Springboks boxing clever over "injured" stars
OPINION: It's a ruse. It's a sham. It might even be illegal and immoral. But Peter de Villiers' decision to rest - yes, I said rest - his Springbok heavyweights for the away leg of the Tri-Nations is also a sensible move.
Possibly even brilliant (now there's a word you never thought you'd use in conjunction with de Villiers). Time will tell on that one.
Not for the first time, something tells me the Springboks have got it spot-on with their decision to withdraw 21 top players for the first half of the Tri-Nations.
This cotton wool club has been hidden behind the veil of injuries, but everyone knows that's just the South African union covering their backsides because they're clearly flouting the regulations of the organisation they're a partner in.
De Villiers' stern-faced pronouncement that he had a 21-strong injury-list coincidentally made up of his key senior players, most of whom had faced heavy workloads during the expanded Super Rugby season, has convinced no one, especially the sceptical South African media who have highlighted the list as the sham it is.
Fair enough. Injury, schminjury.
But really de Villiers is only doing what he thinks he needs to do to win the World Cup. Nothing else matters. Especially not a Tri-Nations tournament that's little more than nuisance value in the year of the global tournament.
It's not even an original move. Jake White did it in 2007, with spectacular results at the ensuing World Cup in France.
But that's not to say it's not the right thing to do again. Clearly de Villiers thinks so, and he and his bosses are prepared to risk the wrath of the New Zealand and Australian unions to give their key men - some of whom actually have some sore bits - the rest they need.
The thing is, instead of belittling the Boks for not sending out their best team, maybe the All Blacks would be wise this time - as opposed to 2007 - to, if not follow suit, at least take the principle on board.
Rugby players cannot sustain a peak from February to October. It is physically and mentally impossible. But that's what some All Blacks - I'm thinking Kieran Read, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Dan Carter and maybe one or two others - are being asked to do.
Graham Henry and his assistants will be wise to heed this and understand that it's no sense flogging key troops through the four games of the Tri-Nations all for a silly trophy that no one cares about this year. Everything should be done with the World Cup in mind.
Surely there's enough collective wisdom in this group to understand that now is the time to recharge batteries - as opposed to the first half of the Super Rugby competition, which was the tactic tried last time out.
A couple of weeks or so away from the hurly burly of the rugby arena, and suddenly minds are refocused and aches healed. Not long enough for fitness to wane or the sharpness to fade, but just what a player requires before slipping into World Cup mode.
It makes no sense for Henry to flog Richie McCaw and others through this Tri-Nations. Sure, the fans who pay high ticket prices deserve to see strong teams sent out. But they also have to understand that coaches are building towards one goal in 2011, and that may mean some sacrifices being made.
It's the fans I feel sorriest for through this saga. If you've bought tickets for Sydney and Wellington, the sad fact of the matter is you're going to be watching opposition that's some way below the level it could be.
Already Sanzar chief Greg Peters has been canvassed over whether the South Africans are fulfilling their obligations under the tripartite agreement. The Aussies have also called on him to enforce the fine print and investigate the validity of the so-called injuries.
Peters so far has been rather muted in his response. He muttered something about having confidence the Springboks would not do anything contrary to what they'd signed up for, and that if de Villiers says these 21 blokes are injured and thus unavailable, then that's good enough for him.
If you believe those 21 Boks are all incapable of playing the first two Tri-Nations tests, then perhaps you might be interesting in purchasing the Harbour Bridge off me. I have a deed, I swear.
But jumping up and down over this misses the point. It's not the Boks who are at fault here, it's the television paymasters who demand a Tri-Nations in World Cup year. Clearly the competition is now so irrelevant once every four years that the member countries would be best left to devise their own preparation tests.
But that would require money to be sacrificed. And don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
What did you make of this year's ITM Cup?