Mind Games: Inspiration via perspiration?

2014-01-19 10:00

Sweaty, especially with the country currently in the grip of a heat wave, is a good word to sum up the current state of rugby.

Players in Super Rugby squads are probably hotter than the tennis players baking on Melbourne’s hotplate courts as coaches drum home the message that only perspiration will lead to the necessary inspiration when the tournament starts.

The kick-off date is four weeks away (February 15) – when the Cheetahs and the Lions go claw to claw in Bloemfontein and the Bulls square up against the Sharks in Pretoria.

These will be the first of 125 matches before the taxing obstacle course is completed on August 2 – hopefully with at least one South African side in the final.

The drawn-out system that has not found favour with the fans will again be in place, with the internationals in June interrupting Super Rugby action.

This year, the Springboks will play Wales twice, in Durban and Nelspruit, and Scotland (who were here last year, too) in Port Elizabeth before returning to the Super Rugby treadmill, followed by The Rugby Championship.

For now, it’s hard graft for the teams.

In Pretoria, the Bulls have put into practice a new training approach but much of the attention has centred on the return of 36-year-old lock Victor Matfield.

In Joburg, Johan Ackermann is putting on a stoic front and doing the only thing he can do – talking positively about the chances of his under-resourced Lions, while in Durban Jake White is working on instilling the extra edge that could transform the Sharks from spirited contenders into winners.

And it wouldn’t be rugby without regular postings of casualties.

The Cheetahs had hardly welcomed Heinrich Brüssow back from Japan when he was sidelined because of a toe injury.

In the Cape, the Stormers got back Schalk Burger but lost the exciting Cheslin Kolbe to a knee injury. Both players required surgery.

But it’s not just the players who are feeling the heat. Plenty of brows are also being wiped in committee rooms.

A special general meeting of the SA Rugby Union (Saru) has been called for January 31 to try, yet again, to find a route through the Currie Cup/Super Rugby labyrinth that will satisfy all the unions.

The hope is for a satisfactory and lasting solution to the Kings competing in what officials hope will be a “super?16” southern hemisphere tournament.

A proposal by the Leopards for the staging of a knockout tournament involving the nine teams not automatically included in the Currie Cup (including the Pumas, who were promoted by knocking out Griquas last season) to win a place in a top eight competition will be tabled.

But the constitutional requirement of a 75% vote in favour may again block a change to the format as the likes of Griquas, Leopards, Valke, Border and South Western Districts are fearful that once excluded, there will be no way back for them.

On another level, there is also much going on behind the scenes.

At the end of March, Saru’s annual general meeting will be held and with incumbent president Oregan Hoskins coming to the end of his term, knives are already being sharpened.

It seems Hoskins will definitely be opposed – the names of his current deputy Mark Alexander, Kevin de Klerk of the Lions and James Stoffberg from the Leopards are being bandied about – but with nominations not due to close until 14 days prior to the meeting, guarantees are still being sought and no one has declared his candidacy.

As always in the oval world, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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