Conditioning plan requires revision

JON CARDINELLI says that while several of the contracted Springboks need game time, the rest deserve an extended break from rugby.

Twenty Boks are set for a four-week conditioning programme and won’t be available for their Currie Cup teams until the final round of competition. That’s right, after seven months of Super Rugby and Tests, the battle-weary John Smit, Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw, Pierre Spies, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Schalk Burger and Jaque Fourie will be put through the grinder on the training paddock.

The decision to push through with a conditioning programme at this stage is questionable. What are the benefits? The Boks were off the pace in the Tri-Nations, so perhaps the medical team wants to up their fitness levels. Perhaps they want to condition these elite players for a special kind of game they’re planning to implement in 2011.

Fitness won’t be a priority given that most of the senior players will be rested over the end-of-year tour. That it could be a conditioning programme that develops new skills is also unlikely. Sports scientists say a new drill needs to be repeated 1 000 times before it can be absorbed and performed in a game situation. And the eggheads confirm that you can’t teach players new skills when they’re dog-tired.

The Boks failed miserably in the Tri-Nations, but they’re not robots. They shouldn’t be punished with a conditioning programme that, at this point, may do harm than good. Men like Smit and Matfield should be granted an extended break after which time they should be placed on a programme designed to benefit them in the middle-term (the Super 15) and long-term (the 2011 World Cup).

Rest them now, and develop a programme that will have long-term benefits. Don’t bring them back for the last rounds of the Currie Cup, and (as the Bok coach is likely to do) leave them at home over the Grand Slam tour.

The decision to implement a four-week programme instead of a more extensive conditioning system is flawed. There needs to be a drive to develop the fitness and conditioning of the contracted Boks with the World Cup in mind. And if you hope to lift the standard of fitness and conditioning, you’re going to need more than one month.

Time and inter-provincial politics are the major stumbling blocks for the Bok conditioning team. It’s no new affliction. Neels Liebel’s predecessor, Derick Coetzee, had the same problems during Jake White’s tenure.

There isn’t a complete buy-in when it comes to conditioning players in this country, as every union has its own ideas. The Bok conditioning coach has minimal time to work with players outside of managing injuries, and herein lies the problem.

It’s also questionable to sideline Boks who have played only a handful of games in 2010.

Bakkies Botha has played very little rugby this year because of injury and suspension. Bismarck du Plessis is starting to find some form after missing the Test season because of a neck problem. These two players would be better served playing in the Currie Cup before they concentrate on conditioning in the off-season.

Some Boks are played into the ground, while others aren’t allowed sufficient game time. There also seems to be no long-term plan geared towards extracting the best from these players, and this problem stems from the fact that there is no universal conditioning programme across the five franchises.

Until one of these is implemented, the Boks will continue to languish behind New Zealand and Australia in the conditioning department.

Follow JC on Twitter

Follow SA Rugby mag on Twitter