The further expansion of Super Rugby will result in the Springboks' potency being seriously compromised, writes RYAN VREDE.
Watching the Springboks decimate Scotland was a joy. The scoreline reflected the Springboks' vast superiority over the tourists, both in personnel and in coaching. It is one of those Mondays we celebrate the team. Indeed Mondays of that order have been commonplace in recent history. But for how long will the whooping endure?
Last week Heyneke Meyer lamented the Springboks' extensive injury list, which includes world-class talent like Pat Lambie, Eben Etzebeth and Jean de Villiers. In the lead up to the Port Elizabeth Test he also noted that the players at his disposal were suffering from a level of fatigue he'd never seen. Against that background their performances in the mid-year series is doubly impressive.
In the lead-up to the Test-season-opening press conference I asked Meyer how he thought the expansion to an 18-team format in 2016 would affect Springbok players. He declined to comment, saying: 'I don't want to get into trouble.' The message was veiled but clear. He isn't a fan, and privately is deeply concerned for the welfare of the players and by extension the potency of the team. It will surely be the assassin to the already wounded Springboks.
The New Zealand and Australian rugby unions drove the expansion process forward with gusto, the former safe in the knowledge that they would be able to manage their marquee players through the authority their central contracting system offers. The South African authorities were in favour of the expansion as well. I know this because Saru CEO Jurie Roux detailed his plan for expansion of a similar kind to the finalised 2016 format to me in an Edinburgh pub in 2012.
Saru's suits will argue the point vehemently, but once again the lucrative broadcast deal and its effect in swelling their coffers has trumped the need to protect the well being of their prime assets.
My understanding is that the issue of central contracting is off the table in South Africa, rejected out of hand by the provincial unions who would be affected. Their position won't change in the coming years. The revised format will be particularly taxing on South African players, who will be required to play more brutal local derbies (I've yet to see New Zealand or Australian derbies consistently match South African ones for physicality) and contend with additional travel to Argentina. That travel schedule could be bumped up if an additional team, to be named after a tender process, comes from Japan.
Under these conditions you should get used to watching a Springbok side regularly missing some of the best and most important players through injury, or watching others struggle on through with bodies and battered by the demands of Super Rugby.
Ready yourself to see young players like Johan Goosen, Arno Botha, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit play out their Test careers in the stands and being robbed of the pleasure of watching established ones like Duane Vermeulen and Bismarck du Plessis because they are cut down through serious injury. Second and third-string Springbok sides will become a depressing norm and with it the failure to unseat New Zealand as the world's best team and to dominate in the four-year cycle between the World Cup.
Japan will become an evermore appealing option to some of the Springboks' main men, with the remainder moving north to Europe where the exchange rate makes enduring their tough schedule more worthwhile.
I don't believe this view to be pessimistic. On the evidence of what I've seen over the last two and half seasons, I believe it to be an accurate forecast of what is to come. That is unless there is a player-driven resistance. Yet even this looks unlikely, which perplexes me.
The outlook is bleak.
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