Five Boks to handle with care

JON CARDINELLI identifies five players who must be managed carefully for the sake of the Boks as well as their franchises.

In 2013, All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick hit approximately 1,170 rucks and made 320 tackles. Retallick spent an estimated 760 hours on the training pitch, played 792 minutes for the All Blacks, and 18 games for the Chiefs.

This information was relayed in the latest edition of NZ Rugby World magazine as part of a bigger article demanding better player management in 2014.

It's interesting to note that the Kiwis are unhappy with the current workload, especially since they have the benefit of a central contracting system which ensures top players aren't overextended at Super Rugby level.

That being the case, spare a thought for South Africa's elite players, who are at the complete mercy of their respective Super Rugby franchises.

Heyneke Meyer recently toured the country to meet with the head coaches. While relationships were strengthened, the Bok coach still doesn't have a say in how much game time a player receives over the course of the Super Rugby competition.

It's unacceptable that the Boks aren't considered the priority in South African rugby. However, when one looks at the nature and length of the Super Rugby competition, it's clear that the franchise coaches cannot expect key players to feature in every league match and still peak at the knockout stage.

Below are but five players who will need to be handled with care over the next few months, for the sake of the Boks, and for the sake of their own team's title hopes.

ADRIAAN STRAUSS (Cheetahs captain and hooker)
Super Rugby games in 2013: 17

Strauss certainly needs to be managed smarter by the Cheetahs. He started in all 16 league matches in 2013, and ran out of steam in that all-important play-off against the Brumbies. He may well be the captain at the central franchise, but the Cheetahs must manage his workload better if they want him firing at the business end of the competition.

JANNIE DU PLESSIS (Sharks tighthead prop)
Super Rugby games in 2013: 16

It came as no surprise when Du Plessis broke down with an injury after the 2013 Currie Cup final. The hard-working prop had been flogged in the preceding Super Rugby competition, featuring in every single league match. He cannot be expected to shoulder the same workload in 2014.

JEAN DE VILLIERS (Stormers captain and centre)
Super Rugby games in 2013: 14

Last season, De Villiers missed just two of the Stormers' matches (because of injury), and featured in every Test for the Boks. It's a minor miracle that he survived for so long, and his coaches at the Stormers should be wary of pushing their luck in 2014. A serious injury would not only be a blow to the Boks, but to the Stormers' title ambitions as well.

Super Rugby games in 2013: 10

Vermeulen is another one of those players who coaches are reluctant to rest. The hard-hitting No 8 started 10 consecutive games in 2013 before succumbing to injury, and missing the rest of the Stormers' campaign. While he is irreplaceable, he must be saved for the bigger clashes and geared to peak in the play-offs.

WILLEM ALBERTS (Sharks flank)
Super Rugby games in 2013: 5

Alberts battled with injuries during the first half of 2013, and thus didn't feature in as many games. He fought back to become one of the Boks' most valuable players on the end-of-year tour to Europe, although the point made by Meyer regarding his playing style and potential for injury is as relevant as ever. A physical player like Alberts is always going to walk that line, and so to expose him to fewer matches is to decrease his chances of injury. Really, does he need to be playing against the likes of the Lions, Highlanders, and Rebels this year, or should he be saved for the clashes of Test proportions? It's a question that should be asked of all the aforementioned players. The answer is pretty obvious.

Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

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Jon Cardinelli