NZ Rugby World
BEST PLAYERS MAKE THE BEST GAMES
There’s a pretty simple reason why the quality of rugby was consistently high and it’s because the best players, as long as they weren’t injured, were picked each week.
It’s readily forgotten that rest and rotation was a big part of Super Rugby pre the arrival of Covid.
We would get to the last few months of the calendar year and the five franchises and New Zealand Rugby’s high performance unit would be locked in battle to set ground rules about how much rugby the top players could play. There would also be a battle with the
All Blacks coaches about whether they could access the players during Super Rugby for some kind of training camp to give them a head start before the June tests.
What we usually ended up with was an agreement that those considered top tier, couldn’t play more than five games consecutively. They would need to be unavailable for at least two games per season and they had to have a graduated return to play protocol where they would ideally play 40 minutes in their game, 60 in their second and 80 in their third.
There was a total cap of 180 minutes of game time applied to their first three games of the season and when they were given a week off, they were told not to come to training or have anything to do with the team.
The logic, as explained earier this year by NZR high performance manager Mike Anthony, was designed to ensure the best players would still be operating close to their best later in the season.
“What we’re trying to create is not just about an outcome for the All Blacks for later on, it’s actually a win for the Super Rugby clubs, that they have those guys performing at the back end,” he said.
“There’s no player that can go through this thing and maintain form without breaks throughout. It’s just such a physical contest now, and high intensity running.”
But after the lockdown, there were no protocols in Super Rugby Aotearoa. No mention of any coach about a need to protect players from heavy workloads and across all five teams, we saw the biggest names turn out eevery week.
Not only that, but because of the tight nature of most conetests, we saw many of the best players play close to 80 minutes every week as well.
There was never any sense of disappointment that the big names were sitting in the stands with everyone else – having a break. They were always on the field and that created a sense of importance and urgency to every game.