Stormers to gamble on Bok skipper

It's crazy to risk Jean de Villiers for a mere Vodacom Super Rugby fixture, but then sanity has rarely factored into the Stormers' player management, writes JON CARDINELLI.

De Villiers told reporters on Wednesday that he is carrying a shoulder injury, and that several other Stormers players are battling niggles. The Stormers captain said that the players would have to fight through the pain this Saturday for the sake of a team that desperately needs a win after three consecutive defeats.

It was a startling admission, and yet another indictment on the Stormers coaching staff.

If the Stormers coaches are truly in charge, then why are they pushing De Villiers, the most important player with regards to South Africa's 2014 and 2015 Test ambitions, to play when he is not fully fit and susceptible to further injury?

The Stormers management can't defend these selections by stating that the players want to play. A player should never make the final call on his own fitness, at least not with regards to a Super Rugby league match.

It is the coach's responsibility to manage the players accordingly, to ensure they don't burn out or break down as a result of fatigue before the Super Rugby play-off stages.

Even some of the most experienced players want to play every week, despite the fact that sports scientists, Professor Tim Noakes for one, believe that the human body cannot function at optimum for 16 league games in a row. To push the physical limit is to court disaster. To push a player who is already carrying a niggle is madness.

De Villiers started in 14 Super Rugby matches last year, and 12 Tests. He also featured in three Currie Cup games for Western Province, and in the exhibition game between the Barbarians and Fiji.

You could understand why he would push himself to play through the pain for the Springboks, as he was, at that stage, an irreplaceable leader. It's been less clear why he soldiered on for the Stormers and WP, as this jeopardised his availability for the possible Super Rugby play-off matches, and for the Test season as well.

That he survived for much of the 2013 season is something of a miracle. But make no mistake, his body endured a hammering.

Bok fans will be holding their breath this Saturday when De Villiers starts against the Reds. The question that needs to be asked is whether De Villiers needs to play when he is carrying a shoulder injury.

If it was the Super Rugby play-offs, you could understand his selection. But in the final match of a disastrous tour, where so many other first-choice players are missing, starting a partially-fit De Villiers cannot be justified.

The Stormers have overplayed many of their key players in recent years. The likes of Duane Vermeulen and Andries Bekker have broken down on numerous occasions following extended exposure. The Stormers have gone on to miss those players in the latter stages of Super Rugby, and the question that has often been asked is: Could this have been avoided had the management used some common sense?

A player cannot play every minute of every match over the course of a Super Rugby season. And if, like Bekker, the player has a chronic back injury, he must be managed accordingly.

The Bok captain, of all people, should not be expected to play on week after week, and certainly not with a niggle.

The counter-argument will be that the Stormers need De Villiers now more than ever, that they are fighting for their season in Saturday's match against the Reds. But if De Villiers goes down in Brisbane and becomes the latest player to be sidelined for a lengthy period, it will impact on the Stormers and the Boks. The Stormers will be weaker for the long-term loss of their captain. So too the Boks.

And the question will be asked yet again: Could this have been avoided? It's sad that so many, aside from the men at the helm of the Stormers, already know the answer.

It may be science, but it's not rocket science.

Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

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Jon Cardinelli