Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - There could be a change to the Springbok plans for the end of year tour to Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England.
GALLERY: Boks undergo physicals
During the Tri-Nations season Bok coach Peter de Villiers announced an intention to rest 13 of his contracted players for the tour, which starts with a test against Ireland in Dublin in just over four weeks from now. That was in answer to the criticism he was receiving for the poor Bok performances and the perception that many of the top players were fatigued.
However, after a four week conditioning programme which reported back positive results, De Villiers appears to be reconsidering that line according to a statement that he has released after the players were tested in Cape Town earlier this week.
“This conditioning phase has worked as well as we could ever have hoped,” said De Villiers.
“The guys have come back refreshed and hungry for rugby and have given us food for thought for our conditioning process now.”
Skipper John Smit is definitely out of the tour after undergoing an operation, but De Villiers’ statement appears to suggest that Victor Matfield, for one, could be in line to tour after all, along with fellow stalwarts such as Schalk Burger and Jaque Fourie.
Given the pressure he is now under to produce results – and the South African Rugby Union have made no secret of this in their statements post last week’s Tri-Nations review – it is understandable that De Villiers might now want as strong a team as possible on tour.
The thought of the coach being availed with the opportunity to make the excuse that he did not have his best players available should the Boks fail in the United Kingdom was always questionable given that the nation should be expecting him to provide some evidence that he can rescue the mess that the Boks have found themselves in.
Coming home from the UK with a record that reads played four and lost two but writing it off as what should be anticipated when the team is under-strength would surely not be acceptable to fans at a time when, since the end of the 2009 Tri-Nations season, the Bok record already reads played 13, lost seven.
If the Boks are to go into the World Cup buildup with any confidence, and if the supporters are to have any confidence in De Villiers and his coaching team, the current slide cannot be allowed to continue. Coupled with that is the fact that De Villiers leans heavily on his senior players in the coaching department, which could mean the Boks will be in serious trouble if they travel with an under-strength team, particularly as there is now plenty of evidence that De Villiers does not have confidence in his assistant coaches to do that job.
Having the top players available and refreshed and hungry after a break from the game would certainly boost the Bok chances of restoring pride on the tour, although you would have to question the wisdom of cutting down the time the players will have to use the off-season for recuperations before the beginning of a long World Cup year in February.
In 2007 the Boks benefitted at the start of what at the time was to prove an unprecedentedly successful Super 14 season from the then coach Jake White’s decision to leave most of the top players behind on the 2006 November tour of Ireland and England. Even though severely depleted, and after a disastrous start against Ireland, White’s virtually second string Boks still managed to use the tour to boost confidence by breaking their long hoodoo against England at Twickenham.
As England were to prove their only major obstacle to the World Cup title the following year, the win at Twickenham (there were two tests at Twickenham, with the Boks losing the first to a last minute kick) was to prove a significant moment in their buildup.
Bok conditioning coach Neels Liebel said in a statement on Monday that he was happy with the progress shown by the players.
“The players are in great shape and a number of personal bests have been set by them,” said Liebel.
According to Liebel the players who set personal bests in strength tests included CJ van der Linde, Bismarck du Plessis, Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw, while Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie “were the quickest we have ever tested at sea level”.