Johannesburg - While there have not been public utterances about it, there is growing concern with the way the Vodacom Bulls are handling the playing time of Springbok Trevor Nyakane.
According to supersport.com, the loosehead has become worth his weight in gold for the Vodacom Bulls this season, having packed down both on the loosehead and tighthead side of an ailing scrum, and has come out stronger, cementing himself as an almost certainty for Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok squad ahead of the World Cup.
But the way the Bulls have managed him this season has left a lot to be desired, as they have disregarded the gentleman’s agreement to rest Springboks after every five matches, with Nyakane playing in every single game for the Bulls this season.
While the Sharks were publicly lashed for the way they handled Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach and Marcel Coetzee when they dared defy SARU’s ban, Nyakane has gone under the radar, with the Bulls clinging to the explanation that they had not played him for the full 80 minutes in some games.
But problems for them on their loosehead side, a lack of depth at tighthead and the inability to back rising junior players has contributed to the Bok becoming the most over-utilised player in the squad, something that could eventually hurt the Boks should he break down in the test arena.
There are further concerns about some other Bulls players – the likes of Francois Hougaard for instance, who has played all 80 minutes of every single game for the Bulls – either at wing or scrumhalf, and has not been rested either.
While in many cases it is a case for case scenario, the rising concern goes further when it becomes apparent the Bulls have the worst transformation record and are far from SARU’s targets of 35percent squad representation for the Vodacom Super Rugby season.
In essence they can’t rest Nyakane simply because they will fall under the minimum number of three black players in their match 23 if they do.
Consider that coaches often say the resting period isn’t about just not getting on the field – it is more about the mental and physical aspect of getting away from training for a week, switching off and recharging your own batteries.
Nyakane has played 672 minutes of rugby this season – not the most by far – but has been part of every match day squad in the tournament this season at an average of 52 minutes a game.
The Bulls have been plagued by their own problems – they had two tighthead injuries in Werner Kruger and Marcell van der Merwe at the beginning of the tournament but refused to give SA under-20 prop Dayaan van der Westhuizen a minute of Super Rugby action despite being on the bench twice.
Instead they moved Nyakane to tighthead with a lot of success, and his return to loosehead was just as good.
The Bulls have selected Dean Greyling at loosehead this week, ostensibly to “manage” Nyakane better, even though Morne Mellett is also on tour and could have given Nyakane a rest.
Greyling’s own vulnerabilities have cost the Bulls games this season, but coach Frans Ludeke stubbornly believes in him and recently extended his contract for another three years.
The Bulls problems in terms of transformation are also of their own making, with Van der Westhuizen and fellow prop Andrew Beerwinkel both sitting on the bench without getting onto the field, while off-field promises to the likes of lock Marvin Orie, who signed with the Bulls last year on the promise of Super Rugby action, haven’t been met.
In addition to this Hougaard’s success on the wing has meant that veteran Akona Ndungane hasn’t been in the mix, nor has rising star Travis Ismael. The Bulls by far have the worst transformation record of the five South African franchises and have lost players such as Sampie Mastriet, Courtnal Skosan (Lions) and Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers) in the last year who are playing Super Rugby elsewhere.
The DHL Stormers have also been forced to rest the likes of Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen this season, and in Burger’s case, played him for seven straight games, against SA Rugby’s wishes.
A quick look at the Vodacom Stats app shows that several South African players – including Hougaard, Emirates Lions captain Warren Whiteley, Bulls centre JJ Engelbrecht and Stormers utility back Cheslin Kolbe have all played 1040 minutes this season – in other words every minute of rugby for their franchises, something that must be of concern to the Bok selectors.
Marcel Coetzee is the highest contracted Bok with 1008 minutes.