One of the reasons to which the Sharks’ Super Rugby slump in 2011 can be attributed was player attrition; simply put, certain key men were “played into the ground” during the first part of the season, only to break down later in the campaign without any match-fit (or battle-hardened) backup ready to step in.
Willem Alberts was probably the “poster child” for this style of player mismanagement, with the burly number 7 eventually ruled out for large chunks of the second half of the year after sustaining a shoulder injury which very nearly cost him his World Cup place. It’s the same shoulder that has kept him out of the side’s first two games.
We’ve decided to keep the coaches honest in this regard, if we can, by keeping track of the total game time amassed by each of the players over the campaign. Obviously we realise that one can’t take an eenie-meenie-minie-mo approach to selection and rotation, but it would nevertheless be far healthier, both from the perspective of reducing injuries and developing depth, that the entire squad is afforded more equal opportunities to play.
While this is, of course, premature after just two rounds (nobody is expecting rotation this early, I would imagine) it is nonetheless interesting to see which players, even now, are expected to play more than which others. In this brutal competition, I would be quite surprised to see any player go through three four full games without being substituted off or rested at some point, with even three possibly pushing it a little.
Top of the pops at the moment are seven players, meaning that about half of the first-choice fifteen have not been replaced in either of the games so far and have 160 minutes of rugby each under their belts already. They are Dale Chadwick, Bismarck du Plessis, Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee, Pat Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo and JP Pietersen.
In some of these cases, it makes perfect sense for the players to stay on and play; Pietersen and Lambie, for instance, are in different positions to the ones they played in last year (although Lambie was only temporarily moved to fullback last year, it would seem) so it follows that the more game time they get in those positions, the better. Mvovo also doesn’t exactly look like the extra game time is doing him any harm.
Daniel, of course, is the captain and as such it’s to be expected that he would stick around until the end – however, the hope is that we may soon be in a position to safely sub him off in a game or two where the result is beyond doubt with a quarter of an hour still to go. It is the other three players that are perhaps a greater cause for concern, albeit for different reasons.
Marcell Coetzee, simply put, plays a highly physical role in the team and has been put through a lot of contact in the last two weeks. We need to remember that he is still young too, but it is in his case that the risk of an Alberts or Jean Deysel-style chronic overuse injury seems most realistic. Having Alberts back this weekend will help, but I wouldn’t like to see Marcell play all 80 minutes of the next two matches as well.
In Chadwick’s case, it’s trickier, simply because there isn’t another loosehead in the squad. Logic would dictate that we simply cannot play this lad for 80 minutes of every game until Beast returns in a few months’ time, so it’s vital that Jannie du Plessis or Wiehahn Herbst be given an opportunity to take over from him on the left hand side at some stage during the next two weeks.
In the case of Bismarck, the concern is not so much for the player himself (who we know doesn’t like to be subbed off) but theh welfare of his deputy, Craig Burden. As the only squad member to have played no minutes at all after two rounds, the Sharks would want to avoid the situation where, should Bismarck suddenly break down, their replacement player has no game time at all under his belt as a result of being on the bench for a month.
We’ll continue to monitor the situation and report back on progress in two weeks’ time.Tweet