Highlanders full-back Ben Smith feels the increase in Kiwi derbies because of SANZAAR’s decision to cut Super Rugby to 15 teams could put New Zealand players’ welfare at risk.
With the new ruling resulting in two South African teams and one Australian team being axed in Super Rugby next season, it means that matches between New Zealand sides will increase from six to eight.
This, coupled with an already intense international schedule, could really affect the players not just physically but mentally in terms of stamina, according to Smith.
“We definitely enjoy them, but at the same time it does take a lot out of you,” the Highlanders captain told stuff.co.nz when asked about the all-Kiwi affairs.
“When you’ve got, as we did the way the draw worked out, four New Zealand teams to start things off, it is pretty tough, and it does impact you physically.
“I missed a couple of those games (with a head knock) but I know from the other boys four in a row is a massive effort to start the competition.
“If people are playing those eight derby games and for some guys if they’re playing a lot of test matches in a calendar year, it’s a big impact on the player, and the body. Physically and mentally I just wonder if someone will be able to get through that massive season.”
“I’m sure there will have to be ways around it with how people approach it, and how teams make sure players are staying fresh throughout a calendar year. But that’s not my job. That’s for someone who is a lot higher up than me.
“I just think that it will take its toll. You might not see it till the end-of-year tours and those kind of things. Something has got to give. It’s a lot with eight derby games for guys who play all those test matches. But there’s different ways to approach things, and I’m sure they’ll be all over that.”
Smith was asked what made the derbies a more difficult physical and mental test compared to a game against a South African or Australian opponent.
“For the [all-]New Zealand games there’s a lot on them, and everyone knows each other pretty well,” he said.
“The games are really fast, and they’re really physical. I’m not saying the South Africans or Australians don’t play physical or fast, but the intensity of those games against New Zealand teams always seems to be right up there.
“There’s also a lot on the line when New Zealand teams meet each other, in terms of the conference points table. Last year we played the Lions in South Africa, and that was a game played at speed, it was physical, and it was one of the toughest games I’ve played.
“I’m not saying New Zealand derbies are the only games that are tough, but there’s just something special about those games and it does make it pretty tough.”