The Springboks head into the international season tomorrow with their opening test against the Wallabies at Loftus. Much of the talk around the Springboks has centered around this so called "Year round season" that they are having. Is that actually the case though? Or have the Springboks quietly gone about their business whilst letting the rest of the rugby world think they are fatigued?
Since South Africa made the move up North, after departing from Super Rugby, there is no deny that a bit of a juggling act has had to take place. The domestic season hasn't quite aligned with our international obligations to our SANZAAR partners for the Rugby Championship nor the traditional incoming tours. One could easily look at this season overlap as well as the long duration of it and arrive at the conclusion that the Boks player resources will be stretched and fatigued by the time the World Cup in France rolls around.
This is far from reality though. Thanks to My Players, the organisation within SARU that looks out for player welfare. They have ensured that no player based in South Africa plays more than 32 games (club and country) in a 12 month period. In addition to this, all players within SARU's control receive a mandatory 8 week rest period which means they're away from the training field for 2 months to rest and reset. So are the players really fatigued?
The locally based players which include numerous front line Boks such as Lukhanyo Am, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Thomas Du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Jaden Hendrikse, Makazole Mapimpi, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Marvin Orie, Joseph Dweba, Herschel Jantjies, Damian Willemse, Manie Libbok, Elrigh Louw, Marco van Staden etc. This is a large group that did get that 8 week period off from late February until the end of April. They then returned to action for a handful of games, with only the Stormers players adding two more as they went all the way to the final.
Then if we look at the Japanese contingent featuring the likes of Marx, Lood, Sous, Kwagga, De Allende, Pieter-Steph, Faf, Jessie and Willie to name a few. They only had a short season to contend with from the start and one that is hardly as taxing as their prior exploits in Super Rugby.
The players who have had the biggest workload will be those from England and France which are a mere few of the total squad with the likes of Reinach, Kolbe, RG, Kleyn, Jasper, Duane and Pollard falling into this category. Most of these guys had injury lay-offs in this time with only Jasper, Reinach and Kleyn carrying a large workload. So why then is there this misperception that the Bok squad is tired?
I strongly believe , and I have said so numerous times on our Pod now, that 2023 is the best build up to any World Cup the Springboks have ever played in. The players rested 8 weeks, played a handful of club games, whilst also attending two Bok alignment camps. They then spent 6 weeks together as a squad in Pretoria (at altitude) training, getting fit and rid of all their niggles and preparing for what is a big season ahead.
No other international side has spent 6 weeks in training already, the All Blacks and Wallabies were still busy with Super Rugby and the Northern Hemisphere sides have only started to gather recently. But to make the case even stronger. The Boks now have the Rugby Championship, with three games that can arguably be seen as finals, to get their mentality right. They then have a further three warm up tests, which culminate with a humdinger at Twickenham against the All Blacks, to fine tune their squad and game plan.
By the time this side hits the ground in France, they will have had an extended rest, followed by an international pre-season of 6 weeks training at altitude and then 6 good and challenging fixtures to get them battle hardened and ready for the fight that will be required in their poll of death which includes Ireland, Scotland and a rejuvenated Tonga. This is going to be an unforgettable season and RasNaber will know that they have all the makings of a winning side at their disposal.