Professor Tim Noakes says players will struggle when the new Super 15 format is implemented in 2011.
Noakes is one of the most respected names in the world of sports science and has worked in close proximity with various Springbok teams including Jake White’s World Cup-winning side of 2007.
The professor believes the new Super Rugby format will put even greater emphasis on resting and rotating players, particularly those that are candidates for Springbok selection.
‘Well, it’s now very clear that the most important members of the squad will be the medical support team,’ Noakes told keo.co.za. ‘Those teams that don’t understand the proper rest and recovery periods of their players are going to get blown out of the competition – 20 Springboks or not.
‘It will be all about how you manage your players because the season [from 2011] will be far too demanding. If you don’t have a proper medical support team and you don’t listen to science you’ll be dead in the water.
‘The bottom line is that they have to play this amount of rugby and the teams that can manage it the best will be the most successful.’
Noakes believes South African coaches have a tendency to do things backwards by building game plans around key players. He says teams should rather put in place a game plan or an approach to the game which any player can slot into therefore reducing the team’s dependence on its star players.
‘Where we fall down in this country is we put far too much store in individual players and we fail to look at the greater team and how they interact,’ says Noakes. ‘We seem to think that if you choose the 15 best players that’s the best team, and that isn’t always the case. These are complex ideas but teams are not simply made up of 15 individuals.
‘We have to get to the stage where a coach can put in different players and have the team perform just as well as if they had all their star players. To be successful, coaches will need to identify more then one key player in different positions.’
The new Super Rugby format will see teams playing a minimum of 16 games and a maximum of 19. Add that to the June Tests, six Tri-Nations clashes, the November Tests and four or five rounds of the Currie Cup and some Boks could be playing well in excess of 30 competitive games in a season – far too many in Noakes’s opinion.
‘Our research has shown that once players start playing more then 20 games a year they are in trouble. The peak seems to be around 23 or 24 games. That is what you can sustain year on year. Not one player has played 30 games a year without getting injured.
‘Once these players get up to 30 games a year, the next year is a disaster. If you ask players to play a minimum of 16 Super Rugby games and all those Test matches they are going to last one season [before getting injured].
‘Coaches are going to have to realise that what they’ve done in the past is out the window. The laws don’t apply, you can’t expect your players to have played 20 games by the end of the Super 15 and then perform at their peak for the remainder of the year.
‘Players will have to be rotated and then the question is how do you rotate and still be successful?’
Noakes speaks regularly with Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and admits the two have been pulling their hair out over this season and the Lions tour in particular.
‘I predicted back in December that, just through natural attrition, eight players would miss out on the Lions tour. What happened, fortunately, was a couple of them got injured a month or two before the tour. But we’ve had at least eight key players who have been injured this year.
‘We’ll be looking at the data we have from our studies with Peter, but it can clearly be seen that the players who play more then 24 games will eventually get injured.
As a result of the lack of rest, Noakes believes players are subconsciously starting to take matters into their own hands.
‘What I believe is starting to happen is that players now regulate themselves and get injured when it’s convenient. It might sound strange but it is not inconceivable to me that the brain says that’s it and they get injured.’
By Andrew Worling