Erasmus: SA players needed game time

Rassie Erasmus says it’s of the utmost importance for players to continue banking game time in order to be ready for the British & Irish Lions series, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

During a wide-ranging virtual media conference on Monday, South Africa’s director of rugby endeavoured to update the media and public about the state of the game after a tumultuous 2020, while painting a picture of the way forward.

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After the Springboks pulled out of the Rugby Championship last year, the 2019 champs did come in for some criticism from outsiders who questioned the decision to opt against sending a team to Australia.

Touching once again on this subject, Erasmus explained that scientific player-welfare advice stipulated that there was a need for players to have at least 400 minutes of game time under the belt before heading into Test action.

Listing a sequence of players, Erasmus highlighted how Springbok stars such as Pieter-Steph du Toit, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert and Malcolm Marx have all played less than 100 minutes since last August.

The likes of Willie le Roux, Handre Pollard and Makazole Mapimpi and Jesse Kriel have played under 200 minutes, while Kwagga Smith and Thomas du Toit are under 300.

The list goes on, with a number of World Cup winners either below the 400-minute benchmark or just over.

‘Out of the squad of 40 players that we would have wanted to take to the Rugby Championship, there were still about half who would not have played 400 minutes. I also don’t think that not playing in the Rugby Championship will influence our next Tests. How you played last year won’t affect form in the Lions series for example, that’s impossible.

‘But I am worried that a lot of our guys came straight out of lockdown and when they got into action, they were injured straight away, like Handre and RG.’

Erasmus explained that it was critical to understand the context and consequences of South Africa’s hard lockdown in 2020, which meant players were unable to run, train or conduct any meaningful drills while confined to their homes for months.

It’s the reason SA Rugby arranged the Green and Gold Springbok Showdown, while they have pushed ahead with an immensely challenging domestic season that ran over the festive period.

‘During the whole season, out of an average squad of 15, there were 8% positive [Covid-19] tests, which is about four players weekly. That was during a quiet time. At the peak, it went up to 20%, which was about 10 players per team. Out of 44, there were five cancelled games, which really isn’t a lot,’ Erasmus said.

READ: Erasmus praises teams’ perseverance in unusual season

In recent weeks and due to the second wave of Covid-19, Erasmus added that there had been great co-operation from the franchises to postpone the Currie Cup semi-finals, while he said the final would take place even if it were required to push it back a day or two.

The bigger picture is fixed on ensuring the current crop of players continue to make up for lost time as the Springboks continue to prepare for the British & Irish Lions series.

‘We’re monitoring the players very closely, we’re on top of every minute of play, analysing every facet of their games. We know exactly where they are, and that’s why we’ve pushed through the Christmas period because we really need them to get game time.’

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Craig Lewis