Jean de Villiers has proved himself to be an inspirational captain for both the Stormers and the Springboks, and Heyneke Meyer will want him to lead the team all the way to the next World Cup, but will he and other senior Springboks have the legs to make to the London showpiece in 2015?
Not at the rate they are going, because they are simply playing too much rugby, and one of the solutions is to not force the Boks to play in the latter stages of the Currie Cup after the conclusion of the Rugby Championship.
The norm is that they return for the last couple of games, many play in the semi-finals and final, and then the day after the final in the last week of October, they travel to the northern hemisphere for the end-of-year tour. And they are literally on their last legs.
Last year, De Villiers played in all 17 of the Stormers’ Super Rugby games, all of the Springbok games in June, and then in the Rugby Championship, and then slotted into the Western Province team for the Currie Cup. He broke down with a wear-and-tear hamstring injury and could not play in the final against the Sharks. In that great victory for the Cape side, Bryan Habana broke down with injury and could not tour with the Boks. Andries Bekker suffered a similar fate.
Their bodies had had enough. This year De Villiers played in 14 of the Stormers’ 16 games, and in all of the Springbok games to date. De Villiers is now 32 and if he continues at this rate, he will be just about ready for a wheelchair in 2015, never mind fit and fresh to lead the Boks in the World Cup.
In New Zealand, Richie McCaw is at a similar stage in his career to De Villiers, but he is being looked after. He was sent on holiday for most of Super Rugby, only returning to the Crusaders shortly before the play-offs. In the matches against the Wallabies, he looked like a million dollars.
The big difference between the countries is that the NZRU own the players’ contracts and can dictate to their provinces as to when players should be rested. In South Africa, the provinces contract the players, and you can’t blame them for wanting their pound of flesh from the players they pay.
That is why the Boks always return for the latter stages of the Currie Cup, and it is part of the reason why they are getting worn out.
And many a provincial coach at the conclusion of a Currie Cup has argued that they might have been better off if the star Boks had not returned.
It has not been a criticism that the Boks have not tried to pull their weight when returning to provincial duty, but rather that minds and bodies have just not been there. - The Mercury
The Currie Cup final of 2011 springs to mind. The Sharks’ Springboks came back from New Zealand, gutted after their quarter-final loss to Australia, and then had to play in the Currie Cup.
The Sharks got smashed in the final by a Lions team that had no returning Boks and had fielded the same team throughout the competition. The week before, in the semi-finals, the Lions had beaten a Western Province team packed with jaded Boks. The next year, the Lions came stone last in Super Rugby.
The truth is that the Currie Cup has become a development competition for Super Rugby. There are no Boks available for most of the competition, and there is a host of new players that come under the spotlight.
Coaches learn who is up to Super Rugby level and who is not. Teams forge momentum and team dynamics take shape. Then, at the end, the Boks return and the dynamic is disrupted.
It really would be better for all if the players who do duty for three months in the Currie Cup finish the job, while the Boks are given a chance to rest.