The Cats take on the Sharks in two warm-up fixtures this evening, the fifth pre-season encounter of the season for Frans Ludeke’s side.
The talk emerging from the Cats camp througout the last few weeks has focused on refining combinations and ensuring the side starts the competition in full stride.
It has translated into the most intensive pre-season schedule of any South African side, with some players having up to 350 minutes of rugby in the legs already.
“We started off with the Bulls, and felt we were a little bit underdone,” Ludeke explained to keo.co.za. “We were not happy with how we performed against the Spears, our combinations were not settled and there was consensus that additional games against the Pumas and Falcons would be beneficial. Overall I feel everything has worked out nicely. The only way to get a good 50 is between the wickets, so hopefully the fact that we’ve played a lot of games will work for us.”
The Joburg franchise’s first opponents, the Stormers, have pursued a contrasting policy. With the exception of Boland centre Piet van Zyl, every member of the squad has played a maximum of 80 minutes. Coach Kobus van der Merwe and his management team opted to name two almost entirely different sides for warm-ups against the Bulls (44-13 loss) and Spears (75-3 win).
The argument in favour of such a policy centres on burn-out. With arguably the most ardeous competition in world rugby ahead, with 13 matches bordering on Test standard, the more rest available to players such as Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger the better.
Whether the sacrifice of combinations gelling and match sharpness is worth it can only be determined on February 11.
Ludeke firmly believes his policy of ensuring the side peaks from week one is correct.
“We have depth in our squad and I’m very confident in rotating our players. We will not suffer from burn-out because we will not just name the same team every week. That is unrealistic. The old ‘horses for courses’ saying will certainly apply.”