To beat the All Blacks, Springbok players need to report for duty from their franchises more in mint condition than voetstoots.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer recognises that his players are in better shape than at the corresponding period last year or the year before. But he insisted they need to be in better shape if they want to knock Steve Hansen’s All Blacks off their perch.
Though the Boks are able to keep up with their other opponents, they have in recent years run out of gas when it mattered most against New Zealand – at home and at altitude.
In the nine Tests against the All Blacks from 2010, the Boks have won just one – when Dan Carter and Richie McCaw were absent from the visiting team in Port Elizabeth ahead of the 2011 World Cup.
In those nine Tests the All Blacks scored 132 second-half points, the Springboks just 53.
No wonder Meyer is concerned.
“We are not where I want us to be,” he said. “The one area we have to improve in if we want to be the best in the world is conditioning.
“If your tactical kicking isn’t there you get fatigued, your skill levels go, your defence goes, the scrums go down and the penalties go up,” Meyer warned.
Fitness levels have generally improved. In 2007 the ball was in play on average for 26 minutes. Now it is in play for 38.
Basil Carzis, the Boks’ conditioning coach, believes central contracting of players and working hand-in-glove with franchise conditioning coaches can help bridge the gap to the All Blacks.
“They are able to do a lot of high-velocity training,” said Carzis of the All Blacks. “They have an established team. They have 20 to 24 players they work with, which means with a smaller group they can have greater focus.”
Meyer admitted his team could no longer out-muscle teams as a primary means of establishing superiority, and while the Boks at times matched the All Blacks for explosiveness, they lagged in endurance.
Bringing greater endurance to the collective, however, is easier said than done.
“We identify players who fall a little short and we work with them on an individual basis,” said Carzis.
“The individual also has to shoulder the responsibility of improving his [own] conditioning.”
It stands to reason that players need to be better conditioned for the demands of Test rugby and sometimes swift intervention is required. Cheetahs prop Trevor Nyakane has lost 10kg since joining the Bok group in June.
Springbok management and the franchises have different objectives and player management will remain an area in which they will unavoidably have wires more than swords crossed.