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My 2012 Sharks Wish-List

Written by André Meyer (Culling Song)

Posted in :Original Content, Reader Submissions, Sharks, Super Rugby on 30 Jan 2012 at 13:58
Tagged with : , , , ,

With the 2012 installment of Super Rugby rapidly approaching, I’ve been feeling myself filled with a sense of optimism over this year’s Sharks squad; settled and stable (some important contract extensions have been put to bed), talented, with depth across the park and a decent blend of youth and experience… on the face of it, it seems like a group who could possibly go all the way.

But then I think back to the start of 2011 and recall that back then I was filled with sense of optimism over that year’s Sharks squad; settled and stable (some high-value offers from the Lions had been rebuffed), talented, with depth across the park and decent blend of youth and experience… on the face of it, it seemed like a group who could possibly go all the way. Yet, as we all know, in the end the team failed to live up to our lofty (and not entirely unreasonable) expectations.

This is not to say that we should all descend into depths of depression and despair when assessing our chances at silverware this year; certainly, by the utterances made by our coaching staff, it seems that some important lessons have been learnt from last year, which, if applied correctly, could still see 2012 turn out to be a landmark year for Sharks Rugby. Nor is it the aim of this article to speculate on what our beloved Sharks will achieve in 2012. Rather, this is me looking at the failings of the recent past, and stating what outcomes from those lessons I would hope to see being implemented in this year.

So, without further ado, here’s how to make Culling Song happy in 6 easy steps:

1) Player Rotation
We all know what fearsome strike weapons we have in our ball-carrying department with players like Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Marcel Coetzee. These are juggernauts with an ability to breach the advantage line even when the opposition knows exactly what to expect. However, we’ve also in the past seen rapidly diminishing returns from these players as they started to tire as the season progressed. Simply put, it’s just not reasonable to expect somebody to be able to effectively gain ground week in and week out by steamrollering over and through opposing defenses; sooner or later the continuous exertion has to take its toll. Rotation of players should be non-negotiable in the current, extended Super Rugby series, and coaches who do this effectively will be the ones more likely to succeed. Which brings me to…

2) Coaching
In recent years the Sharks’ play has been as multi-faceted as a blank sheet of paper, with their playbook containing by my count exactly two moves:

2.1) Pass the ball to Willem Alberts. Recycle. Pass the ball to Bismarck du Plessis. Recycle. Pass the ball to Willem Alberts. Recycle. Pass the ball to Bismarck du Plessis. Recycle. Pass the ball to Willem Alberts. Recycle. Pass the ball …


2.2) Pass the ball from 9 to 10 to 12 to 13 to 11/14. Pray like hell that someone makes a line break and something happens as a result (Note: Play 2 was only ever used if Play 1 proved unsuccessful after being continuously attempted for 15 – 20 minutes).

Just because Willem Alberts can run over people, and just because Jean Deysel can do a “Hulk smash puny humans” hand-off doesn’t mean they should have to; not only does it increase the load on these guys, it’s also predictable and becomes easy to defend against. If these guys were put into space, at pace, and avoided doing the exact same thing every time, they’d be so much more effective. Similarly, although we have some wings with blistering pace and genuine finishing ability, scant opportunities have been created for them to capitalize on. Added to that, last year our lineouts were abysmal. Ditto for our first-time tackling, our ball protection, ruck-technique and a host of other aspects of play.

Basically, what I would like to see is some evidence of our coaches actually doing what coaches are employed for; namely, working out what our strengths are, and how to play to them, and assessing our own areas of deficiency, and putting actual, effective plans in place to address this. For example, we all know we don’t have an out-and-out fetcher-type flank, so our coaches should work out how to compensate for this. Also, I want to see our coaches analysing opposition strengths and weaknesses, and tailoring our gameplans accordingly. Furthermore, I want to see the ability from our brains trust to vary and evolve our approach as the season progresses; what’s effective at the start of the season will not necessarily remain that way. OK? OK. Moving on then.

