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Time to take action on defence


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 13 Apr 2015 at 14:11
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , ,

We’ve had a lovely week, full of shouting, apologies, kum-ba-ya’s and any other number of special moments, whether feel-good or otherwise. It’s time to start getting serious, though, about what’s actually going on between the four white lines.

We can talk all we like about character, attitude, commitment, spirit and how much more of it was in evidence this past week (good to see because there was none against the Crusaders). What we should instead be talking about – and asking pointed questions about – is why the Sharks are making such basic errors on defence. We’ve seen this one rear its ugly head in every game so far this season, but perhaps it only really came to a head when the Crusaders scored eight (!!!!) relatively simple tries against us. Last week again, any chance of victory against the Lions was completely scuppered by repeated failings of the defensive system.

I say “system” because it’s very important to distinguish between individual errors and systematic failures. We’ve spoken at length about the players being human and how it’s understandable and forgivable for a person to make errors. Every player is going to miss a tackle now and again, but when the entire team seems to go AWOL on defence for long periods of a season, that’s when you need to look at the system in which they are operating. It’s about reading the play, communicating, knowing when to commit and when to shift – I mean, just basically understanding who is meant to be tackling whom. This area is letting the Sharks down over and over again, in every match this season.

The Lions’ first try, ironically enough, seems to come down to an individual error more than anything else. Elton Jantjies took the ball to the defensive line and then found Howard Mnisi, who started out on Jantjies’s outside but cut back in. Jantjies’s pass was clever, since it wasn’t immediately clear which of Mnisi or Lionel Mapoe was going to pick it up, but with Mo Botha having shifted (correctly, I think) to cover Jantjies, Lourens Adrianse was the man responsible for cover on the inside and he simply didn’t manage to make an effective tackle. Let’s be a little fair to Lourens – it was a clever play from Jantjies and he probably didn’t read it well enough, but these things happen. There was a distinct lack of pressure too, allowing the Lions far too much momentum.

The second try exposed all sorts of failings, not least of which a defensive line which saw Adriaanse, Dale Chadwick, Franco Marais and Etienne Oosthuizen lining up against the entire Lions’ backline. I’m not sure where the Sharks backs were, but surely some of them should have been in that line. Worse, the defensive line lost any semblance of alignment as Oosthuizen shot up on the outside, creating a yawning gap between himself and Franco Marais on the inside. The icing on the cake, though, came when Marais inexplicably shifted his focus to Warren Whiteley (who was already covered by Chadwick) creating a two-on-one situation for the already-poorly-positioned Oosthuizen to cover. Ruan Combrinck didn’t have to do much at all to expose this deficiency and one can only wonder whether there was any communication at all between any of the Sharks defenders. The inside man (Chadwick) should have had Whitely covered and should have made it very clear to Marais that Combrinck was his man to tackle.

This “lazy horseshoe” on defence (where the defenders fail to keep in line) came into play for the third Lions’ try as well; the Sharks came up in a decent-enough line at first, but quickly lost that shape and criminally, failed to re-align despite a deep pass back to Mnisi. The centre somehow managed to fix no fewer than three defenders with a hard, straight run at the line; as Renaldo Bothma, Marcell Coetzee and Andre Esterhuizen all tackled the same player, a simple inside ball to Harold Vorster again exposed the rather slow Adriaanse and it was game over. As the man inside with the best view, it was Adriaanse who possibly should have called Coetzee off the tackle – but that’s assuming he has been given that role (and understands it) within the defensive system.

Big thanks to my pal Morne for helping with this analysis – and I’m going to quote him directly to sum up. “If you get the three things right in defence: alignment, spacing and communication, you achieve one very simple goal, you take away space from the attacking side. If you close down or get in between the spaces they attack they cannot go anywhere – that is how you defend for 20+ phases. Simple systems, hard work, proper communication. The Sharks seem to have no system, do not work hard, and there is clearly no communication.”

A pretty damning assessment, but not far off the mark. Let’s hope that in between all the talk of character, we’re doing some talking about defence as well.



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