Rugby: New All Blacks coach Scott Robertson signals change to player load management during Super Rugby Pacific

New All Blacks coach Scott Robertson has wasted little time revising player load management mandates that plagued his Super Rugby championship tenure with the Crusaders.

One of the benefits of having international players centrally contracted has been the ability to dictate to Super Rugby coaches how much rest their players require during the regular season, leaving franchises to juggle their line-ups based on a blanket rule of no more than five consecutive games. 

En route to seven Super Rugby titles in as many years, Robertson was obliged to navigate these challenges with a roster stacked with All Blacks, but now he's in the top job, he will show some flexibility, with schedules tailored to the individual.

Scott Robertson fronts media at his first All Blacks camp.
Scott Robertson fronts media at his first All Blacks camp. Photo credit: Photosport

"We've changed the model," he said. "We'll do individual load management for the athlete, for the players.

"We found 5-6 games sometimes wasn't enough for players, so we've got Super coaches to look at their draw over the round robin. They still have to have a couple of games off, but look at the draw and what's right for that individual player... how many games do they need, sometimes they need more rest.

"How much did they play the year before and what their bodies are like. We've collaborated on what's best for every individual athlete, rather than having a rule as such. 

"It's the process to get the best for them and us."

As Crusaders coach, Robertson was known to cut a few corners over mandated player rest. Last season, he successfully negotiated to keep captain and lock Scott Barrett on the field a little longer, when confronted by a second-row injury crisis. 

He also earned the disapproval of All Blacks management, when veteran lock Sam Whitelock risked further damage to an injured ankle to take the field against the Chiefs in the Super Rugby Pacific final.

Even Robertson could not totally avoid the often complex calculations required to balance the Crusaders roster. The eventual champions suffered a shock 25-24 loss to Fijian Drua at Lautoka last March, with most of their All Blacks on rest leave.

Robertson is adamant he wants his players to hit top form for their franchises, before fronting for the international window, but understands they can't sustain performance over the full year - 17 Super Rugby games, followed by 14 tests.

"They're not going to play 31 games next year," he said. "They're not going to play 17 games of Super Rugby and peaking for finals footy, so they will have to be managed according to what the individual athletes needs.

"It's individualised conversations, the medical team get involved, and we're open and honest. It's around the draw too, so it's a fine balance for every one."