'Burnout brigade' a Bok worry

2013-05-28 13:34
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)
Cape Town – Perhaps with a deliberate hint of deception, rugby’s powers that be describe the now traditional June internationals as a “Test window period”.

It suggests some sort of welcome breath of fresh air, when really it is more like a suffocating plastic bag that only taxes already tired Super Rugby limbs and lungs further.

Frankly, it is a farce that top southern hemisphere Test teams begin a three-week period of internationals without even a week’s break from the gruelling, ever-expanding franchise competition (the only consolation is that visiting sides from north of the equator will also contain weary bodies because the June Test itinerary comes so soon after completion of the entire season there).

Almost inevitably, and no less damagingly, it has become a hallmark of the switch-over to Test mode in early June that a volley of uncompromising, often high-stakes conference derbies immediately precedes it.

Last year the Cheetahs – who at the time contained fewer credible Springbok contenders than they do now – were the beneficiaries of a bye ahead of England’s three-Test visit, with the other four SA teams not so lucky: the Bulls hosted the Stormers and the Lions the Sharks just seven days out from the first international.

This time the Sharks are the fortunate outfit sitting out the pre-Test weekend, with the Stormers entertaining the Kings for the first time at Newlands and a really “crunch” game taking place between the Cheetahs and Bulls in Bloemfontein.

Don’t blame Bok coach Heyneke Meyer for possibly wincing at the prospect of the latter game, especially, as two teams among the top four of the overall Super Rugby log lock horns in a contest of huge importance in playoffs terms.

 The Bok squad for the novel quadrangular also featuring Italy, Scotland and Samoa is named on Saturday night, and Meyer will inevitably need to factor in the possibility that his plans are quickly thrown into turmoil by a pulled hamstring or, worse, someone’s anterior cruciate ligament being damaged during the keenly-awaited floodlit (19:10) fixture.

It would be understandable, when you think a bit more deeply about it, if Meyer were to slightly favour Sharks players in certain close-call positional situations for the first assignment against the Italians at their familiar terrain of Kings Park.

Some of them, after all, might be more attractive propositions simply because they are a little fresher and hungrier for battle in the green-and-gold following their gap week, whilst Cheetahs and Bulls stars could be nursing undesirably recently-acquired bumps and bruises.

Into that mildly “revitalised” category would fall such players as Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Marcell Coetzee and Pat Lambie, who have otherwise been heavily engaged for the injury-dogged franchise during a tough period for them both physically and mentally in which the Sharks have slipped well out of playoffs contention – all of them badly needed some recharge time and it comes at a favourable time for their Bok aspirations.

The Sharks’ bye will perhaps have been slightly less welcomed by customers like Beast Mtawarira and Willem Alberts, who had both been absent for several weeks until recently and are rare cases of players needing more, not less, game-time at present for purposes of gathering sharpness.

Loosehead prop Mtawarira, in particular, only made his comeback against the Bulls last weekend, although he was commendably assertive at scrum-time under the circumstances and may well have done enough to march straight into the Bok No 1 jersey ahead of another appealing candidate like Coenie Oosthuizen, whose front-row versatility and dynamic style of open play will always make him a valued “impact” factor off the bench.

I can hear the cry already from elsewhere on the South African landscape: “Hey, why should the struggling Sharks be rewarded with plentiful Bok call-ups?”

But sober judges will also be well aware that the Durban outfit still contains many known, Test-calibre individuals despite their woes as a team in a spell of almost unheard-of injury absenteeism. (Nor am I saying that the Bok side should, indeed, be noticeably skewed in favour of representation by the Sharks.)

 Meyer will certainly not be able to ignore weight of nationwide Super Rugby exposure in the lead-up, when he picks his first match-day squad for the challenge of the limited but eternally tenacious Italians.

In that respect, he will be well aware that “burnout” danger signals are flashing already for two of his blond bombers: captain Jean de Villiers and potential pack-leader Adriaan Strauss.

Both the Stormers midfielder and the Cheetahs hooker have been played to death, as it were, by their respective franchises simply because they are such valuable elements of the mix either in Cape Town or Bloemfontein.

Strauss has been leading from the front in the Cheetahs’ unprecedented charge up the table, whilst De Villiers’s case has been slightly different but no less pressured: he has been the glue that has held the Stormers together – depth of proven options at centre has been a big snag -- during their most problematic season of the last four.

It was only partly with his tongue in his cheek last week when he corrected a journalist who suggested he’d played every minute of every match: “No, I did get three minutes off against the Brumbies!”

Expect Meyer, understandably, to want these two class acts very central to his June assault quest, but what he may try to do – several fairly hard-pressed Bulls players also come to mind here – is urge his troops to build strong heads of early steam against the less-than-top-tier June foes, so that he can safely pull off players in need of rest during the second half of matches.

That way, he may also get a useful peep at the Test credentials of one or two rookies as he trains his thoughts to the more heavyweight needs of the Castle Rugby Championship further down the winter line ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  heyneke meyer  |  rugby

What To Read Next


Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.
Live Video Streaming
Video Highlights
Sport Talk

05 November 2016
Barbarians v South Africa, London 15:00
12 November 2016
England v South Africa, Twickenham 16:30
19 November 2016
Italy v South Africa, Stadio Artemio Franchi 15:00
26 November 2016
Wales v South Africa, Millennium Stadium 19:30

Did Stormers and Springboks lock Pieter-Steph du Toit deserve to be named SA Rugby Player of the Year?

Love 2 Meet
Sport24 on Twitter

Follow Sport24 news on Twitter


With the Absa Premiership in full swing, who will be crowned champions when all is said and done? Will Mamelodi Sundowns defend their title? Or can Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates or Bidvest Wits mount a serious challenge? Stay glued to Sport24 to find out!

Latest blogs

Twitter Follow Sport24 on Twitter

Facebook "Like" Sport24's Facebook page

WIN Enter and win with Sport24!

BlackBerry Stay in the loop on your BlackBerry

RSS Feeds Sport news delivered really simply.

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.