Whenever new caps are interviewed after their debut there tends to be a recurring theme in how they characterise their first experience of international rugby.
Phrases like “it went by in a flash”, “my lungs were bursting” and “it was faster than any rugby I’ve ever played before” are the norm.
This leads me to believe that, because of the greater physical demands and consequent damage these days that coaches may need to review how they use their squads to limit risks.
I know what you’re thinking – what the fuck qualifies me to give advice to blokes like Joe Schmidt, Steve Hansen, Eddie Jones, Warren Gatland and Michael Chieka?
Well not much to be honest and I may well be talking bollocks (so little change there then!)
Still – consider this argument for a moment.
The teams in the top echelon of league rugby – Super XV (although it’s actually 18), the Top 14, Pro12 and the Premiership all rotate their squads – even when players are healthy – few pick their first choice XV for every game.
This protects players from some of the excessive physical demands.
This season in the Premiership, for example, Schalk Burger, George North, Nathan Hughes and Maro Itoje have all been left out of the starting line-ups (and sometimes not even been in the 23).
Of course international rugby is different and under the ‘results based’ microscope of today’s environment it is dangerous for a coach to take unnecessary risks. They want their best XV and impact players on (or near) the park all the time.
That is fine – as long as they are all fit – these days that is rarely the case. In the current autumn series I can’t think of any team that has less than at least 4 first choice players unavailable – can you?
With this being the ‘new norm’ for coaches, I think it essential that they give international experience to as many of their extended squad as possible.
If they don’t they will increasingly be forced to shove more and more ‘new caps’ into the cauldron of international rugby at the same time. And that is a big danger, given the admitted huge jump in pace and skill at the top level.
It may not be as much of a risk as it seems – players like Jonathan Joseph and Anton Lienert- Brown only made their squads because of injuries but then became first choice after making an enforced step-up.
Does introducing more rotation mean there’s danger of losing games that might have been won with a first choice starting line-up? Sure it does – but this can be reduced by having the experience on the bench ready to come on.
I am convinced that rotation to increase the pool of experience could help lower the impact of injuries that force coaches to introduce more new caps than they’d like or have to play experienced members out of position.
But then – what the fuck do I know? Even Lunny at Askeans takes bugger all notice of what I think!