Johannesburg - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is adamant in his belief the Boks won’t be the best in the world until they get their conditioning right.
The supersport.com website reports, while Meyer admits the relationship between the various Super Rugby franchises and the Springboks has taken massive steps forward, and right now, the Boks are probably ahead of their fitness goals for this time of the season, the whole mindset needs to be radically challenged across the board, with the modern game calling for super fit players who can play at pace.
If there ever was an advert for this, the Super Rugby final comes to mind, and where in the past the Boks have tried to slow the game down, they now will need to confront the pace and show they can play at the same level, if not better when they need to if they are to get to the top of the world rankings.
This in itself is a mindshift that needs to happen across the board. While the overseas departures weakened Super Rugby franchises this year many of the problems encountered at Super Rugby level – especially on defence – were because sides fell off the pace and therefore let in soft tries.
Meyer presented his ideas to the board last year and already conditioning expert Basil Carzis has been working with the franchises, but the Boks need to do more.
The evolution of this Bok team has shown that they can play a faster brand of rugby, and Meyer is heading in that direction. But to do that they need to be fitter than other sides, and to counter the fast-paced game other sides are bringing in the Southern Hemisphere and feed off the inevitable mistakes that will come.
“The one thing we got right this year, and the proof will be in the pudding. Basil (Carzis) did a great job spending time with the franchises, and most of the guys weren’t off for three weeks, they trained hard. In terms of fitness we’re probably ahead of where we want to be, but the Sharks guys obviously didn’t have a break. They, however, have played a lot of rugby and should be fit,” Meyer explained.
“We may be ahead of our goal, but we’re not where we need to be. The first few weeks we will work very hard on fitness, and while it isn’t really enough time, we need to take it to a new level.
“In our whole game plan, the one area I still believe we need to improve in if we want to be the best in the world is conditioning. Even if your tactical kicking is not there, once you get tired, your skills levels go, your scrums go down and the penalties go up, your defensive systems go. The one area we need to up is conditioning.
“If you look at the game lately, the ball is in play more than ever – the Scotland game was 36minutes – you don’t get test matches more than that. Previously it was kicking and more of a battle but nowadays it is more open running rugby. The game is getting quicker and if you look at Super Rugby in the past few weeks, the game is being played at an unbelievably high tempo. The fitness levels need to be high, and we need to adjust.
“We can’t just outmuscle guys, we need to outthink them, but we also need to be physical and skilful enough to outplay guys. We’ve made huge steps in the last year and a half, but I’ll never be satisfied with our conditioning goals ever as Bok coach.”
Meyer also said while he did see the viewpoint that injuries and the host of returning Boks, coupled with a few weeks off for the rest of the squad as they did not feature in Super Rugby’s final weeks was a positive, if he could choose, he would not want it that way.
“It is a blessing in disguise, but you don’t really want guys to be injured to see it as a blessing in disguise,” Meyer said.
“you rather want guys to be managed properly, and by that I’m not saying they have not been managed properly. I’m just saying that it is more positive. In a sense it is a positive, but in a sense I’m more worried about the continuity from the incoming tours into the Rugby Championship. I thought we had played a lot of great rugby and scored a lot of tries.
“Now suddenly Fourie du Preez is out, Morne (Steyn) hasn’t played for quite some time, Pat (Lambie) hasn’t played for quite some time. Then we look at Damian (de Allende), Jan (Serfontein) and Jean (de Villiers) and they haven’t played together. Unfortunately JP Pietersen has moved on to his Japanese club. Among the forwards I’m happy, but in the backs you need that continuity that you get from Super Rugby and also from the incoming tours, so the first test match is likely to be a tough one. I’m hoping the supporters will come out to support us, because we have to get our continuity back.”
Meyer said there were both positives and negatives from the break, and one thing the Boks would need to factor in, was the confidence a side like Australia will take from their Super Rugby performances, especially those of the Waratahs.
“Confidence is a big thing, especially going into the Championship, and obviously I would prefer to have two SA teams in the final,” Meyer said.
“I think when the Boks won the World Cup in 2007, there were two teams in the final and we moved from that. It is always better to have two teams playing. They’re battle ready, they are in the right mindset. I will never say I want our teams to lose so that they can rest more, but you always have to look at the positives. Unfortunately they weren’t in the final, but secondly, at least they got three weeks break.
“The perception is wrong – you don’t want guys to rest. You want guys to rest one week and then really train hard and get in peak condition. Three weeks is probably not enough to do this properly. But from where we were in the incoming tours, where a lot of guys had played a lot of rugby without any breaks, they now look good. Of course the Sharks travelled and only have a week’s break. I’ll always take a situation where two teams are in the final, but the positive is that a lot of the guys are fresher than they’ve ever been.”
The signs of improvement have been there for a while now, but the Boks know if they are to be at their best next year, the fitness will need to be at a better level. It can mean the difference between winning and losing, as they found out last year in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship finale at Ellis Park last year.