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Xerox Golden Lions 10 10 48
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Oh hindsight, you wonderful thing!

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 25 Mar 2014 at 11:41
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

With the benefit of knowing exactly what ended up happening, I reckon the Sharks possibly didn’t get their selection for Loftus quite right; in fact, what unfolded there in an all-too-dramatic-for-my-liking 15 minute period exposed a number of questions about succession planning within our squad.

I’ve had a growing feeling in this campaign that Jake White hasn’t really put too much faith in his bench. With a starting fifteen that virtually picks itself, the Sharks have used the bench as a vehicle for giving fringe players a little game time towards the end of matches, but with only those substitutes of genuine, proven quality (Boks Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod and Lourens Adriaanse, for instance) given any real game time, it does feel a little as though “token caps” are the order of the day, once the game has already been won.

In short, the way the Sharks have utilised their bench to date hasn’t, I feel, provided adequate preparation for the sudden loss of one key player ten minutes into a match, much less two.

While it’s admirable that players have been rotated on the bench, the selection of two complete greenhorns for the Loftus derby indicated to me that White really didn’t anticipate that either would be required to play any sort of major role – in fact, he admitted as much during the post-game press conference, stating that the entire game plan had to be changed when Pat Lambie went off. Surely if Tim Swiel was ready to serve as the flyhalf cover in such an important game, then he should have been suitably prepared to step in do what Lambie needed to do? Whether that happened in the first minute, or the seventieth, really shouldn’t have made any difference.

There were few comments made during the week about the somewhat strange decision to elevate Swiel to a bench spot ahead of Fred Zeilinga, with the latter starting regularly at flyhalf for the Vodacom Cup side. In hindsight, we should perhaps have questioned this move a little more. Ditto the decision to throw greenhorn Andre Esterhuizen into the fray when the more experienced and composed Heimar Williams would have proved a safer option.

You can’t buy experience at this level and while it’s a good thing to back youngsters, it’s probably better to do so as part of a managed progression, rather than a deep end swim. Zeilinga and Williams are also young, let’s not forget.

The Sharks have, I hope, learned a lesson from this. As we’ve seen all too clearly this week, injuries are always going to open doors for younger players to step up. Looking ahead to a big challenge this weekend, I personally hope that the Sharks use all the experience they have available within the squad to nurture the guys asked to step in. That means, to me, that vice captains Jean Deysel and Odwa Ndungane have to be brought back into the fold, while the likes of Zeilinga and Williams must surely be recalled to continue the apprenticeships that started in such a promising fashion during the Currie Cup.

Swiel and Esterhuizen are wonderful young players and we know that they will have ample opportunity to show their value in the months and years to come, but for the Wartahs game, with a squad disrupted by injury already, I want to see as much experience as possible included in the matchday 23.


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