Little mercy for top Boks

2013-01-11 22:02
Eben Etzebeth (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Influential, heavily-exposed Springboks from 2012 like captain Jean de Villiers and young lock find Eben Etzebeth will be plunged into franchise battle at the earliest opportunity this season.

Senior, Test-calibre players in the ranks of the Stormers, the SA conference winners and eventual losing semi-finalists in Super Rugby, will be expected to be truly “battle ready” - in the words of coach Allister Coetzee - for the 2013 competition before it even begins.

That is because the Newlands-based outfit have an unusually difficult first three fixtures: away derbies against traditionally fiercest domestic rival powers the Bulls and Sharks, and then an opening home outing against defending champions the Chiefs.

So Coetzee needs his best troops to get meaningful tune-up time in the two pre-season friendlies arranged against the Cheetahs (Bloemfontein, February 2) and Boland Cavaliers (Wellington, February 9).

When the Stormers visited Wellington in sweltering mid-January last season, they put out a decidedly second- or even third-string side for the most part, perhaps influenced to some extent by the fact that their 2012 Super Rugby draw featured a less taxing start: home to the Hurricanes and Sharks, and then a week-three bye.

But there will be no such charity to blue-chip players this time.

Asked by Sport24 at a media briefing on Friday whether various Boks would be largely cocooned until the competition-proper, Coetzee said: “No, we (will need) them ASAP ... there are only two friendlies this year and both will involve our so-called ‘top 30’ players.

“I gave the Springboks the whole of December off. They’ve done the work and it’s pleasing to see they’ve taken ownership, done the foundations well.

“Lots of the Springboks are running at the front (in training) which is what you want to see; setting the example.

“You’ve got to have the players battle ready. You can’t just have them medically fit alone; the luxury of a big name on paper.

“We’re pushing hard with the conditioning ... now going into the technical and tactical phase.

“Those first three games involve possibly three of the best five or so teams in the competition. Bulls away, Sharks away, Chiefs home ... the players will have to be ready, so the top ones must play in the friendlies.

“Put players in cotton wool? Never; they’ll be underdone and found wanting against that sort of opposition.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



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