The All Blacks, thanks to the New Zealand Rugby Football Union’s (NZRFU) national contracting system, have managed to steal a jump on the Springboks in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup that kicks off in September.
Though it was always alluded to, the dawning of 2015 has shown just how tough a year it is going to be for top players, and the New Zealanders have moved to protect their assets.
The Super Rugby tournament, which kicks off on February 13, will run without a break until July 4, leaving just two weeks before a truncated Rugby Championship starts on July 18.
Test players will be occupied by the Rugby Championship until mid-August and then there will be just a month left before the start of the World Cup.
In view of strong medical opinion that the workload is going to be too much, the NZRFU has ruled that a number of All Blacks will miss the opening round of Super Rugby and an effort will be made to spare each of the test players for two games each to keep them fresh for the World Cup.
New Zealand Rugby’s high performance manager Don Tricker, AllBlack strength and conditioning trainer Nick Gill and physiotherapist Peter Gallagher have been visiting Super Rugby bases to map out a player-management plan.
The Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs have decided to rest a selection of their All Blacks in the opening round while the Highlanders, which have a bye first up, and the Hurricanes, which will be touring South Africa in the opening two weeks, have decided to find two other weeks during the season.
Key All Blacks such as No 8 Kieran Read and lock Sam Whitelock will not be seen in action until Round 5, as they were identified as needing a longer period of rest and recuperation.
TheAll Black medical team is also closely monitoring the condition of Brodie Retallick of the Chiefs who was named the IRB’s World Player of the Year last season.
The New Zealand system, in which all players are contracted to the mother body and drafted tothe Super Rugby franchises, enables coach Steve Hansen to have the final say over theAll Blacks, whereas in South Africa, Heyneke Meyer is at the mercy of coaches who themselves are judged on how successful their teams are.
The New Zealanders, however, will be mindful not to repeat the mistake they made in 2007 when they pulled almost alltheAll Blacks out of the opening rounds of Super Rugby.
This resulted in South African sides building up a winning momentum that was carried through tothe Springboks’ victory in the World Cup later that year in France.
This year’s Super Rugby competition will be kicked off by the Crusaders and the Rebels in Christchurch on Friday, February 13, followed by the Brumbies up against the Reds in Canberra.
The Lions, which have pulled a tough draw with nine consecutive matches before their first bye, will be South Africa’s first side in action when they take onthe Hurricanes from Wellington onthe Friday night.
On the first Saturday, the fixtures will be Blues vs Chiefs in Auckland; Sharks vs Cheetahs in Durban; and Bulls vs Stormers in Pretoria. The defending champion Waratahs enter the fray against the Force in Sydney on Sunday the 15th.