The Sharks coach John Plumtree said the other day that the New Zealand conference was softer than the South African one. I think John has been spending too long out in the broiling Durban sun. Some of our Chiefs boys look like they have been in a car crash after the last couple of weeks of local derbies.
It’s been brutal out there. We know how tribal the Six Nations is. Our derbies are starting to approach that level of intensity and it might cause a problem down the line. We are whacking into each other like brothers fighting in the back garden. There only is so much a body can take.
Some of the All Blacks in our squad have said that the first couple of Super 15 matches have approached test match intensity. After the Highlanders game Ben Afeaki had a broken arm and Lelia Masaga a crocked knee, both big impact injuries. We made 174 tackles that week. Against the Blues we made 165. They take their toll.
On the Tuesday after those games we stand down four or five players from taking any part in the contact sessions. It is about recovery – stretching exercises and time in the swimming pool.
It reminds me of walking past the Irish changing room after the 2010 test on the Aviva Grand Slam tour. It was like a hospital ward. Brian O’Driscoll said it was physically the hardest game he had ever played in. We heard the same thing from Sam Warburton the other week.
All the squads know they will have to manage their resources through this campaign. Rotation is a dreaded word, but there is no way round it. We need to use the bye week, international windows, rotation, look at larger squads and bringing in people from the wider training group. We have to keep players fresh.
Physically number 7 is the hardest position. It is usually the Wednesday or Thursday after a test before Richie McCaw comes right. The front row also needs a good recovery time because of all the contact they are involved in.
Funnily enough it is probably first five eighth (along with an anaerobic position like 9) that is the next most attritional. The days of ten sidestepping a big ball carrier are gone. A lot of the attack comes down his channel and he has to make the tackles. Aaron Cruden made 14 tackles last weekend. A lot of those were on much bigger guys.
You have to have quality back-up. In 1997 at the Crusaders Leon MacDonald was able to come in for Andrew Mehrtens and a year later Aaron Flynn was able to come in for Justin Marshall. Those players make a difference. There is pay-back when it comes to Championship time.
The level of impact in Plumtree’s ‘soft’ conference is so high that quality back-up and team rotation will be an important part of making it through to the finals.