Madness not to rest Bulls’ best

The Bulls have to consider the welfare of their key players when making their team selection for Saturday’s match against the Stormers.

On Monday Matfield indicated on the social networking site Twitter that the Bulls would rest some players. However, he didn’t disclose which players had earned a break.

Momentum can be re-gathered, especially for a side with the calibre of players the Bulls have, but you cannot replace the likes of Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Morné Steyn, the triumvirate most affected by a demanding schedule in the last year, and the players most in need of rest.

Matfield has played every minute of their 12 Super Rugby matches, for a sum total of 960 minutes. Steyn registers 954 minutes, while Du Preez has missed just 72 minutes (injury prior to the Lions game meant he was managed conservatively) of the Bulls’ campaign.

Some would argue that that figure is not exorbitant for elite players in the Super 14, but that argument fails to register their involvement with the Springboks in an expanded 2009 Test season, that they played in the latter stages of the Currie Cup, and the year-end tour.

An eight-week break is recommended as the bare minimum recovery period for elite rugby players, while studies suggest 1600-1800 minutes (the amount differs from individual to individual) to be the absolute maximum a player can manage before he risks a significant drop in performance level and/or serious injury. All three men exceeded that figure in 2009 and are well placed to do so once more in 2010 – all of this without an adequate off-season.

Resting them for the meaningless (from a Bulls perspective) match at Newlands will simply be a maintenance measure, but it’s the very least the Bulls can do for their prime assets.

‘Some would argue that Victor, Fourie and Morné are playing well below the standards they set in 2009, and I think that argument would have some validity,’ professor Tim Noakes, head of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa and consultant to Springbok coach Jake White in the lead up to the World Cup in 2007, told keo.co.za.

‘In my opinion they’ve exceeded their threshold, and it’s testament to their natural brilliance that they are even competitive this season. Lesser players would be completely incapable of competing at the level they are. Imagine the standards they’d be setting if they were managed properly. Victor was quoted as saying he has stopped most of his physical (cardiovascular and strength) training and only plays games. If that is the measures he is taking now, how will he cope in the international season?

‘They’re pushing their bodies to the absolute limit, resting them for the Stormers game is essential. It won’t reverse the effects of prolonged stress on the body, but it will rejuvenate them in the short term.’

If the Bulls make the Super 14 final this year, Matfield, Du Preez and Steyn would likely have played 49, 51 and 54 matches each in a year respectively (the majority of which they would have played 80 minutes in). A strong argument can be made for resting other senior players like Wynand Olivier, Pierre Spies, Gary Botha, Gurthrö Steenkamp and young flank Dewald Potgieter.

‘The players I’ve spoken to have conceded that they are exhausted, but have said their hands are tied because they are paid by their unions,’ Noakes continued.

‘That’s not a healthy situation. There has to be a greater awareness of and appreciation for a player’s well-being otherwise we are in danger of destroying one of the best generations of players in South African history.’

Noakes also noted fatigue in New Zealand’s elite, and warned that they along with South Africa were handing the initiative to Australia ahead of the Tri-Nations.

‘Look at Dan Carter; he’s nowhere near the form we have become accustomed to. The same applies to Richie McCaw, while others like Mils Muliaina and Sitiveni Sivivatu, to name but a few, have broken down with injuries.

‘Watch out for Australia because they don’t play nearly as many games as South Africans and New Zealanders do (Australia doesn’t have a domestic competition like the Currie Cup or New Zealand Cup). We’re giving them an advantage, which is frustrating because they aren’t better players.’

By Ryan Vrede