In the collision sport of rugby, injuries will and do occur. It’s part of the game and cannot be avoided. The type of injuries that occur range from bumps and bruises to catastrophic injuries resulting in career-ending and life-altering situations. Thankfully most of them don’t, and only require a few weeks of rehabilitation. The players of the professional ranks and some amateurs go through a tough strength-and-conditioning regime to ready their bodies for impacts and the rough environment of rugby, but sometimes the body isn’t built for certain collisions and injuries occur.
For a key player to be wounded on the eve of a test series normally brings a coach to tears or just plain frustration. A national coach would have been planning for a number of months on what type of game plan that they want to employ, consequently creating clear aspects of the play book around key players.
If a coach has an accurate and deadly tactical kicker, they’ll build a portfolio of kick and chase attacks or if a coach has massive unit in the centres, they’ll shape a crash ball attacking system. There are players that the coach prefers to have so when they are injured, some plans need to be adjusted or tweaked.
There was a time when Graham Henry, the then All Black coach, asked for key players of the All Black squad to be rested and not to participate in the Super Rugby competition, much to the ire of the franchise coaches. Henry did this to ready the team for 18 months of preparation before the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
That gamble paid off. He had his elite players to choose from without any major injury concerns. We all know that Richie McCaw played through a year on a broken foot, but it was his choice to continue playing and opt to delay surgery so that he could play in the Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks did suffer setbacks during the competition but Henry was able to start the competition with his preferred players.
The necessity to rest players is a debatable issue. It may seem obvious that to play for your country takes precedence over club level, yet some coaches and fans might not see it that way. Naturally a coach wants the best players available, but is it essential to always play an elite player or is it possible to rest them before they are called up into the national squad?
The term elite would only cover certain picks into a national team. I wouldn’t be brave enough to name all the players, although you’d be certain that Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Stephen Moore would be certain squad members. Regardless of who it may be, the national coach has an idea of whom they would want to pick.
If the national coach selected his team and asked to rest players, how would that affect the clubs? The timing of the tours creates a conundrum of sorts. The tours are scheduled for the last weeks of Super Rugby, when teams are playing all or nothing to make it into the finals. It would be unfair to the franchise team to sacrifice players for the benefit of the country.
But how would the country feel if one of their favourite sons was injured a week or two out from a test series? This has happened before and will happen again. Quade Cooper was injured in the recent round of the Super Rugby series, ruling him out for four months. He may or may not have been included in the Wallabies, but chances are that he would have been. His AC joint injury has been deemed serious enough to require surgery.
The All Blacks suffered the same fate when Luke Romano broke his ankle and can no longer be considered for All Black selection. A similar fate hit the Springboks when Lambie sustained a season-ending injury. The list can go on for a long time, which only enforces the need for elite players to be protected.
When Henry called for his list of elite players to be rested at the beginning of the Super Rugby season, he was giving them a chance to recover and come back fresh. A professional rugby player has no longer than two months rest before commencing training and before long, the first game of the season.
The fact that players are rested or take a sabbatical hasn’t shown to decrease their ability on the field. McCaw took his retreat last season; he came back more hungry and hadn’t lost his skill set. Carter is set for a return soon, but all signs point to the fact that he still has the aptitude to make the All Black squad.
The idea to protect your assets isn’t a new idea. We all do in all walks of life. We protect the things that are important to us, so why not our heroes? If a player has reached an elite level, shouldn’t they be given the benefit of rest so that they can deliver when the time is right?
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