World Cup the Boks’ priority

Peter de Villiers needs to rest his top players next November and forget about any Grand Slam ambitions.

A fixture between Ireland and South Africa has already been scheduled for 6 November 2010 to open the new Lansdowne Road. At present, further fixtures against Scotland, Wales and England are being considered, and failing that, the Scotland fixture may be scrapped for an extra game against Wales.

The schedule is yet to be confirmed but you have to wonder what the Boks, in their full-strength form, could hope to gain from such a tour. It’s true that a Grand Slam would be a remarkable accolade to capture ahead of the tournament in New Zealand, and would mark yet another magnificent achievement for the senior members of this already decorated side. South Africa has failed on their two previous attempts at the Grand Slam (in 1998 and 2004), and the last time the Boks beat all four home unions was back in 1960-61.

The real question is one of priority. Do the Boks, after another taxing year of Super Rugby, the Tri-Nations and Currie Cup, need to be embarking on a testing tour north? Should they be putting their bodies on the line just 10 months out from the World Cup?

If the Grand Slam was more important, then the answer would be yes. De Villiers would also have to place his Tri-Nations ambitions on the back-burner and manage players with the aim of taking his top team to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

In reality, the World Cup is still king, and De Villiers will need to manage players to ensure they are fresh for that tournament. The most recent tour to Europe highlighted the Bok stars’ need for rest, and no matter what money is promised, Saru and the Bok management need to realise that a World Cup triumph trumps all.

Jake White left many of his top players at home when the Boks toured Ireland and England in 2006, and left his whole first-string team in South Africa for the away leg of the Tri-Nations. You can’t find fault with the planning when the result is a World Cup win in France. The Boks were fresh and hungry, and finished unbeaten in that 2007 tournament. One of the stars of the competition, Frans Steyn, was also unearthed on that 2006 tour.

The 2010 Tri-Nations should be a priority and the subsequent end-of-year tour an opportunity to give the fringe players a run. Forget the money that comes with taking the world champions on a Grand Slam tour. Defending the crown in New Zealand is all that matters.

It’s yet to be decided, but whether the powers that be opt for a three-match tour or all-out Grand Slam is irrelevant. De Villiers has spoken about fatigue and man-management, and that November period where top players should be granted a rest.

What the recent tour also highlighted was a lack of depth, and the Bok coaching staff has some tough decisions to make in the next 12 months. They didn’t have the guts to experiment against France and Ireland, Tests that were lost regardless, and they’ll need to show more faith in the second-string if South Africa are to head to the World Cup with a competent squad.

By Jon Cardinelli