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S15: No rest for some Boks?
Cape Town - Several Springbok players are probably feeling more than a little envious of the sizeable Sharks contingent from their midst right now.
Bok representatives of that franchise have the relative bliss, after three gruelling weeks of Test rugby, of a bye weekend as Super Rugby unashamedly bashes its way back to the forefront of attention this weekend.
It will be welcome respite for men like Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira and Marcell Coetzee, all of whom were on the park for very much the lion’s share of the 2-0 series victory over England, a team who may have been limited for attacking prowess but were nothing if not fiercely resilient in all three Tests.
While they bask in the knowledge that the Sharks will bank four “free” log points as they nurse bumps and bruises, the Bok players from the Bulls and Stormers are not nearly so lucky.
It is sure to be action stations once more for the vast majority of Springboks from those outfits: the Bulls host the domestic main event on Saturday (19:10) against the Cheetahs, whilst the Stormers don’t have it especially easier - if at all - as they entertain the Lions at Newlands (17:05).
There is a case for saying that the various Stormers and Bulls Boks have effectively played four Tests in as many weeks, considering that the week before the first Test against England they played each other in a South African derby typical for its raw, uncompromising nature.
With forwards, for the most part, needing to be “rotated” more than backs do because of the greater bodily demands on them, clearly a rest week would be the ideal scenario for customers like Pierre Spies, Juandre Kruger and Eben Etzebeth.
The same, though, could apply to someone like Jean de Villiers, who has really put his body on the line in the Bok midfield and also carried the mental demands of captaincy against England.
But we are also at a high-stakes, advanced stage of Super Rugby when franchise coaches, understandably, will find it hard to offer essential players the luxury of time off even if they are quietly aware that it is the right thing to do.
Both the Cheetahs and Lions may be out of the running for the six-team playoffs phase but they will not hand out any charity to compatriots - even the bottom SA-placed latter team, now minus suspended coach John Mitchell and many of their players seemingly the merrier for it, may fancy their chances of toppling the conference-topping Stormers after shocking the Sharks immediately before the Test window.
Etzebeth is probably the Bok tight forward most in need of a short break; he has carried a desperately heavy load this year, even in his maiden full first-class season, largely because of the Stormers’ injury problems with the other first-choice second rower Andries Bekker.
Even with Bekker likely to be fit to return against the Lions, there is talk of Etzebeth having to play - perhaps even in the unfamiliar role of blindside flank - due to the continued absence of other core personnel in the loose forward department like
Schalk Burger, Rynhardt Elstadt (one-match suspension), Nick Koster and Duane Vermeulen.
It is also not as though the Stormers are so blessed with centres that they can comfortably afford to leave out De Villiers on Saturday and field somebody else of suitable ability or experience alongside Juan de Jongh.
There is perhaps slightly less of a player-management predicament at the Bulls; coach Frans Ludeke will be fully aware that Bok engine-room folk like Flip van der Merwe and Werner Kruger have been used only as substitutes in the England series and will presumably be hungry to actually start in the “grudge” game against the Cheetahs.
Just as keen to climb back onto the horse, as it were, will be the Bulls halfback duo of Francois Hougaard and Morne Steyn, who have to prove some doubters wrong after misfiring showings for South Africa this month.
Giving No 8 Spies a non-playing Saturday is also unlikely as he is the Bulls captain and they cannot afford to slip at Loftus against the visitors from Bloemfontein - their playoffs presence is well less than assured after three losses on the trot before the Super Rugby hiatus.
But the best shoes to be in this weekend remain those of Sharks mastermind John Plumtree, knowing that his Bok players can “go fishing” and come back re-energised for their next assignment against the Bulls at Mr Price Kings Park on Friday, July 6 ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing