin a week later plus a second outing for the 'dirt trackers' against English Premiership outfit Saracens on November 17 in London.