Jonathan Davies: Battle fatigue: the spectators get tired, too

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Apart from those players crowding the orthopaedic wards of the local hospitals, the international rugby squads of Great Britain and Ireland will be setting off this week to conquer the world and you have to ask - are their journeys really necessary? Will they return flushed with success and buoyant with confidence or will they drag themselves home even more battered, bruised and weary than they are now?

Apart from those players crowding the orthopaedic wards of the local hospitals, the international rugby squads of Great Britain and Ireland will be setting off this week to conquer the world and you have to ask - are their journeys really necessary? Will they return flushed with success and buoyant with confidence or will they drag themselves home even more battered, bruised and weary than they are now?

I have been on too many summer tours when the latter was the case and that was back in the days when a trip away was far more of a rarity than it is now, and when you looked forward to the chance to spread your wings and broaden your experience.

But that was also a time, and it was not too long ago, when international rugby was something to be savoured, when it brought some fine cuisine to the rugby menu. These days, internationals are more like visits to fast-food outlets and occur so frequently your taste buds tend to be destroyed in the process.

I am fully aware that the unions need so much money these days that they have to cram in as many matches against other countries as they can. But, surely, we have reached the time when the repetitive flow of all these matches becomes counter-productive. Spectators get tired, too, you know.

It would make a difference if the authorities just took their foot off the throttle every four years and decided that in the summer following a World Cup everybody would get a long rest. The game would be bound to improve as a result.

We do not seem to have had a break from the game for over two years and think how much all our players deserve a restorative break. The World Cup seems ages ago, but these boys are still being driven on - except, that is, for those whose bodies cannot take any more. They are the lucky ones.

Everyone seems chained to a treadmill that never stops. Every tour gives rise to a reciprocal tour and nobody seems able to stop the wheel turning on and on. Two of England's top club sides, Wasps and Bath, were still playing yesterday, for heaven's sake. Willing horses are being flogged unmercifully.

I am all in favour of measuring ourselves against the best the world has to offer - there's no point in playing weak sides - but a break every four years is not too much to ask.

Southern hemisphere countries do not appear to have any problems organising a period of rest and recuperation for their men. But we continue to send tired teams down there. And their tasks will be even more difficult this time because the opposition will all have points to prove after World Cup disappointments.

I am not saying I won't enjoy watching them when they get there. Wales, for instance, have a new coach in Mike Ruddock, who had a promising start to his reign on Wednesday when Wales beat the Barbarians 42-0.

The Welsh played as if they'd had a big black cloud removed from above their heads. Ruddock's first priority is to sort out the scrums and line-outs and he has already improved that department, but the mighty packs of Argentina and South Africa will provide the real test.

Ireland are also in South Africa and need not expect a holiday atmosphere. Scotland will do well to come back from Australia less disheartened than they are already and England will be well aware of the welcome awaiting them Down Under.

Sir Clive Woodward's men might not be instantly recognisable as the World Cup winners but that won't worry opponents who are relatively fresh and have been longing for the day they can retaliate for the humiliation they suffered last November.

England have great strength in depth and plenty of quality among the players filling the holes left by injury and retirement but they'll be underdogs on this occasion.

Like the rest, they must make the most of it and come back battered but better for the experience.

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