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Settle Down


Written by Martin van Niekerk (vanmartin)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 29 May 2014 at 10:36
Tagged with : , , , , , ,

I’ve been trying to get this article out since our loss to the Brumbies but circumstances have conspired against me. A fair amount of water has passed under the bridge since that game but it has in the process confirmed a few of my own suspicions regarding what the Sharks have been missing during their midseason malaise. It’s by no means the only contributing factor but I’d like to focus on this particular facet because it is so often overlooked.

Since our loss at Loftus the Sharks have managed to mostly keep winning games but in a fashion that some may describe as nothing more than being too stubborn to lose. While these victories were by no means convincing or the template for long-term success (the loss against the Highlanders being proof) they at least ensured the necessary points haul to remain at the top of the table.

After watching the Brumbies game there was a subtle shift taking place within the team though and that’s why I wouldn’t classify that particular loss as part of our ‘slump’ period. Admittedly we lost but I was surprised to see composure starting to creep into the team. It was subtle but it was there and I felt we came close to taking that game at times, the home-ground advantage probably giving the Brumbies the slight edge that allowed them to ultimately win.

The beautiful thing about composure is that it allows a down and out team to fight on more level terms. I can’t think of a better example of this than the Bulls and Crusaders teams. Regardless of how their season starts, disruptions in or lack of playing or coaching personnel, they somehow usually manage to pick themselves up and make the opposition feel very uneasy about facing them. Often this would lead to a scenario where they made you as opposition supporter feel that they’re turning your home ground advantage into their own. Horrible, horrible feeling that. And that’s probably why a lot of Crusaders fans still have a nasty taste left in the back of their throats. The Sharks are playing with increased composure week by week, since that Brumbies game.

What is it that has me harping on about this particular attribute? Encourage and nurture in your team for long enough and it allows all sorts of other dormant qualities to rise to the fore. That player brimming with x-factor in your backline suddenly starts delivering on his promise. The physical forward starts dominating opposition. The set-pieces start clicking and the kicker’s conversion rate goes up. Given enough time one would swear the whole coaching line-up and approach changed. We place attributes such as strength, speed, stamina and x-factor in high esteem in a rugby team and rightly so but the key to unlocking these and maximising their usefulness in winning is (all together now!), composure.

Playing arm-chair Sharks coach for a second I believe the following players contribute to that composure in the team and need to be accommodated going into the final rounds: Bismarck du Plessis has always been vital for his contributions in other facets of play but is growing in his captaincy role and is now one of the key cogs in this regard. Stephan Lewies, a player who’s shown a maturity way beyond his age and experience level. Willem Alberts, who always just quietly gets on with it in the background, his contributions often overlooked. Frans Steyn who never looks completely comfortable out of position and yet manages to get the job done anyway. Either one of S’bura Sithole or Paul Jordaan who both seem more than adequate at handling the defensive responsibilities at centre. And finally SP Marais who is not as flashy as Mvovo but just brings that calming presence into the back three. I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing him shifted to wing to allow Mvovo to play fullback simply because of the composure he brings into the team.

I’ve omitted a few injured and fringe players but I’ll leave that to be discussed below.

I’ll end this article with a final thought. Traditionally composure is considered a non-negotiable in any champion team’s halfback pair. Could a lot of our ‘underperformance’ in the mid-season be attributed to the loss of our go-to halfback pair during the Bulls game? If this is the case, have the Sharks managed to pull off something extraordinary by staying on top of the standings without a settled halfback pairing?



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