The news filtering through from England is that their coach, Eddie Jones, the last of the great tinkerers in world rugby, is already sweating the small stuff ahead of this year’s World Cup in Japan.
Apparently, the England squad try to meet once a week to discuss Japanese culture, go through a few working phrases in the language and, when they go to lunch, make it a point to sample Japanese food.
Long story short, the English side is already acclimatising for Japan while the Springboks – who still have no idea which of their Super Rugby franchises is the best owing to wildly fluctuating results – can only wish they had such First World concerns to address.
Apart from a lack of squad depth across the board, an inconsistent mentality and speculation of questionable coaching, the one thing that seems to have irritated the public the most when it comes to the hot-cold performances in Super Rugby has been the rotation of the Springbok players.
Often it has felt a little like it was done at short notice and haphazardly, but the fact is the standing down periods were all planned, with proof of that being Springboks and Stormers captain Siya Kolisi putting his rest off for a week while on tour in Australia.
The catch for most supporters is that they see a correlation between key Boks being left out of their favourite teams and said sides losing.
Squad depth issues in the South African game are such that the Sharks’ chances of winning without Lukhanyo Am, Beast Mtawarira, Akker van der Merwe, Makazole Mapimpi and Sbu Nkosi are slim, as is the case with a Lions side without Malcolm Marx, Warren Whiteley, Elton Jantjies and Aphiwe Dyantyi.
The Bulls have a similar situation when Schalk Brits, Duane Vermeulen, Handré Pollard and Warrick Gelant are not in tow, as do the Stormers without their front row of Kolisi, Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit.
While the irritation of having Bok coach Rassie Erasmus rest your best players just as your inconsistent team is building momentum is obvious, what we’re all missing from all of this is the rare sight of franchises doing what is in the national team’s interests.
It wasn’t so long that Kolisi travelled to Argentina last year to play a dead rubber against the Jaguares when he should have been resting in preparation for the Rugby Championship.
This year the Super Rugby coaches, some of whom are not guaranteed another year in the job, have stuck strictly to Erasmus’ instructions – a massive step forward in the history of South African rugby.
As a country which has not seen a Super Rugby title in almost nine years, the fact that none of our misfiring teams looks like winning it this year may be assuaged by the fact that resting key Springbok players increase the chances of a Bok World Cup win.
I could be seeing things, but it also looks like the franchises are basing a lot of their play on their forwards, looking to play for territory and building scoreboard pressure by kicking most of their available kicks at goal, with their defence seemingly the same as that used by the Boks.
The Boks’ only chance of winning the World Cup, ahead of teams such as New Zealand, England, Ireland and Wales, lies in how well they prepare, especially with only three official test matches before the World Cup.
It may not quite be immersing themselves in everything Japanese, but aligned thinking like this should help with reducing preparation time.
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