The Springboks more than earned a break after defending their World Cup title in France, but some should have been back on the field for their franchises sooner than others, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Sharks coach John Plumtree couldn’t hide his annoyance at a press conference ahead of their first home match of the URC season, against Connacht, which followed four successive tour defeats.
“What’s most frustrating is they’ve put a blanket rule over all the Springboks and their return to play is not individualised,” he said.
“Based on game time at the World Cup and looking at injuries before – if you’re looking at Jaden Hendrikse’s injury that he had in March, he had no rugby before the World Cup – that’s an example of how a blanket rule does not work for a player. He needs to get back in the saddle to get his game going, he’s not going to improve sitting on the sidelines for seven months.
“We understand why the likes of Eben [Etzebeth] and Ox [Nche] need a break as they’ve had a heavy load.”
Plumtree has a point. Why were his two Springbok scrumhalves not available to play against Connacht? Hendrikse got just 65 minutes of game time at the World Cup, off the bench in matches against Romania and Tonga. Grant Williams got 166 minutes, 160 of which were on the wing against Romania and Tonga (he got six minutes off the bench at scrumhalf in the Boks’ first match against Scotland).
For the next three weeks, both players watched the World Cup playoffs from the stands.
The Springboks’ trophy tour took place during round three of the URC, and the two players would have wanted to spend the following weekend with their families. But they should have then been available for selection for a round-five URC match the Sharks were under huge pressure to win.
As Plumtree said, not having a player like Etzebeth available for another couple of weeks was understandable. The Bok lock’s body took a battering during 324 minutes of game time at the World Cup. He delivered a monstrous performance in the quarter-final win against France, the effects of which were evident in the semi-final and final when he was substituted in the third quarter.
But having a blanket rule that prevented the Boks who didn’t play much in France from bolstering their franchises made little sense.
You can’t blame our franchise coaches for being reluctant to sign Springboks, who miss the first few rounds of the URC when on Test duty and are then required by SA Rugby to take breaks during the rest of the tournament. It makes far more business sense for franchises to recruit players who are not in Springbok contention and available for the entire URC campaign.
Of course, the solution to this problem is a global rugby season, with clearly defined international and club windows that do not overlap, and a proper off-season. Until that happens, though, SA franchise coaches have to accept they can’t make full use of their most prized assets and change their recruitment strategy accordingly.
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