Form must be deciding factor

Keo, in his News24 column, writes that Currie Cup form players have to dominate the Boks end of year tour selections.

Unless Jake White has a change of heart and selects players primarily from the Currie Cup, several of the Boks who play Ireland and England will not have played a first class match for more than two months.

White’s motivation in withdrawing his contracted Springboks from the Currie Cup was to ensure there would be no fatigue at the end of year tour. The blanket withdrawal was controversial and came with a double edged sword. There would be rest, but at what price?

Will this be the first end of year tour for some time in which a Bok coach bemoans the lack of game time from his players? Will White be preparing the public not to expect that much from his team in the tour opener in Dublin because his elite have not played much?

To withdraw every nationally contracted player en-masse was a mistake and I am sure if White could have it all over again his strategy would be more in keeping with All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who reintroduced all his Test players into the New Zealand domestic competition over a period of five weeks. Henry felt it essential his players got a break from the game, but that they also played in the build-up to the end of year tour.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is the last of the big names to return this weekend in the domestic quarter-finals, while Dan Carter made his comeback a week ago after three weeks off. The big difference with their ‘getting away from the game’ is that that is exactly what they did when not required to play for their province.

Carter spoke of watching Canterbury play from the comfort of his lounge when they lost the Ranfurly Shield to North Harbour. No player was in a national camp or on a special national conditioning programme.

Henry’s emphasis on the rest was more mental. White’s was to boost the physical side of the player by not having them play. Ordinarily White may have had a point. In the past the Boks have played the Currie Cup final in the last week of October and a fortnight later they’ve been playing Test rugby in the northern hemisphere.

However, this time the final is on October 14 and the first Test against Ireland is on November 11. That’s nearly a full month for the players to prepare following the strains of the domestic competition.

Taking contact, in a match situation, is a vital component of the end of year tour preparation. The South African senior players on contract have known no such thing. The closest they’ve come to the game is warming their provincial benches to provide moral support.

We are told the contracted players now know how to order room service in French and thank the hotel porter with confidence. There will also be more brashness when flirting with the hotel receptionist, courtesy of their French lessons. We can also assume the contracted Bok players who go on tour will be stronger because they’ve been exclusively on conditioning and strength programmes for the last month. So, in the event of the English bashing the Boks again, White can’t tell the public that it was a case of English men against South African boys and that our guys aren’t physical or big enough.

White used this as an excuse when the Boks got whipped in 2004. Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger, John Smit and company were supposedly young kids in their physical maturity, just a few months after they put 40 points past the All Blacks in Johannesburg.

If the utterances of White back in 2004 were bizarre, just what can we expect two years later, especially with England’s critics already arguing the Poms are now the boys when it comes to physical superiority?

Before the Boks get to Twickenham there is the small task of winning in Dublin against a settled Irish team, who beat the Boks in 2004.

What kind of combination should tackle Ireland? The best of the Currie Cup with a sprinkling of nationally contracted players would seem a logical option.

Then again it is either brave or incredibly optimistic to think that logic would be applied to that first-up selection. There has been minimal communication about the controversial national gathering that starts on Mondays each week and ends on Thursdays. The camp can’t be too frantic if Bulls lock Victor Matfield has enough time to play lineout coaching specialist to his Bulls provincial colleagues ahead of this weekend’s Currie Cup semi-final at Loftus.

It also can’t be too hectic if the coach could have spent the last 10 days in Mauritius on holiday. No one begrudges White his holiday away with the family, but if White was in need of a break, then surely his players were equally deserving of getting away from it all, instead of being put straight back into the gym after the intensity of a nine-week Tri-Nations campaign.

Once again we are asking more questions about the national set-up than there are answers and once again South Africans will find solace in the hype of the Currie Cup, where a South African team at least gets to win.

Our insular needs will be met in the next fortnight when we’ll convince ourselves the game in this country is healthy on the basis of two Currie Cup semi-final sell-outs and a jam-packed final.

Our comfort is the Currie Cup, but that comfort is temporary because of the inevitable torture of another end of year tour.