Peter de Villiers says the fans’ desire to watch his senior players was the main reason for not resting them for the Boks’ final Tri-Nations Test.
After Saturday’s 44-31 win over Australia at Loftus, De Villiers was at pains to highlight how John Smit, Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana have already well exceeded the optimum playing time of between 1 400 and 1 600 minutes per season. Matfield and Smit were never going to be rested with all the fanfare of their 100th Tests over the past two weekends, but another dead-rubber Test in Bloemfontein provided a chance to grant them a deserved break.
The trio were again at Bok training on Monday however, and even though Smit and Habana especially are off form and look mentally and physically jaded, they are set to add to their playing time.
‘There was no temptation to rest players,’ said De Villiers. ‘I have to weigh up two things and I have to look for the perfect balance. I look at what the people want, and what they want to pay for when watching a Test. These are their heroes and they deserve to watch them. We also have to question when we will come back to Bloemfontein before the World Cup for a Test and when they’ll see them again.
‘The main point is, what are the little things I can do during the week to freshen them up so that they can go for 60 minutes on Saturday and make an impact. It’s not just about selecting a side and letting them play. It’s about considering the team’s role-players, and I consider the fans to be one of the most important of those.’
De Villiers’ ploy to freshen up the players since last year’s November tour and also during this year’s Tri-Nations has been to give the players additional rest days or have low-intensity training sessions. Monday’s practice fell into the latter category as it lasted one hour and consisted of some skills drills, lineouts and kicking between the backs.
De Villiers’ comments that the public want to watch players who are off-form and are not at their peak must also be questioned, as there were still gaping holes in the stands at Loftus even though he selected his strongest side of the year. Smit’s form has been spiralling since the start of the international season, and his waning playing ability was highlighted by Chiliboy Ralepelle’s influence in the final quarter.
Matfield lived up to expectations in his 100th Test, but Habana’s return to Pretoria saw his confidence dip to new lows as he played a full 80 minutes.
Despite De Villiers missing the opportunity to use the home-leg of the Tri-Nations to inject fresh life into the team via on-form Currie Cup players, he believes his plan is working.
‘If you take these past two games together, they provided a good platform for what we’re trying to achieve. If you add each stone on top of the other, it must be about reaching our goals until next year’s World Cup.’
By Grant Ball, in Bloemfontein