Victor Matfield says the northern hemisphere sides came into the World Cup with an advantage and pointed to the south’s injury toll as vindication for that view.
An extended Super Rugby season and Tri-Nations played out while the northern hemisphere’s elite were in conditioning and training camps. The south raised concerns when the dates for the global showpiece were announced, but they further undermined their cause with a 15-team Super Rugby format and the retention of the Tri-Nations.
The Springboks withdrew the majority of their first-choice players from the away leg of the Tri-Nations, while New Zealand rotated their side heavily in a bid to ensure they would endure the rigours of a seven-week tournament. However, all the southern hemisphere sides have been struck by injuries to key players, while their northern counterparts have been relatively unscathed.
The most notable loss has been Dan Carter. He is a player of the highest calibre and the tournament is poorer for his absence.
But there have also been others – Australia’s Drew Mitchell was forced home with a hamstring injury, Bakkies Botha has been nursing an Achilles problem, while Blacks captain Richie McCaw is still struggling with the foot injury that stifled his involvement in Super Rugby.
Matfield suggested this had a lot to do with the demanding schedule. ‘We had a look at which teams had the injuries and the majority of those are seen in the Sanzar teams. It helped the northern hemisphere to have a long period of preparation,’ he said.
‘It might benefit us in some ways but you lose in others because we get more injuries from the long Super Rugby season. If you take a look out there you will see that there are far more injuries in the southern hemisphere teams than the northern hemisphere teams.’
The Sanzar nations were heavily favoured to contest the final, but Ireland’s upset victory over Australia in the pool phase assured the hemispheres split in the draw. Two of the Sanzar trio will be knocked out before the final, while their counterparts battle familiar foes en route to the Auckland spectacle on 23 October.
It must be noted that the north have been similarly compromised when the tournament has been hosted in the southern hemisphere. But even then, their season ended no later than May, unlike the Tri-Nations which concluded just two weeks before the opening World Cup match.
Sanzar CEO Greg Peters has argued that the Tri-Nations was crucial to the financial health of the Sanzar nations, citing that there were no incoming or year-end tours scheduled to boost the coffers. ‘We hear the concern about player welfare and it is of huge importance,’ Peters said at the time.
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.
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