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A good few ticks (and a couple of question marks too)


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 9 Feb 2015 at 10:00
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve had the benefit of a second, more detailed, viewing of the Sharks’ match against Toulon and wanted to highlight a few things that stood out for me.

All-in-all, I remain rather impressed with the performance as a whole, given that it really was the first competitive hit-out for most of these players in rather a long time. I’ve taken note of the (oft scathing and somewhat unwarranted) criticism from some of you and while I have to agree that it certainly wasn’t a perfect performance, nor a particularly pretty one, I nevertheless found a number of aspects from which to take great confidence ahead of the Super Rugby season.

Intensity

Paul Anthony is in a new role this year – a somewhat unusual (and rather revolutionary) “off the ball” coaching position. Now I’m far from an expert in what this entails, but my understanding is that it is all to do with ensuring that the players maintain a high tempo and keep their intensity up during the game. If we look at the contribution of many of the players, with some of the tight forwards in particular standing out, I think the effects of his work are already showing. Quite simply, the Sharks were streets ahead of Toulon in terms of the intensity they brought to the game, with the commentators in complete awe of the sheer amount of work players like Mo Botha, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Marcell Coetzee were able to get through. I’ve heard it said a number of times that the boys are incredibly fit this year and you can definitely see that in the way the guys get around the park.

Applying pressure

While the Sharks didn’t really do much playing (more on that later), it was incredibly impressive to see how they went about smothering Toulon and stifling their hosts’ attack by applying defensive pressure. Sure, there were one or two occasions were the rush defence was their undoing, but for the most part, the boys got bodies to the ball carrier in numbers, behind the advantage line and used that presence to force mistakes and turn overs. Such a surfeit of turnover ball, on a drier day with a slightly more “gelled” backline, will, I’m sure, result in many tries.

New boys stepping up

Botha and Renaldo Bothma, on debut, were both superb. It’s a little harder to rate some of the backs, who had little ball and frankly not much to do on a night when “Bulls rugby” won the day, but when it comes to our new forward acquisitions, I am very impressed indeed. The “blond broers”, with such similar last names, look ready to die for the cause, which is just what we want.

Halfbacks in control

Now, we may not love the fact that the Sharks didn’t play much, but one thing is for sure – all four of the halfbacks on the night knew exactly what the intended to do, took control of matters and executed the plan with decent accuracy, given the stage of the season. Sure, there were a few charged-down or misdirected kicks, but for the most part, the play was kept in the right parts of the field. More importantly, though, there was a real sense of calm about the men directing the game; I don’t recall ever feeling that Pat Lambie and the others felt anything other than in complete control of what was going on.

Attack? What attack?

Well, there was an interesting period in the opening ten minutes when the Sharks actually did keep ball in hand through a number of phases and actually looked pretty good. Whether they opted to rather keep their “real plans” under wraps, or (perhaps more likely) due to the unfavourable conditions, that approach was very quickly shelved in favour of pragmatism. My view is that it’s pretty unfair to say anything much about the performances put in by anyone wearing a number higher than 10, given just how little they had to do on the night. SP Marais has come in for some criticism and while it’s true he did miss a catch or two, it just wasn’t the sort of game where his skills could be expected to come to the fore. He’ll be much better when we start attacking more (as will all of the others, I’m sure).

Turnovers won, turnovers lost!

Bismarck du Plessis, Marcell Coetzee, Kyle Cooper….. man! I lost count of how many times one of these men poached the ball off the deck. It’s just a pity that we seemed to concede almost as many as we won, through some poor technique, both in placing and in cleaning. While it’s fantastic to be able to effect these sorts of turnover almost at will, the boys need to ensure that it doesn’t happen to them in return; the second try, for example, came directly from turnover ball and really should have been avoided.

Set pieces

Line-outs were good, scrums less so. I felt that a lot of the scrum issues were down to slipping, though, with Matt Stevens in particular losing his footing on a number of occasions. There were some decent shoves there, in amongst the back peddling and given that few Super Rugby sides boast a scrum to rival that of the Toulonaise, I’m not feeling too terribly concerned about this aspect.

Discipline

Wayne Barnes, to me, was a little overeager in terms of punishing robust play. Renaldo Bothma’s yellow card was harsh, if not unjustifiable in the most literal, technical sense. A calmer ref would probably have let that one go, along with at least two other incidents where the Sharks were penalised for rather marginal high tackles. The boys need to be a bit careful, but I certainly wouldn’t say that they were on the wrong side of the line in this game.

So there you have it. I’m glad we won and I saw some exciting hints of things to come. We’re far from the finished article, but I for one am actually glad that the coaches opted not to give away any real secrets about an attacking game that is sure to evolve as the season progresses.

Well done Sharks – new champions of Europe!



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