Give them a break


Many fans are delighted that the 2011 rugby programme is bursting at the seams but there’s concern about the toll this high-intensity rugby could take and possible player burnout.

In today’s fast, high-impact rugby the apparently endless passion of players such as Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis and Heinrich Brüssow sometimes makes fans believe they’re indestructible. But experts say even guys with superior genes and stamina can’t play that hard and nonstop without consequences.

Biology could yet trip South Africa up on the way to a third Webb Ellis trophy, sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes warns. Respected ex-players are more direct: too much rugby could eventually hurt the sport.

“I’m worried. You’re going to have local teams playing one another in clashes both home and away,” Bok coach Peter de Villiers said earlier this year.

Rugby analyst and writer Dan Retief is amazed South African administrators agreed to introduce the new Super 15 tournament as soon as this year.

There’s just one question that matters in 2011 and that’s who’s going to win the World Cup, he believes.

“Will the Boks go into it either stripped of key players because of injuries picked up in a pointlessly long Super 15, or suffering from fatigue that holds them back from performing at their best?” he asks.

Rugby experts believe older key players, such as Victor Matfield, must be more carefully managed. Matfield had an demanding 2010 season with little rest since and players such as him should be more judiciously used in the coming months.

Players must rest properly between tournaments and seasons, Professor Noakes says. “They must have a complete break of at least eight weeks between seasons.” They might be able to continue for two years without such rest but by the third year they’ll start struggling.

Players should do nothing when they’re resting. “You must be able to spend time with family. If your partner is unhappy you probably won’t play good rugby.”

Until recently our players played 23, sometimes 25, full matches a year. But Professor Noakes says De Villiers agrees with him that you get the best out of men who don’t play more than 18 full matches. Yet the Super 15 alone is now taking up this ideal match total.

“Our players play too much rugby in general,” rugby commentator and ex-Bok Kobus Wiese says. “There’s pressure on everyone in rugby and there’s no easy answer but the end result is players’ shelf lives are getting shorter and competitions are diluted. Rugby is going to be hurt.”

Read more in YOU, 21 April 2011.

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