Cape Town - The coach. His back-up staff.
The administration. The captain. The game-plan. Selections.
Those are some of the inevitable areas of
discontent being reeled off by Springbok supporters in the wake of a third
successive Test defeat - a particularly depressing 41-13 one at the hands of the
All Blacks in Christchurch on Saturday.
Elements of some of those are almost
certainly applicable to the gloomy, horribly unstable situation the Boks
currently find themselves in. Let’s not gloss over that.
But I believe another pretty major factor
is being overlooked.
At a time when the rampant New Zealanders’
fitness is earning widespread laurels – they are often closing out games more
clinically and powerfully than they start them - many of the Springbok players
are quite feasibly going the other way in that regard.
In the vast majority of instances, I don’t
believe laziness or lack of commitment to the national cause is to blame.
Much more relevant, by my book, is the
contrasting workload management of the two teams, once the genuine “big two” on
the planet until the Boks’ progressive, violent regression in the bilateral
tussle, in particular, in recent years.
In short, the more dominant the All Blacks
and NZ Super Rugby teams become, the more able they are to rest and rotate
players appropriately on the punishing annual itinerary.
Taking players out of competition, of
course, also provides an invaluable opportunity for proper strength and conditioning
programmes which simply aren’t possible when they are preparing for rugby
matches week after week and absorbing the inevitable knocks, bumps and more
clear-cut injuries at the same time.
Given their depth of available talent,
Steve Hansen and company in the All Blacks’ coaching panel confidently yank off
players when they feel they have done enough game-time, allowing not only for
better rest but also an alternative pool of players to strut their stuff in
Hansen has reportedly already stated that,
with the Rugby Championship in the bag two rounds from the finish, he will give
opportunities to more peripheral players in the remaining assignments away to
Argentina and the Boks. What an enviable luxury.
“You can’t keep playing the same athletes
the whole time and expect to have that same zing,” he was quoted as saying …
words that ring with uncomfortable salience here in South Africa.
Meanwhile in Super Rugby, it is not
uncommon for top All Blacks to have generous “sabbaticals”, and/or sit out
specific matches because the franchise in question confidently feel they will
have the measure of certain opponents even at lesser strength.
With tons of seasoned South African professional
players now plying their trades abroad, the remaining senior or most valued
customers, by contrast, only assume extra importance and responsibility in
local franchises that are generally weaker than we were all used to several
In other words, feet-up opportunities are
fewer and further between than experienced by many NZ-based counterparts.
Then there’s the other huge – I strongly
believe -- aggravating issue: Japan.
No lack of current Springbok players or
contenders effectively sacrifice an off-season these days by taking up stints
of a few months during the South African summer with Top League clubs in that distant
That method of accumulating foreign wealth,
as the rand stays resolutely frail, is understandably considered a “good
result” by SA Super Rugby teams and their supporters, as it means top stars may
well stay contracted to them, as opposed to shifting lock, stock and barrel to
But it also means that the next Super Rugby
campaign begins with those players, duly back from Japan, hardly in prime shape
either physically or mentally to start yet another annual slog.
So all you get is an ever-deepening,
accumulating spiral of tiredness which can manifest itself in basic, elementary
errors – notice any of those from the Boks during the latest Championship,
anyone? -- or lethargy, even if minds and souls are not necessarily unwilling.
There is also a far greater risk of major
injuries, either in Japan itself or early in the new SA season, as evidenced earlier
in 2016 when attractive Bok options like Handre Pollard and Marcell Coetzee,
both of whom played in Japan, suffered near-inevitable setbacks ruling them out
for the entire remainder of the year.
Broadly speaking, the Boks have a much greater
wave of absenteeism at this extended point of the 2016 season than the New
Zealanders do, but that’s no special surprise; it’s an almost annual hallmark
This isn’t intended as an excuse for
present Bok woes and their painful retreat as rivals to the imperious All
But the increasingly obvious imbalance in
the freshness and conditioning stakes doesn’t help to close the gap, and it is
extremely difficult to know quite what the solution is.
Are we going to suddenly see a new vim and
vigour to the Boks in the embers of the Championship, and then on the
obligatory end-of-year trek to colder climes?
I wouldn’t count on it.
No matter how much soul-searching over
results and performances takes place, and how spiritedly marks are scribbled on
a drawing board, there are at least some negative factors at play for the
Springboks that simply cannot be eliminated.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing