A recent report suggested that following the contracted Springboks’ conditioning program, Peter de Villiers might reconsider his plans to rest some senior Springboks and include them on the End of the Year tour in November.
All contracted Springboks recently concluded a 4 week conditioning program and as SuperRugby reported, Peter de Villiers was so impressed with the test results that he was quoted in saying that it has given him and his team ‘food for thought for their conditioning process now’, which suggest, he might be considering taking senior Springboks like Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Jaque Fourie, Pierre Spies, Morne Steyn and Bryan Habana on tour.
Captain John Smit has been confirmed to miss the tour due to a recent operation but one of the more important issues raised in the recent Tri-Nations series was the lack of form from players like Habana and Spies and if fatigue might not be an issue.
Dr. Ross Tucker, an expert in Sport Science and Sports Management, told RuggaWorld that Peter de Villiers needs to be very cautious in his assertions and what he is basing his information on.
“One can appreciate the pressure that de Villiers is under, not only to produce results on the end-of-year-tour, but to do so convincingly,” he said.
“Unless you win at least two out of four northern hemisphere test matches convincingly, people will still be unsatisfied. Squeaking wins with last minute penalties will be judged as harshly as defeat. So from that point of view, it’s understandable that he would want to have the very best players available, and the 13 in question are without doubt the fulcrum of a team that would go on to RWC in 2011 with any chance of defending the title.”
There might of course also be a case that Peter de Villiers’ recent review, following a dismal 2010 season for the Springboks, resulted in certain ultimatums being set for him and his coaching team where they are now judged from game-to-game fighting for their survival, rather than being able to plan long term or for the big prize, the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.
“If that is the case, strategically, it will be a very ‘risky’ situation for the Springboks to be in,” Tucker said.
“At best, they win in the UK but risk those players for 2011 – they’ll have barely a month off before an incredibly tough Super 15 season starts, and I can’t see a way back from that.”
Dr. Tucker also warned that Peter de Villiers and his team might be reading too much, or the wrong information from these reconditioning test results.
“The question is whether playing them now improves or worsens the chances of winning in New Zealand next year. And I have no doubt at all that it worsens them,” he said.
“If it was true that those players were “over-reached” or overtrained (and over-played) during the middle part of 2010, and throughout the Tri-Nations, then the four weeks they’ve had off will not have been enough to return them to their normal, optimal state. Sure, they tested well and they set records in certain controlled speed, strength and agility tests, but at best, this is a positive sign of players who are in peak condition, and that’s expected.
“Remember, these players have been playing and training non-stop for months, I would expect very good test results given a four-week break from playing. But to interpret this as a sign of recovery is, in my opinion, only part of the answer.
“The reality is that firstly, there’s a pretty big chasm between succeeding at (reconditioning) tests that last a few seconds and being able to produce maximal effort for 80 minutes, for five consecutive weeks, and secondly, the real question is where the player will be in one, two or four months’ time?
“If those players are in excellent shape now, what steps need to be taken to ensure they are in the same condition when it matters for on-field performance in 2011, especially by July – October 2011? And I can’t see that the answer is to expose them to heavy fields, four weeks of travel and competitive rugby in November.
Professor Tim Noakes, with whom Dr. Tucker has done a lot of work with has also long advocated longer rest periods or a complete break from rugby for a number of weeks to recharge. Dr. Tucker shares the same concerns.
“Again, I hate to compare rugby to sports like athletics or cycling, but in this case, one has to because it’s from those sports that we know much more about overtraining and how the body recovers. And it doesn’t recover in 4 weeks.
“So the conditioning programme that the players have been on may well be helping, which is great. But if it was true that this group of players needed recovery and time off during the season (as de Villiers himself said on more than a few occasions during the Tri-Nations), then four weeks of training is not going to change that situation.
“If a marathon runner or a cyclist has hit that over-training wall, where they suddenly drop off because they’ve raced too often or trained too hard, they must REST COMPLETELY for anything from four weeks to three months, and then rebuild through training. Four weeks off always makes them feel better and perform better, but they’re still very close to falling back off the cliff.”
Apart from the physical concerns over the senior Springboks, the rugby reasoning behind their possible inclusion also leaves a lot to be desired.
Given the poor season the Springboks have experienced this year there might be an argument to get that ‘winning culture’ back again and build momentum into the 2011 international season with a couple of victories under the belt, or have our best players play in conditions which will be pretty similar to New Zealand next year. Dr. Tucker however does not completely buy into that philosophy.
“I disagree – the bulk of the 2007 RWC team is still together, and these are players who have won a World Cup, won in New Zealand, won Super 14s, won in Europe. In short, they’ve won everything, everywhere.
“Our “golden period” from 2007 to 2009 existed because we had pedigreed players, and the team is still at that level. Matfield, Botha, Burger and Smit don’t need to learn how to win together, they know.
“What is far more important, in my estimation, is that the players who we know we’re going to rely on in 2011 are able to start 2011 in a completely rested state. No injuries, no burn-out, and definitely not optimal fitness. If those players are in great condition now, they won’t be in June 2011 – you cannot stay at the peak for that long.”
One obviously cannot expect a bunch of youngsters to go on tour and make an impact, but even if we rest 7 or 8 of our senior Springboks who are in obvious need of it, South Africa has the talent to challenge for a Grand Slam crown where, like in 2006, another Francois Steyn might even be identified.
Of course all this comes down to the situation De Villiers finds himself in now, where external pressures to perform might have him grasp at any positive sign or result such as the reconditioning tests. But to ignore what is obvious might do Springbok rugby as a whole more harm in the long term when De Villiers might not even be around as a coach, and we can only hope that he sees this and lives by his promise that he will always put Springbok rugby first.
RuggaWorld would as always, like to thanks Dr. Tucker for taking time out to chat to us. You can find out more about Dr. Tucker and his work on his website http://www.sportsscientists.com/