Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus says he is mindful of ensuring that each player in the squad gets enough game time in the Rugby Championship before their World Cup campaign.
The Boks begin their road to the World Cup against the Wallabies in Johannesburg on 20 July. In a shortened Rugby Championship the Boks will play just three matches before their friendlies against Argentina and Japan. With three weeks left until their Championship opener, it will be a challenge to ensure that every player is fully fit going into the World Cup.
That has been something which has hampered the Springboks in previous World Cups, particularly in 2015 when they struggled to keep up with the match tempo in their historic tournament-opening loss against Japan in Brighton.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Erasmus admitted that he will have to do a bit of juggling with the composition of his squad in the Rugby Championship, particularly as senior players such as Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit will be coming back from injury and will need a good amount of time under their belts.
‘In the first two games, it will be a challenge playing on the Saturday against Australia, then flying out [to New Zealand] on the Sunday and only getting there on a Tuesday morning,’ Erasmus said.
‘We will probably mix up the first two games in terms of personnel. Saying that, it won’t necessarily be an A or a B side. There are a few guys that need game time. Pieter-Steph du Toit hasn’t played in six or seven weeks. If Siya was fit he would be one of those guys as well. Eben Etzebeth hasn’t played for a while. A lot of the overseas-based players haven’t played in a while.
‘We can’t just take a “first-choice” team to New Zealand because those guys wouldn’t have played in a while. So we are going to juggle the squad in terms of how we split the two teams playing against Australia and New Zealand to make sure both teams are competitive.
‘The positives outweigh the negatives. We have almost had a little bit of a pre-season, almost a month together like a [Vodacom] Super Rugby pre-season. We have three conditioning weeks and then a Test match week. That is a big positive for us. We can really drill in a lot of stuff which you normally can’t do. If you just think about last year, before we played England we had the Wales Test match; we almost had only 280 minutes of training time. We have now almost had a week and a half of training with close to the whole group.
‘The flip side is that you don’t get a lot of game time, especially with the guys that are coming back from injury. We are trying to simulate match intensity a lot.
‘The team that flies to New Zealand, if they have not got much game time, they may be a good side on paper but they will be running out at Wellington without really being match fit. That is going to be the challenge. That is why the make-up of how we juggle with the player management is going to be a bit of a challenge. These three weeks are going to give us a good chance to get them up to fitness levels.
‘We will be a little bit underplayed. In the middle of the Super Rugby, everybody said our guys were overplayed. Because we haven’t gone too far into the playoffs, we might be a little underplayed. Some of the overseas guys finished four weeks ago, so it is something we need to manage.’
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