Wynne Gray on sport
Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Taking a Tri-Nations break to be expected

Peter de Villiers. Photo / Getty Images
Peter de Villiers. Photo / Getty Images

Don't blame the Boks. In late 2002 when the All Blacks toured Europe, they left 21 senior players behind to rest and recuperate for the next World Cup.

Now the Boks are doing something similar, settling on 21 as the number of players to leave behind for the Tri-Nations tests in Australia and New Zealand.

No one should be surprised.

The Super 15 has gone on for what seems forever with teams criss-crossing continents and, in the case of the Crusaders, circling the globe several times as they've dealt with their weekly away-from-home itinerary after the February earthquake.

Players are frayed at the edges and the national coaches are talking about how they need to go easy with those CanterBlacks who'll be in the quasi-World Cup squad announced on Sunday.

Boks coach Peter de Villiers has just taken the idea a step further. He's zany and delivers some cuckoo conversations but this move makes sense.

He has some players who clearly cannot travel, those like Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Heinrich Brussouw and Gurthro Steenkamp who need to recover from serious injury.

If de Villiers and team doctor Craig Roberts believe a swag of others will benefit from some rest and rehab, then they're doing what's best for Springbok rugby and their chances at the World Cup. The Boks did something similar before the 2007 tournament and won the Webb Ellis Cup.

Too bad about the toothless Sanzar authorities and the television ratings, although I do have sympathy for those spectators who've bought tickets for the Springbok tests in Sydney and Wellington. However, holding a Tri-Nations series every year is poor programming and shows a lack of imagination.

Dressing an amalgam of Super 15 players up in another uniform and pitching them against each other in a test series is hardly inspiring and doing it in a World Cup year makes no sense at all.

Remember how John Mitchell and Robbie Deans left captain Reuben Thorne at home with others like Aaron Mauger, Andrew Mehrtens, Byron Kelleher, Justin Marshall, Richie McCaw, Marty Holah, Rodney So'oialo and Kees Meeuws on the tour of the United Kingdom in 2002.

All done in the name of rest for the next Super rugby series and preparation for the World Cup in Australia, which was 10 months away.

The Boks are just taking a breath or two before diving into the World Cup here in two months.

Some of their players have already been here twice during the Super 15, the Boks trip will make three, then the World Cup. Just a bit much.

If de Villiers thinks a Tri-Nations visit for some is counterproductive, fair enough. The excuses are irrelevant. It doesn't matter if players have ingrown toenails or broken legs, if the best sports medicine advice for them is take a rest, that's life.

South Africa name a 30-man World Cup squad on August 23, fly to New Zealand on September 1 and begin their defence of the Webb Ellis Cup 10 days later in Wellington against Wales.

- NZ Herald

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