3) Succession Planning
When our new Bok coach originally set about rebuilding the Bulls, one of the first areas he started focusing on was implementing good youth development structures. Having well-run junior structures should be the lifeblood of any professional union looking for long-term, sustained success. Sadly, despite the impressive number of players who have emerged from the Sharks junior ranks to not only represent the Sharks but also the Bokke, our recent track record has been very much more along the “paying lip service than actually backing youngsters” lines. Fortunately, it would appear that there is a move in the right direction, but there is still much room for improvement. Ideally, 2012 should be the year where the Sharks find the right balance in exposing our junior players to senior rugby in a structured manner where, surrounded by more experienced players, they are afforded adequate opportunity to demonstrate their worth.

Having said that, youth development cannot and will not ever be the be-all and end-all of succession planning. It is simply impossible to develop youngsters of Super Rugby quality in every position, and having them mature at exactly the moment when they are required. For this reason, external recruitment must necessarily always form a part of a union’s short-, medium- and long-term planning. Done correctly, recruitment could add huge value to a union, and recruited players can be just as much part of the union’s lifeblood and identity. After all, who here would question Willem Alberts or Jean Deysel’s loyalty, or not see them as “true Sharks”?

Of course, the key here is that recruitment should be done shrewdly, and in careful conjunction with internal development plans. So please Sharks, can we refrain from repeating some of our more…er… “choice” recruiting exercises like Dean Hall, Kees Lensing and Jacques-Louis Potgieter?

Lastly, recruitment should not just be focused on players. Defense, decision-making under pressure, contact skills, forward play, backline play, etc. are all specialized areas requiring specific training to improve on. The right people are available out there; the question is whether the Sharks are brave enough to own up to past mistakes and look for help where needed. And speaking of bravery…

4) Brave Decision-Making
This is a particularly frustrating issue for me, because Plum doesn’t seem like the kind of person to shirk from having to make tough calls, and yet, he seems to develop these blind spots, for lack of a better term.

Working in a production environment, I understand the need to from time-to-time invest in new assets with the aim on improving output. It also happens that on occasion the acquired equipment doesn’t perform to expected standards, placing significant capital investment at risk. At times like these, every effort is normally made to rectify whatever shortcomings or failings the equipment may have, but if results don’t improve, it is sometimes necessary for someone to take responsibility for the initial decision (and whatever consequences may arise it), and for the company to write the assets off, and move on. It’s generally not a pleasant decision to make, but has to be done with the bigger picture in mind.

Similarly, if a recruited player does not perform to expectation, every effort should be made to work with the player to improve his standard of play. However, should the player still fail to make the grade, the player should not continue to feature in the squad out of some misguided attempt to recover the funds invested.

To paraphrase Megatron, one of our current centres has now been reconditioned more times than a ’82 Ford Cortina. If, after this most recent improvement program, he still does not deliver, someone needs have the minerals to pull the plug. And while the player in question is an easy example, there are a number of players who need to front up. Non-performance should be addressed with a shape up or ship out approach; mediocrity can not be tolerated if long-term success is the aim.

5) A Solution at 13
‘nuff said

6) Appropriate Results
Like most other Sharks fans out there, I want desperately for the Sharks to win the coveted Super Rugby title. Where I may differ from others though, is that I do not want them to pull out all the stops and win it, if it comes at the cost of not winning the trophy again for another decade. Rather, I’d like to see results that reflect a process being implemented that will result in sustained, long-term success; in the Sharks become a championship team, and not just a winning team. So if the Sharks are eliminated in the play-offs by a better team, but played high-quality rugby throughout the season, and groomed a number of youngsters through the course of the season, I’ll happily accept it. To my mind, the day the Sharks wins Super Rugby, I want to know that they won it because they deserved to, and that they will continue doing so.

But anyway, enough about me. What is it that you want?


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