Rugby 25.1.2014 08:00 am

We’d do well to follow the Kiwis

FILE PICTURE: Jack White. Picture: Steve Haag / Gallo Images.

FILE PICTURE: Jack White. Picture: Steve Haag / Gallo Images.

Some of the biggest challenges facing South African sides in this season’s Super Rugby are questions that are neither new, nor have been adequately addressed in earlier campaigns.

South Africans have not embraced the franchise system with the same conviction as the New Zealanders or – perhaps to a lesser extent – the Australians.

Franchises in this country tend to contract more and more players, while in New Zealand there is a more open system – almost a loan agreement – where the emphasis is more on the broader picture, than the individual ambitions.

There is no hesitation about bringing a player in from a side like Taranaki or North Harbour, or to move a player from South Island to North Island.

It gives the union a boost where it is needed and gives the player Super Rugby experience and the opportunity to play for the All Blacks if he grabs the opportunity given to him.

But they do have the advantage of all the top players being centrally contracted to the New Zealand union. It’s a system that allows a star like Sonny Bill Williams to move from the Crusaders to the Chiefs.

In this country, there have to be players in sides like the EP Kings, Border, the Griffons, the Pumas or South Western Districts capable of adding value to our Super Rugby sides during the competitive season. It’s a facet of our set-up that bears thinking about by all our coaches.

What also needs more careful examination is the impact the growing pool of sports science knowledge can have – if it’s sensibly applied.

There is no doubt in my mind the travel entailed in Super Rugby is a massive disadvantage to sides in this country.

For the Australians to travel to New Zealand or the reverse trip across the Tasman is nothing more difficult than a weekend away – and their tours are normally two or three weeks long and the time difference between Sydney and Auckland little more than two hours.

Because it makes little sense for South African sides to make the trip to Australasia more than once in a single campaign and because of the time zones they have to travel through, the adjustment, for what is seldom less than a four-week tour, is a tough one.

Then they have to come home and are more than likely straight into a derby like the Bulls at Loftus, the Stormers at Newlands, or away to the Cheetahs – and believe me, there are never any easy games in Bloemfontein.

Coming back from Australia, I have seen the importance in using sport science as an effective tool to shorten the adjustment period.

The Australians have what amounts to a bank of scientific experience and Olympic nous and more importantly, they all share it to optimise any sniff of an edge. It’s an aspect that might well be understood here, but it’s not used to its full advantage.

But perhaps the major challenge that work against South African sides is what experts have been talking about for years: the length and physical severity of our domestic competition.

It’s almost certainly a hangover from the years of isolation where a Currie Cup match was played with all the intensity of a Test match.

This clearly shows in the cut-throat competitive nature of our Super Rugby derbies. I’m not saying that a meeting between the Crusaders and Blues or the Chiefs and Hurricanes is not just as tough, but the weight of South Africa’s recent history seems to be highlighted in our derby matches.

The biggest challenge of all though remains to ask ourselves the difficult questions… and then work hard on the answers.

 Jake White is South Africa’s World Cup-winning coach of 2007 and director of coaching at the Sharks.

 

 

 

 

 

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