Rest blamed for Kings’ washout
Tough schedule before Christmas made break essential, says coach
Isuzu Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids has defended his team’s four-week break over the festive period, but said his approach would be flexible if schedules needed to be changed.
It has been suggested the rest contributed to the Kings’ sluggish display when they were blanked 38-0 by a second-string Edinburgh side in their first game of 2019.
After the Kings were beaten by Benetton Treviso on December 1, they went on a break and resumed training only on December 27 before their game against Edinburgh on January 5. The Kings flew to Edinburgh on January 2 and had only a captain’s run before the match at Murrayfield.
Some feel they would have been better served by a shorter summer break, with more time spent on the training pitch.
“We will always look at where we can improve and what we can do in future,” Davids said.
“The guys had an intensive period of matches until they broke up. From a mental point of view it is important that the team get a break.
“You can train, but the real preparation in my opinion lies in match preparation. Unfortunately, at that time of the year there are no matches.
“You have to get the balance right between the recovery and preparing and unfortunately for us, the way the programme is scheduled, it does not suit us at certain times.
“If you look at the opposition we played in our first game back [Edinburgh], they had been playing and winning for 10 weeks.
“They also played against the best teams in the English Premiership competition.
“That means that their preparation, even if they used some of their depth, was always good. That was because they were involved in match-specific training
“You are always going to have bit of problem with continuity and soft skills when you come back from a long period.
“Personally I feel it was the right thing for us to do. If you look at the Cheetahs they did not train at all over December. They got back only in January and they went on to beat Italian team Zebre.
“There are different variables to look at. We will always revisit our programme and look at the why it is structured and how we can improve.”
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith said his team’s four-week break in December had come at the right time ahead of their win over Zebre.
“It doesn’t come naturally for South Africans and is not part of our culture to play rugby over the festive season,” Smith said.
“We equipped the guys with a lot of video homework and physical work that they had to do, as well as hand-eye co-ordination drills. So we worked out physical and mental protocols that we tried to follow.
“But the most important part of this was also rest. A very important part of the game is to refresh.
“I think the overseas teams that played over this period are obviously more used to it. But we reaped the benefit of being with our families. We tried to balance it and there was always a strategy and a plan.
“We got back and the guys looked really fresh. It is good because there is a long season ahead and we came out of a long period with a much shorter break than most teams in the middle of the year.”
Starting at the beginning of September and ending in late April, the eight-month Guinness PRO14 is an exhausting test of stamina.
But, despite its length, it is not really a marathon for the SA teams competing in the gruelling European-based league.
For the Kings and the Cheetahs, it has become a series of short, sharp sprints.
It has become a case of two weeks on and two weeks off for the struggling Kings.
This is because they are not yet eligible to play in the European Champions Cup like the rest of the PRO14 teams based in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy.
After Friday’s game against the Cheetahs, the Kings face Edinburgh in Port Elizabeth on January 26 before the return game against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on February 2.
When the dust settles on this campaign it would not be surprising if the Kings review their extended mid-summer break to align with the European-based PRO14.
It is a fine balancing act for coaches as they attempt to get the best out of their players...