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Mastering the positional shuffle

Written by Martin van Niekerk (vanmartin)

Posted in :Lions, Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 14 Apr 2014 at 11:24
Tagged with : , , , , , ,

Sharks fans in general balk at the idea of positional player switches and from a historical point of view, with good reason. It’s driven players from the union and resulted in talent being underutilized. It’s prevented players from settling in a position and in some cases even closed the door on promising youngsters close to making the step up to the senior squad. It would of course be remiss not to acknowledge scenarios where players are experienced or competent in playing more than one position or the coach’s hand is forced, injury and lack of squad depth being the usual suspects in these cases.

Taking all of the above into consideration Jake White seems, for the moment at least, to be getting more right than wrong in this department. This piece could be considered premature at this stage of the Super Rugby season but it should be viewed as the acknowledgement of a trend rather than the final word on the matter.

There was a game-changing moment in Saturday evening’s match against the Lions that was decisive in shifting momentum to the Sharks. This was of course Lwazi Mvovo’s try late in the second half. Up to that point, although the Sharks were in the lead, the game was without a doubt still up for grabs. What is interesting to note is that the two players instrumental in that try were both rookies in their respective positions with S’bura Sithole playing his fourth Super Rugby game in the 13 jersey and Lwazi Mvovo making only his second appearance at fullback. Sbu’s leg-tackle and subsequent rip on Alwyn Hollenbach opened up a rare gap in the Lion’s defence and a deft chip and collect from Mvovo ensured a dot down behind the posts. One could argue that this was simply a fortunate or opportunistic score but what makes it so interesting were the particular skills on display.

S’bura’s defence at outside centre was (rightfully) an area of concern but it was his defence that ensured that a man who is no slouch at 12 was brought down. To then have the presence of mind to follow up with a steal starts to give the impression that Jake probably didn’t get lucky on a selection gamble. Moving on to Lwazi, we see a fullback joining the fray at the right time and not simply relying on only his blistering pace but instead making good use of his boot in getting his try. Smart plays from players in positions that require good awareness and quick thinking. Their contributions weren’t limited to this one period and were evident throughout the the game but this play especially highlighted what Jake sees in these two.

On the flip-side of the coin we do of course have the continued selection of Alberts at lock. There are good arguments for this being either a savvy selection or a mistake and could thus be used to further enforce the above or alternatively use it as counter-point. At the very least it provides a good departure point for debate in the comments.

As mentioned earlier, we’ll be able to more accurately judge certain decisions with more conviction towards the end of the season but it is important to give credit where it’s due and to try and gain some insight into the way Jake approaches his selections.


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