Much easier for Kiwis, Aussies

FILE PICTURE: Jake White. Image courtesy AFP

You have all heard over a number of seasons the problems South African sides have on Super Rugby tours.

This season has been a prime example.

And while being away from home and without the support systems offered to the players on South African soil by their own unions, the most pertinent reason for this lack of success lies in the simple fact that our teams play four consecutive matches on tour, while the Australian and New Zealand sides play two.

But more importantly, every franchise is restricted to 27 players on any Super Rugby tour.

The Brumbies, for example, play the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein today and the Bulls at Loftus next weekend and then fly home to face the Force in Canberra before the June international window.

I’m not saying that this is an easy schedule, but in many ways, it’s a lot less of an ask than having to live out of a suitcase in a foreign country for almost a month.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that there is twice the likelihood of injury in a four-match tour than on a fortnight away from home. And injuries are an inevitable part of a highly physical game like rugby.

This poses a special challenge for South African coaches and brings to the fore the very real prospect of having to include more utility players than outright specialists in the 27-strong touring party. Added to the injuries which are almost bound to happen, this means that a coach is not always going to be able to field his strongest team come matchday.

Injuries can also seriously affect any pre-tour rotational plans. It’s a massive thing. These are not excuses, merely the cold realities a South African coach has to face each time a touring Super Rugby side gets on the plane.

Take a flyhalf who picks up a tight hamstring in the opening tour game that will keep him out for about 10 days. That effectively rules the player out for matches two and three, where he might well have been the pivot around which the game plan for those games hinged.

You can send the injured player home and call in a replacement, but that doesn’t automatically mean that this is a simple transition.

If you decide to hold onto your original flyhalf choice, manage his problem with the fourth game in view and call up another specialist, it still means that you have to send someone home to stick to the ceiling of 27 players.

There is obviously far less pressure on a coach in this respect on a two-week tour, so a coach’s thinking tends to be a bit different in that he can send the injured player home for treatment and fly in a substitute without having to worry as much about games in weeks three and four.

Or he can try and live with the situation and move a utility player in to try and plug the gap.

It’s a bit like playing a game of chess with three kings, no queen, and a collection of pieces who don’t always move in the pattern they are supposed to.

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

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