Written 30 March 2016
Let’s start with the Sharks who have made a successful foray into their first series of matches. They have a set game plan and, before the match against the Crusaders, it had paid dividends. But, it appears there is no plan B. While defence is resolute and attempts to play in the opponent’s half make some sense, the skills to apply this strategy are not finely honed enough. It doesn’t require unusual thinking skills to work out that this approach will simply not work against teams which have a great flair for counter-attack, such as the Crusaders and Highlanders, to pick only two. One might say that the game plan worked for about sixty minutes of the match against the Crusaders. True, but a match lasts eighty minutes. Eventually something had to give and the Crusaders used their attackers to seal the deal. No surprise really.
A noteworthy aspect of the Crusaders’ planning was the way in which they employed their ‘big gun’, Nadolo. His position is left wing, but he popped up all over the place. In contrast, JP Pietersen, who has crash ball skills, was seldom in the game. Had Gary Gold and his coaches forgotten the devastating break Pietersen made against the Stormers the week before to send his namesake, Joe, in for a decisive try? (Of course, for those who think detailed coaching is essential, Joe P was lucky to score as he had the ball under his ‘wrong’ i.e. inside arm. It could so easily have been dislodged. It brought back memories of a missed try by British and Irish Lions winger, Ubogu, on the last Lions tour, who lost the ball when the same JP Pietersen smashed into him in a brilliant cover tackle. It turned out to be one of three basic errors which cost the B and L Lions the series.) I rest my case.
Now what is there to say of the mercurial Willie le Roux? Is he playing to his true standard of excellence? I don’t think so. Word has it that Gold and Co, have decided to let le Roux ‘play his own game’! What on earth does that mean? If it means partly that he must use his flair and time his entries into the line as he sees fit, fine. But rugby is a fifteen-man team game. There has to be discussion and advice as to how to employ le Roux’s enormous talent to good effect. At present, le Roux’s efforts are sporadic and improvised. The truth is he doesn’t kick tactically well enough. Occasionally, he chips to good effect, but there’s no consistency. At present he plays like a loose cannon – devastating when well-primed and fired, but much too erratic. How hard is he expected to practise? Who is measuring the effectiveness of each move and the timing and execution of each kick? Is he personally debriefed in detail? It doesn’t appear so to me. So here we have brilliance under-exploited by casual coaches. I think that’s a fair comment.
I expect the Sharks to be hammered on tour by nearly all antipodean teams; maybe they’ll beat The Force. I hope I’m proved wrong. One has to have a number of game plans to suit play against opponents who don’t all play the same way. That’s elementary surely. Today with access to video recording of all opponents, it’s not too difficult to work out each one’s basic strategy and prepare accordingly. To mention just one aspect of backline coaching, which all South African teams appear to ignore, apart from the Lions; ‘impact players and their role in attack’. I mentioned the way coach Todd Blackadder used every opportunity to have Nadolo where the ball was. In contrast, Gary Gold et al. don’t seem to have focused on their impact players e.g. JP Pietersen, to mention only one. He makes his own opportunities and inevitably gains ground, but I detect no pattern in his role. When last did we see him take an inside or outside pass from his flyhalf?
The Sharks kicked away 80% of all possession, the Crusaders 22%. Absolutely inexcusable! The box-kick is a curse and Reinach does not execute it consistently well enough. It is clear as crystal that the Sharks’ coaching staff have little or no faith in their three-quarters. I detect no flair, little by way of planned moves. They are simply tackling machines. Small though he may be, Paul Swanepoel (?), at centre, is a terrific runner of the ball. Where are the half-breaks to send him away? Where is the planning for blindside attack with le Roux in the van? Answer, nowhere. Enough! I’m getting ‘crabby’ again.
I’ll make comments on other sides next week.