The careful management of key Springboks during the Vodacom Super Rugby campaign is a victory for common sense.
On Monday, Saru CEO Jurie Roux announced a deal which will see key Springboks scale back their playing time in Super Rugby, with a view to them arriving at the World Cup in better condition than they would have had they been asked to contest every game of their respective franchise's campaign.
The press release described the agreement as 'ground breaking', which it really isn't. It was the obvious thing to do if the interests of your national team at rugby's global showpiece are to be protected. Nonetheless, it's a triumph for common sense and one that will undoubtedly amplify the Springboks' potency in England.
I've had very little professional interaction with Roux, but while we have different points of view on critical issues, I've always sensed he is a player-centered leader and their welfare has informed most of his professional decisions. My understanding is that he has supported coach Heyneke Meyer's drive for the decision in discussion and campaigned tirelessly to make it happen.
Meyer, who has for some time tried to push for central contracting of top Boks, will also feel more confident of his team's chances at the World Cup. I wrote last week that there was a strong possibility that at least two of the team's key players would miss the tournament through injuries resulting directly from being overplayed in Super Rugby. That scenario is significantly more unlikely now, although catastrophic injuries sustained in the normal course of play are still possibilities.
I can't imagine the franchise coaches being thrilled about the deal. In a result-driven environment where their jobs are on the line, it's understandable they would be reluctant to part with their key players for any match, let alone a prolonged period of time. On the surface, the structure of the deal looks to be one where they've agreed to the bare minimum rest periods. After all, five consecutive matches, combined with training and, during the tour phase, extensive travel, is still extremely taxing on the body.
This type of deal is likely to be a norm going forward in a World Cup year, but the reality is that if it were in place permanently, the Springboks and franchises laden with Springboks, would benefit greatly. At present, it improves the Springboks' chances at the World Cup, a tournament that comes around every four years and one in which a momentary lapse means you're on the plane home the next day. Why not always strengthen their cause and give them the best chance of dominating in the cycle between World Cups and at the tournament itself?
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