Cape Town - It is difficult to dispute that the Springboks have got the short end of the stick, from a pure rostering point of view, for Saturday’s World Cup final against England in Yokohama (11:00 SA time).
In a game as physically punishing as rugby - especially in the high-stakes knockout phases of tournaments - one day less of recovery (and onward preparation) than your looming opponents, from the respective semis, will always be deemed undesirable.
But that mere, six-day turnaround for them is the extra hurdle facing a Bok side already installed as bookies’ underdogs for the showpiece.
While England booked their berth last Saturday, courtesy of the rousing 19-7 disposal of defending champions New Zealand, Rassie Erasmus’s charges had to wait until Sunday to confirm theirs by nosing out Wales 19-16.
It raises the question of whether, in the interests of good ethics, the World Cup semi-finals should really be contested on the same day.
Counting against that is the fairly obvious wish to create a special, separate sense of “occasion” to each semi … including the all-important, revenue-generating television presentations, which encompass a couple of hours of dedicated build-up, allowance for the possibility of extra time, post-match interviews and analysis: all prime-time stuff, really, and allowing for generous, blue-chip advertising around the events.
Another fair-play thought: to aid “restoration” of limbs and minds from the previous week’s match for the final, wouldn’t it be more suitable for a full week - rather than six days in one team’s case - to be allocated for the leadup to the showpiece?
In other words, would Sunday not have been a better option for the final, allowing the Boks a fuller (and more rugby-customary) seven days in between games, even if England would then earn eight?
Again, the needs of global television audiences - and maximisation of them - must play a prominent role in World Rugby’s scheduling thought processes.
Historically, there have never yet been two semis of RWC on the same day; one has always followed some 24 hours after the other, ever since inception of the tournament in 1987.
What is, will be … perhaps that’s the philosophical way to look at it.
Besides, to what extent is the tighter time frame to the final for the Springboks at this year’s World Cup really an impediment?
For one thing, professional rugby players worldwide are more than used to, by now, six-day turnarounds between certain matches, even if they are so seldom truly premier-tier fixtures like this one.
It happens in Super Rugby, and the major club competitions north of the equator, and tweaks/alterations to the lead-up regimes by the brains-trusts are duly made accordingly.
As Bok World Cup-winning lock from 1995, Kobus Wiese, mentioned in his anchoring capacity on SuperSport’s SuperRugby television chat show on Monday, the week leading up to a RWC showpiece is never going to be characterised by intense physical activity in either camp - it is much more about mental and tactical preparation.
The World Cup final is the culmination of months - and even years - of diligent, dedicated pre-planning, and if teams aren’t in the correct physical shape by then, a couple of days of ill-advised “koppestamp” in the immediate build-up will hardly enhance readiness.
There is also just a chance, in that context, that the England players’ extra day to mull over the red-letter final isn’t that constructive mentally; it might be branded 24 extra hours to fret/obsess about it.
In some ways, too, the nucleus of Erasmus’s Bok first team may be chomping at the bit for Saturday, rather than lamenting the compressed turnaround, considering how prudently he has deployed them in game-time terms during the event, frequently in pool play empowering an entire “second team” to do the business (usually consummately) against lesser foes.
In addition, his forward-heavy benches - the area of play where there is naturally more in the way of bruising, violent contact - have ensured that key pack members have seldom fallen prey to over-play.
There is also no special pattern in RWC history of the team with the shorter turnaround playing second fiddle in the showpiece.
While in the 2015 tournament the All Blacks won the final after an agreeably longer gap from the semi (won 20-18 against SA) than opponents Australia, in 2011 they did it the other way around: they’d played the Wallabies seven days before the final, whereas beaten foes France had advantageously played Wales eight days ahead.
Just as encouragingly, if the current Boks are to avoid falling into any trap of excessive consternation over the limited turnaround, the 2007 event - when they last hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup after a showpiece against Saturday’s very foes England - provides a very pleasing omen.
Then under the Jake White regime, they did it, you see, with the six-day turnaround (semis opponents Argentina, thumped 37-13) to the English seven, from seeing off France 14-9 …
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