Breyton Paulse

SA coaches getting it right

2011-05-10 12:26
Breyton Paulse
Breyton Paulse

We have spoken quite a bit about injuries during the Super Rugby season, and there is no doubt they are starting to take their toll, but what has been noticeable is the way they seem to be concentrated in the Antipodean teams at present, particularly New Zealand.

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It seems almost every week an All Black goes down injured, and if the World Cup was to be played tomorrow, their team would be without several important players, as the Crusaders were when they scored their important win over the Stormers. Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Brad Thorn and Sam Whitelock are just some of the players who were unable to play this past weekend.

South Africa, by contrast, have most of their top players on the field at the moment, which is a tribute to the medical and conditioning personnel at the various franchises. With Peter Grant and Bryan Habana back in action this week, the Stormers were able to go on tour with a full-strength squad, which in my playing days would have been rare for such a late stage of the season.

The league stage has now reached a point where most of the teams have played the number of games, 11, they would have played under the old Super 12 format. Yet it is not only the Stormers who are at full strength, the Sharks are too now that Patrick Lambie is playing again and Jean Deysel has strengthened their squad by returning from a long lay-off.

The Bulls have had a couple of injuries but only negligible in terms of quantity. They have had the services of their core group of key players for the entire season so far. Of the South African teams, it’s only really the Cheetahs who have been hit by injuries to top players in Juan Smith and Heinrich Brussow.

This must mean that our fitness guys are getting it right, and all the attention to detail and to scientific innovation is now paying off. The fitness staffs from the various franchises are speaking to each other, and sharing information.

I know that at the top franchises all the players have been kitted out with heart rate monitors that double as monitoring devices to track work-load. Even if players aren’t being rested in matches, those who have been over-taxed physically are being given an opportunity to put their feet up by missing out on some of the training sessions during the week.

However before we get too smug about the relatively clean slate the South African franchises have enjoyed so far, let’s acknowledge that it’s possible the current situation may end up suiting New Zealand.

Most of the All Blacks who are out are out short-term, meaning that they will be back before the end of the competition and definitely before the World Cup. Those players are having a physical break from the game while they recuperate, and when they get back they are going to feel refreshed and hungrier for rugby than players who have played every game in Super Rugby.

That means some clever boxing is still going to be required from South Africa’s side, remembering that we go straight into the Tri-Nations season from Super Rugby. It remains to be seen whether Peter de Villiers will select full-strength teams for the Tri-Nations as it is so close to the World Cup, but you would imagine he would be looking to get his strongest side on the field for at least a couple of the games as it’s important to the psychology that the Boks are competitive against New Zealand and Australia.

So when are the players going to get a rest before the World Cup? With so many New Zealanders set to hit July and August feeling refreshed after spending at least part of the season on the sidelines, this question has to be a concern to those who make the decisions. Wise management is going to be needed.

An upside of the current injury wave in New Zealand for the Kiwi teams is that they are being forced to test their depth, and it is an examination that they appear to be passing with flying colours. Crusaders beating the Stormers at Newlands with six All Blacks missing took some doing and that win has re-established their credentials as tournament favourites.

But that is not to say there weren’t South African players who have stepped forward, and in that game Jaque Fourie was outstanding. So much of a fuss was made of Sonny Bill Williams, but Jaque was certainly not in his shadow in that game and he had the Crusaders midfield defence in trouble every time he touched the ball.

So Jaque will be The Powerade Chosen One for this week, though his midfield partner, Jean de Villiers, also deserves credit for his outstanding performance against the Sharks the previous weeks. Jean had been out for four weeks when he faced the Sharks so he should have been rusty, but he showed his class by slotting in like he had never been away.

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Breyton Paulse is a former Springbok player and is the Powerade "Chosen One" expert columnist

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