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Cooper call-up mystifies pundits


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 5 May 2015 at 10:07
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , ,

The decision to call up Kyle Cooper as tour group replacement for the injured Sharks scrumhalf Cobus Reinach is confusing indeed. In a season where not much is going right for the franchise and embattled coach Gary Gold, this kind of decision only serves to further infuriate those observers hoping beyond hope for some evidence of a plan.

Let’s talk about the decision itself, first. Naming a 27-man tour squad for a four-week tour is hard – and needlessly so, I feel. I myself raised this concern with SANZAR – stating that since South African teams face longer tour (with the higher risk of injury) they should be allowed to pick larger squads – but the response was that since no South African franchise had ever raised it as an issue, it had never been looked at. Given that a match-day squad currently comprises 23 players, you only have room to take four “spares”. Logic would dictate that since losing a player in any of the truly specialist positions – hooker, scrumhalf or prop – on the eve of a game would leave you in serious trouble, three of your four spare positions should go to men who can cover those areas. That only really leaves you with one space to play with, which I guess you can then fill as best suits the needs of your squad.

The Sharks got most of that right, picking Matt Stevens and Stefan Ungerer as additional cover at prop and scrumhalf respectively, but then got a little confused, it seems, neglecting a third hooker and instead picking five locks. As above, you’d expect to have room for only three locks in a squad of 27, so in this case, the extra second-row men meant only three recognised loose forwards in the group, a foible that was exposed very early on, when Renaldo Bothma was knocked out at training last week. Faced with no other options, Etienne Oosthuizen played flank (poorly – again) with the unlikely duo of Giant Mtayanda and Mouritz Botha providing cover off the bench. At least the gods were kind and they didn’t lose a hooker on the eve of the game; in that case, they’d probably have had to forfeit. That may actually have been easier to stomach than the eventual result, but I digress.

Fast forward to Reinach’s unfortunate injury. It now seems that a third scrumhalf is no longer needed on tour, hence the decision not to call up Cameron Wright. Perhaps somebody has remembered that Fred Zeilinga can play scrumhalf at a pinch, but who knows. It’s since been decided, I guess, that a third hooker is now non-negotiable, hence Cooper’s call up. The loose forward issue remains, though, meaning we can expect to be subjected to at least another three weeks of pretending that Oosthuizen and Botha are anything other than locks (with very poor ball skills) while either Cooper or Franco Marais enjoys a very expensive holiday.

The lack of logic here is baffling. Either tour with three hookers, or don’t. Tour with three scrumhalves, or don’t. But for goodness sake, if it’s blindingly clear that you have too few loose forwards, rather send one of those over at the earliest opportunity. It’s hard to imagine any scenario where Khaya Majola plays worse at flank than Oosthuizen – really it is.

Now it’s perfectly possible that the coaches have a sound and logical reason for making this call, but the deafening silence from Sharks HQ on this matter (along with so many others) makes it impossible for the man in the street (and the educated rugby pundit) to follow the thread. Reinach’s injury occurred on Friday – as of Tuesday, there is no sign of any confirmation from the Sharks’ PR machine that Reinach even suffered an injury or that Cooper has been sent to replace him, much less any explanation as to the thinking behind the switch.

The combination of poor play, baffling decisions and absolutely zero attempt to reassure fans through good communication creates a perfect storm of discontent. Time to learn that lesson, Sharks and learn it well.



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