JON CARDINELLI says that while Heinrich Brüssow desperately needs game time it would be counterproductive to play him in the Tri-Nations unless he’s 100% fit.
You can understand the need to bring Brüssow up to speed. He hasn’t played Test rugby since November 2009, and has only played a handful of Super Rugby matches in 2011. Unless he gets some game time in the Tri-Nations, he will travel to the World Cup significantly short on match practice.
But the fact of the matter is that Brüssow is not fully fit. He was first sidelined with a hamstring injury in March and then a further hamstring injury following the Cheetahs’ win against the Crusaders in May. This injury is still causing him discomfort, as he was forced to miss Tuesday’s training session in Johannesburg.
Coach Peter de Villiers told reporters on Tuesday that he wouldn’t play Brüssow if it would mean running the risk of aggravating the injury. In the past week, De Villiers has been emphatic in his description of Brüssow as a key player for the Boks in the context of the World Cup, and has even spoken about the flanker as a player the Boks can build their game around.
The Bok coach has also intimated that if it were up to him, Brüssow would not be considered for the tour. It’s a strange statement to make after announcing that 23 of the Boks’ best players will not be risked because of injuries. If you’re not going to risk those players, why would you risk a player who, as De Villiers has stated, will be a fundamental part of the Boks’ World Cup campaign.
The fact that he hasn’t played more than a few matches since he seriously injured his knee in 2010 may be in the back of De Villiers’s mind. But just what he expects Brüssow to gain from this Australasian sojourn, fit or otherwise, is unclear.
The worse case scenario would see Brüssow damaging himself further and possibly jeopardising his chances of making it to New Zealand. The best case scenario would see him coming through the tour unscathed, but it’s hard to see him making any sort of progress or gathering momentum in a Bok pack that will include a number of second and third-choice players.
The saner course of action would see Brüssow continuing with his rehabilitation in South Africa and ensuring he is fully fit before rejoining the Bok squad. If it takes him the duration of the Tri-Nations to completely recover, then so be it.
De Villiers already knows what he has in Brüssow, and like Juan Smith, can afford to include him in the World Cup squad without first seeing him perform in the Tri-Nations. What De Villiers can’t afford to do is gamble with Brüssow in the Tri-Nations just because his match fitness is a worry.