Rest and recovery paramount

Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
From a South African perspective, the Stormers' victory over the Hurricanes was in my view the most significant result of Round 11.

Winning away from home is crucial and it would have instilled plenty of confidence and belief within the side for the remainder of their Australasian tour.

A side that would have taken heart from their performance rather than the result this past weekend are the Sharks. They have been decimated by injury and were roundly written off ahead of their clash with the Chiefs.

They had a nightmare opening quarter and were 24-0 down before they knew it. However, we must admire the Sharks’ grit and determination in fighting back so gallantly.

They remain a resilient side and will rightly draw positives from their performance, but there is no question that their injury count is taking its toll.

At this stage of the season, it becomes challenging for all the Super Rugby sides to manage injuries and fatigue.

Like us, I imagine that the vast majority of sides are now cutting down on practice time as much as possible. It’s vital to have a top-notch medical and conditioning team as rest and recovery becomes paramount.

We are, for example, playing our ninth game on the trot against the Waratahs this Saturday and only enjoy our bye in round 14.

Some of the players are now starting to feel the effects. As a management team, we will therefore rest players nursing bad bumps and bruises until later in the week. At this point, intensity trumps volume.

As the modern season is ever-expanding, younger players are getting more game time to prove their worth. Youngsters such as Jan Serfontein, JJ Engelbrecht, Raymond Rhule and our own Cornell du Preez, who was playing for the SA Under-20 side just two seasons ago, have caught the eye this season.

Another young star who I have been impressed with is the Sharks’ Pieter-Steph du Toit. While lock depth is a little bit of a concern for the national side, I believe that with youngsters like him, South African rugby is in safe hands.

Another young lock who I believe will come to fore this weekend is 21-year-old Eben Etzebeth. There is no doubt in my mind that the Stormers have missed his towering presence and physicality.

On Friday, the Stormers will be in for a tight-fought encounter with the Blues, who are an ever dangerous side.

However, the Stormers are welcoming back key players at just the right time and the fact that Allister Coetzee has a full 26-man touring squad to pick from is significant.

While Gary van Aswegen is a competent young flyhalf, whose development has been stunted by a litany of injuries, I think the fact that Elton Jantjies has more experience edges the battle for the No 10 jersey in his favour.

If Jantjies is able to demonstrate the form we all know he is capable of, I think he has the potential to make a telling contribution to the Cape side’s cause.

The Stormers are well aware that the Blues are dangerous from broken play and will therefore look to strangle them through an accurate kicking game and a strong defence. I’m tipping the Stormers to come out on top.

Much like the Stormers, I expect the Bulls to attempt to suffocate the Hurricanes. They will primarily play for territory and aim to dominate the set-piece exchanges.

By their own high standards, the Bulls were disappointing against the Waratahs. We can therefore be assured that they will have the bit between their teeth this Saturday. Expect the Bulls to charge to victory.

Sunday sees the Brumbies host the Crusaders in what I predict will prove an entertaining encounter.

The Crusaders nearly lost to the Rebels this past weekend, so will have to go hell-for-leather to win this game. Especially at home, the Brumbies are no easy-beats.

The Brumbies employ more of a South African approach in that they boast a sound kicking game, focus on gaining territorial ascendancy and possess a solid set-piece.

The Crusaders, meanwhile, prosper most by utilising the full width of the field.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

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