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Horak wants to add value

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 26 Nov 2014 at 10:21
Tagged with : , , , ,

As a player, Michael Horak certainly saw his share of sights, gaining a test cap for England in Rugby Union as well as representing his native South Africa (and the Perth Reds) in Rugby League. It’s in coaching, though, that the 37-year-old former Free Stater is currently making his mark and we caught up with him to talk about his new role, as defensive specialist with the Sharks Super Rugby side.

“Brendan Venter had a couple of discussions with me and I was really interested in the challenge and the proposition he made,” Horak tells us. “Obviously it’s a great opportunity for somebody like myself to work with a squad that has been challenging and hopefully will be challenging for top honours for the next few years. There’s a great bunch of guys here – a very talented squad and I look forward to working with them.”

Having worked with both Venter and Gary Gold before at London Irish, Horak is no stranger to their ways. We asked if this played a big role in his decision to accept the Sharks challenge. “Yes, it is obviously always nice to work with people when you’ve got an idea of what they’re about and what their thinking is,” he confirms. “I think, at the end of the day, I’m looking to develop my career and my skill set and working with coaches who have been there and done that – like Gary and Brendan – on a daily basis will hopefully just accelerate that process.”

After a positive stint with the Cheetahs in 2013, where Horak’s impact on their improved defence was evident, this year’s Currie Cup campaign with the Kings was less successful. “The Kings were like a blank canvas, to be honest with you.” he says. “Getting down there, we had a really young and inexperienced squad – I think in the whole squad we only had six players who had senior Currie Cup experience. That and the fact that we were really squeezed for time – we didn’t have the ideal preparation with a lot of players joining us from Europe and from other South African provinces quite late on. It was a tough situation – a pressure situation – but I guess that’s how learning takes place. We always knew that it was going to be a tough ask, throwing together three or four coaches from completely different backgrounds and with different philosophies and building towards Super Rugby in 2016. With a young squad, against arguably three Super Rugby sides, home and away, it was tough, with the pressure growing (and confidence taking a knock) every time you lose. I learned a few lessons too and I think they have a few players there who have a serious future in professional rugby.”

We asked Horak what sort of impact he hoped to have at the Sharks, given that he’s the first specialist defensive coach to be appointed there. “I think the Sharks have been fantastically successful”, he starts off by saying. “I hope I can add a bit of value, but that’s within a coaching staff that’s very experienced already. We try to feed off each other and try to help each other with little bits of info. I’m going to take a lead off Gary and Brendan and hopefully as a management we can complement each other, more than looking to one person to come up with the answer. There are fantastic, vastly experienced players here as well and I’m hoping that if we can utilise all the ideas thrown into the melting pot, it will be fantastic and I think there are exciting times ahead.”

And would there be a lot more pressure on him, joining such a successful franchise? “I wouldn’t say it’s pressure,” he counters, “maybe more a fantastic challenge. That’s why we’re in this game and why we do what we do – because we’re passionate and we try to add value. Obviously you have certain expectations of yourself and you want to deliver your work properly – so for me the pressure really comes form the high standards I set for myself. We all need to work hard and I’m sure the results will follow.”

As a defence coach, we asked Horak how he felt about importance of attack vis-à-vis defence. “I think it’s vitally important,” he says, “rugby is all about a blend. When you are in the right areas of the field attacking with sharpness and with skill, defence is obviously your shield to ensure that you don’t concede points. I think balance is important – defence can never be more important than attack and vice versa. That’s why it’s great to have the coaches that we do on board – we keep each other in check and are all working together to find that right blend of scoring great tries from all over the field, but also making sure the opposition scores as few points as possible in return.”

What about defence as a form of attack, though? Or as a catalyst for attack? Horak thinks it’s vitally important. “Quite a high percentage of tries will come off turn-over possession, so your aim is to make big hits and force the opposition to make mistakes and supply you with turnover ball. You just have to look at the Sharks backs – the lethal strike force they’ve got – and if we can provide them 10 or more good turnover balls in a game through good defensive pressure, I’m really sure we’ll see fantastic tries being scored down the other end of the park.”

We asked Horak about the importance of continuity and communication in a defensive system. Does he feel it would be better to consistently pick the same players each week, thus allowing them to better understand each other and the system? “With this squad of players that we have here at the Sharks, I would think it’s about managing the group,” he says. “Obviously everybody wants to play every game, but that’s not possible – the risk of injury is quite high if you go that way and we have got the luxury with this group of players to be able to rotate and to manage their work load. We need to make sure in the pre-season that we get the basics done – do a lot of work with the guys to get a common understanding of what we want and can execute exactly what we ask of them in a game situation. ”

We’d like to thank Mike Horak and the Sharks for making this interview possible. “Thanks for the support – we really appreciate it!” says the coach in return.


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