A group of 14 players assembled in Cape Town on Sunday for a three-week physical and rugby development camp following a break from the Vodacom United Rugby Championship. They have been participating in a series of gym and field training sessions as well as alignment meetings with the Springbok coaches and management team.
The camp will run until Friday 10 March, after which the players will return to their franchises for the closing stages of the Vodacom URC and EPCR competitions.
Nienaber explained the importance of the camp and the make-up of the group saying that most of the players had very little rest in the last two seasons as SA’s franchises breached the divide between the southern and northern hemisphere.
“Most of the players participating in this camp have not had a break since the British& Irish Lions Series due to the combined northern and southern hemisphere seasons,” said Nienaber.
“That sums up the importance of this block for us. It was also fantastic that we were able to plan this break during the Six Nations competition as the other franchises will also be without their top players.”
Nienaber added: “The biggest mistake one can make though is to assume that these players will be in the Rugby World Cup squad. We are currently tracking around 60 players, but at the same time the door is open for any player to throw their name into the mix.
“We used close to 50 players in the last two years since the COVID-19 pandemic, many of whom were in our bubble, but that said, form does influence selection and the door is always open for someone who is not necessarily in the mix to prove that he deserves a place in the squad, as Herschel Jantjies did in 2019.”
Andy Edwards, Head of Athletic Performance, was delighted to kick off what marks an important year for the Boks with the Rugby World Cup kicking off in September, saying the break and this development block was crucial for the players from a physical and rugby perspective.
“We have players playing all around the world, so it was important for us to enter this year in a sensible way,” said Edwards.
“Most of these players have been on a long stretch following the shift into the northern hemisphere, and while there are many positives to playing in the north, it created challenges for us from a rest and development window perspective.
“With a break in the URC, we tried not to disrupt the teams too much, and to factor the rest in at a time when the other teams were also without their internationals due to the Six Nations. And it is exciting to start the year with this block going into the Rugby World Cup later this season.”
Commenting on the differences tracked from the 2019 World Cup to this year, Edwards said: “We measured a few things from the last World Cup to now and there are things that have stood out, such as the way the season has evolved and demands on the players.”
The Springboks will kick off a bumper 2023 season against Australia in Pretoria on Saturday, 8 July, in the opening round of the shortened Castle Lager Rugby Championship, which will be followed by clashes against New Zealand at the Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland a week later, and Argentina in Johannesburg on Saturday, 29 July, in their final match on home soil before the build-up to their Rugby World Cup defence starts.
They will then travel to Buenos Aires in August to take on the Pumas before facing Wales and the All Blacks in Rugby World Cup warm-up matches in Cardiff and London in the final build-up to the extravaganza in France.
South Africa will kick off their Rugby World Cup title defence on Sunday, 10 September, against Scotland in Marseille, which will be followed by pool matches against Romania in Bordeaux (17 September), Ireland in Paris (23 September) and Tonga in Marseille (1 October).
The Rugby World Cup quarter-finals will be played on the weekend of 14/15 October, with the semi-finals on 20/21 October and the final on Saturday, 28 October.