The Springboks have much to do if they’re to hit their conditioning targets before the World Cup. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Last week, the extended training group was subject to a series of gruelling fitness tests. The results confirmed that very few players in the elite squad are up to the desired standard. It's a reason for concern with the World Cup starting in just 10 weeks.
The Bok coaching staff has their work cut out for them. They have been done few favours by the five South African franchises with regards to player management and conditioning over the past six months.
In a sense, this Bok group will be playing catch-up in the weeks leading up to the first pool game against Japan on 19 September. The Bok coaching staff have to ensure the team is up to standard going into that tournament, and thus in a position to peak in the play-off stage.
Of course, Heyneke Meyer and his lieutenants will have to strike the right balance in this period. Some players will spend the bulk of the next 10 weeks on a strict conditioning programme, while others returning from injuries need game time if they are to improve on their match sharpness.
As stand-in captain Victor Matfield confirmed last week, the Boks worked hard on their conditioning in the buildup to the friendly against the World XV. The Boks won that game by a comfortable margin, but the composite side did not test the South Africans’ fitness and intensity levels.
That fitness will be put to the test over the next fortnight. They will also face the added challenge of traversing the Indian Ocean twice in the space of a week. The Boks may well beat Australia in Brisbane and then New Zealand in Johannesburg, but nobody should expect the players to be at the peak of their physical powers in those clashes.
The 31-man squad selected to tour Australia is the strongest available to Meyer, and you would expect the same players to feature in the Test against New Zealand. Thereafter, Meyer will place the majority of that group on a conditioning programme with a view to the World Cup. The best players in that group will focus on improving their fitness levels, and won’t be risked for the two games against Argentina.
That said, a few select players will need game time. Fourie du Preez hasn’t played much rugby this year due to a knee injury, and could feature in the matches against Argentina. With some luck, Willem Alberts could also be back for those clashes in Durban and Buenos Aires. Meyer, however, didn’t sound particularly optimistic when asked about Alberts last week.
While Jean de Villiers made a successful return to the playing field this past Saturday, he still has some way to go before he is physically ready to resume his Test career. Meyer will hope that De Villiers's knee holds up in the next two games for Western Province, and that the Bok captain can be reintroduced to Test rugby in August.
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