A lot has been made about player welfare the last few seasons and this aspect is one of the pillars of the new Super 18 structure.
How does one ensure player welfare while at the same time improving skill levels and lengthening careers of players?
Introduce capped playtime minutes in players’ contracts covering regional and international matches. Let’s take Adriaan Strauss as an example:
- Adriaan has played 949 minutes this season so far, an average of 79 minutes over the 12 matches played.
- If Adriaan keeps playing at his current average he’ll play a total of 1265 minutes in the regular season.
- Assuming 13 Test matches in the season and assuming Adriaan stays injury free, at an average of 20 minutes per match as substitute that adds another 260 minutes and already takes him to 1525 minutes for the season.
- Add business end Currie Cup games and a possible semi-final and Adriaan will be playing 1925 minutes of rugby in one season with little to no breaks.
But if Bissie gets injured in the latter Super Rugby stages, Adriaan stands to play the majority of Test matches this year which would potentially take Adriaan to 2600 minutes of rugby in 2014. Other Springboks that will cross the 2000 minute mark include Willie le Roux, Jan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard, Duane Vermeulen and Jean de Villiers.
So how would playtime budgets work for Springboks (assuming central contracting of top players)?
- Player contracts would include a minimum and maximum amount of playtime per season.
- A maximum guesstimate is 1800 minutes total covering Currie Cup, Super Rugby and Test matches. This equates to a maximum of 825 minutes of Super Rugby, 715 minutes of Test match rugby and 260 minutes of Currie Cup league matches. This maximum works out to an average of 55 minutes per match, assuming a player plays all the above matches.
- The other side of the coin though is the minimum minutes; a contracted player has to play at least 840 minutes of rugby. This equates to a minimum of 450 minutes of Super Rugby and 390 minutes of Test match rugby (an average of 30 minutes per match).
- It is the combination of the minimum and maximum playtimes that would enforce players don’t burn out and that all squad members get playtime.
Coaches will have to take player management seriously to ensure all squad members are in top shape as one cannot afford wasted minutes and discipline will have to improve because 10 minutes in the bin now carries more impact. The permutations will have to be looked at in terms of what the maximum and minimum should be, but the end-game should always be player welfare. The players are assets that need to be treasured, not commodities that can be traded.