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Sharks under 21s biting the bullet

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks on 15 Sep 2014 at 12:43
Tagged with : , , , , , , ,

We caught up with Sharks under 21 forward coach Albert van den Berg last week, for a quick chat.

After exchanging initial pleasantries, I dived straight into the thorny issue of results, with the team so far this year failing to live up to the expectations built over a few years of sustained success.
“It’s a fair comment to make,” says van den Berg, “but you need to be aware that in previous years, the under 21s have been allowed to pick from the under 19 squad. This year, Jake White’s come in and said that if you’re under 19, you should play under 19 (unless you’re good enough to play for the seniors) and that’s a system that I believe in. It’s something that we can build on for years to come, if the under 19s can become competitive and start winning trophies – that’s something that will attract more youngsters to come to the Sharks.

“This year the decision has been made that under 19s will only play under 19, with Thomas du Toit being the only exception. We are battling this year because of that and also because we’ve lost a couple of players – our hooker Chris de Beer broke his leg and then his hand, while our flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis dislocated his shoulder against Western Province. We’re pushing hard to sneak into that fourth spot to make the semis – and once you’re there, anything can happen.”

While van den Berg emphasises that the coaches are doing the best they can with a squad lacking in a few key positions, he emphasis that there is certainly much room for optimism going forward. “We’ve got a few really good under 20 players this year, who will still play under 21 next year,” he points out. “If you then look at the strong under 19 squad moving up – including players like the du Preez twins and Ayron Schramm, who are good enough to be playing under 21 rugby already – we have the makings of a very good squad next year. It’s almost like we just need to bite the bullet at under 21 level this year, knowing that 2015 should be a lot better.”

Looking to the things that White is looking at, van den Berg sees positive change ahead. “One of the things Jake wants us to work on is starting our preparations earlier; for instance, we only got together a month before the competition kicked off and started working then – we had our first warm up game against the Cheetahs in Harrismith, but they were already playing their sixth game as a unit. It’s very difficult to work on combinations – and try different things – once the competition has started and the pressure is on.”

Continuity in terms of playing staff is one aspect, but coaches also need time and security. The Sharks junior sides have an unfortunate track record of changing coaches every season and we asked whether this is something that might change in the future. “That’s one of the points that’s been raised and something Jake is looking at,” van den Berg confirms. “When Paul Anthony joined us from the Bulls, he’d been their under 19 coach for eight seasons and had great combinations and continuity on which he could build. We’d love to have that sort of stability and continuity; it’s better for both the players and the coaches to know who they’re going to be working with and to improve our preparation as discussed.”

In closing, we wondered whether the lanky van den Berg might not take a leaf out of a former Springbok teammate’s book and consider a comeback to the playing field, given the dearth of quality options at number 5. “It’s tempting,” he quips, “but there’s only one ticket for a pensioner and Victor’s taken it!”

We’d like to thank Albert (and the Sharks, of course) for the opportunity to chat and wish our youngsters all the best for the remainder of the season.


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