JOHANNESBURG - A word of warning South Africa: Don’t expect fireworks from the Springboks in the upcoming Rugby Championship.
And the reason is simple; the bulk of the players Allister Coetzee is going to push onto the field are physically and mentally finished. Plain and simple.
There is plenty of optimism among many rugby supporters about the Boks’ chances in this year's Rugby Championship because of the team’s decent showing in June against France, but the reality is New Zealand, Australia and Argentina will all be better than France were. Yes, even the Wallabies and Pumas will pose more questions of the Boks than the French did who, let’s be honest, were hardly up for the contest in June.
But what should be more worrying for Coetzee and his coaching team - and the fans - is that the Boks might just be their own worst enemy over the coming weeks.
Over the next eight weekends Coetzee’s men will play six Tests - against some of the best teams in the business - and at some stage the heavy workload, and mental and physical demands on the players will come back to bite the team.
The bulk of Coetzee’s team will be made up of Lions players; seven likely starters to be exact - Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies, Courtnall Skosan and Andries Coetzee. That is if the coach sticks with the majority of the players who did duty in June, and there’s no reason to think he won’t. He’s already said that players have to play themselves out of the team rather than outsiders playing themselves in.
So, with all these Lions players in the side - men who have given so much, mentally and physically, to the Lions’ Super Rugby cause over the last six weeks - how, and why, should we expect them to now just keep firing for the Boks?
Why were these men not given the whole of last week off - following the Lions’ defeat in the Super Rugby final? They’d been tested on all fronts in the playoffs, and after defeat in the final, would surely have been drained of all energy and oomph. Yet, they were required to be chipper and on top form in Bok training just three days after the Super Rugby final. That’s not fair.
Whether they trained at full capacity or not with their fellow Bok teammates in Port Elizabeth last week is not the point. Those Lions players needed a full week’s break from the game ... if only to recharge their hunger for rugby after a trying few weeks - physically and emotionally, following the departure of their coach Johan Ackermann.
We like to talk about player welfare in South Africa and how we need to ensure that the players get more rest; well, the management of the Lions players last week was not very encouraging. Most of those men were also heavily involved in the series against France in June and played virtually every Super Rugby game during the Lions’ run to the final (18 in total) ... so how fresh are they?
Something’s going to give somewhere, that’s for sure. Maybe Coetzee opts to rest some of his Lions players for some of the games coming up, but that makes little difference because those men still have to train, still have to travel and still have to be switched on.
At least some of the Bok squad members had some time off after Super Rugby; the Lions players had none ... and they’re largely the ones around which the side is built. The next eight weeks will show us just how important good quality rest is ... or not getting any at all.