Duane Heath

Springboks need a break

2004-11-26 08:33

Buzzwords. Don't you just love them?

Harry Viljoen gifted us with the theory of "go forward" and Rudolf Straeuli spoke about "processes".

Somewhere along the line, tackles became "hits", flankers became fetchers, and fitness became, well, "conditioning".

We've all heard that word bandied about quite a lot this week, haven't we? Anyone out there got a clue what it actually means? Whatever happened to good old fitness?

In the aftermath of the England defeat (strangely enough it was never offered as an excuse after the Irish dust-up) you couldn't open a newspaper or an internet page without the declaration that "a lack of proper conditioning" undid the Springboks in London.

Never once was it mentioned that the Breyton Paulse racial incident, which clearly unsettled the side in the build-up to the Test, could possibly have contributed to the lacklustre performance. The furore sparked by the selection of just one black player in the starting lineup was well and truly swept under the carpet. Conditioning was the culprit.

The men in green and gold were simply outmuscled by an inexperienced England team, said coach Jake White and everyone else who had a microphone thrust in their face on Saturday night. Surely, if you listen to the explanations, the Boks would've been just as out-of-condition against Brian O'Driscoll's men?

I never once heard the word "fitness". It was always "conditioning". It must be important, whatever it is, because Jake has employed a small army of "conditioning" experts since the beginning of the year to deal with getting the Boks "conditioned".

So if the Boks are, as we are told, are in such a poor physical state, just what have these men been doing all year? By all accounts Derik Coetzee, Mark Steele and Henning Gericke have been doing sterling work during 2004.

'Too much international rugby'

So why then is our team "running on empty"? Are our players just too lazy to put in the hard yards these men are asking for? Things just don't make sense.

But speaking of conditioning, remember the date: January 17, 2005. Mark it on your calendar with a big green cross. It's a Monday, back to school time for a lot of students. And, from next year, for the Boks as well, it seems.

My colleague Jacques van der Westhuizen quoted SA Rugby president Brian van Rooyen this week as saying: "Too much international rugby is being played. The current Boks must get back to South Africa in early December and not touch a ball for six weeks."

Hats off to you, Brian. For this bold move you have my respect. But dear reader, do me another favour, please, and print out this column, wont you? Then grab a pair of scissors and cut out the quote above attributed to our rugby boss.

The Springboks arrive back from Buenos Aires on Monday, December 6. Add Van Rooyen's six weeks and you arrive at the magical date of Monday, January 17.

Will our Boks not touch a ball in those six weeks, as Brian wants them not to? Or will the Super 12 once again take priority?

My concern is that six weeks, although a huge improvement on previous years, is far from a sufficient off-season for our international players to prepare themselves for the season ahead.

Bearing in mind most players would probably want to take at least two or three of those weeks and go on holiday somewhere over Christmas - seeing one's family is a human right, even in South African rugby - we are left with three or four weeks in which to achieve some sort of positive physical improvement ahead of the Super 12.

But the problem here is you just don't build any dramatic amount of strength or muscle in a six-week period, no matter how good the routine you're following - and from what I've seen, a lot of so-called professional rugby players in this country are just not being trained correctly when it comes to gym work.

'Here we go again'

Powerlifters and sprinters, to name but two kinds of athlete, will tell you that six weeks is half a cycle - meaningless unless followed by a second period of preferably six weeks that build on the first, be it with the goal of strengthening the body, or peaking for a race.

Six weeks is a half-job. Eight to ten weeks is acceptable, but twelve weeks is where we have to get to. Ireland showed us that. England too.

But it just won't happen, and next year we'll be having the same conversation after the Boks suffer defeats on their European tour to France and England.

It won't happen, just as sure as January 17 won't roll around without us having opened our newspapers and seen, on the back pages, pictures of Schalk Burger or John Smit or Bakkies Botha training for the Super 12, all smiles for the sponsors while inside they secretly think, "Oh God, here we go again. Eleven more months."

Is a three-month off-season really too much to ask?

Send Duane your views on this column.

  • Duane Heath is a freelance sportswriter who has written about the game for News24, Rugby World, IRB World of Rugby and the Sunday Times.

  • Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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