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Build or buy?

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 12 May 2015 at 11:10
Tagged with : , , , ,

It’s 2015, it’s a World Cup year and the Sharks have a lot of senior players in their squad. I don’t think I’d be revealing any state secrets or shocking any of you with truly unexpected news if I pointed out that we should probably expect a few of them to move on from Durban at the end of the season.

Now, I don’t have a list of who’s in and who’s out; it’s way too early for that and we of course need to understand that, with a competition still underway and plenty of negotiation still to come, talking about specific players and their plans is not the right thing to do. The intent of this discussion is rather to debate the overall philosophy that the Sharks should adopt in terms of replacing departing players; in short, should they promote, or should they procure?

Let’s start by addressing a perception, one which says that the Sharks are a team of mercenaries, blind to the existence of talent within their own junior ranks. This stereotypical Sharks setup will always go to the market to buy whatever journeyman (or “experienced campaigner”) is available, ignoring the plethora of good young options available on their very doorstep. Is this tag justified? The answer, I guess, is “it depends”, since while one can certainly find enough examples to substantiate the perception, you could just as easily disprove it by citing other cases.

The Sharks team that played the Hurricanes this weekend, for example, contained nine Sharks age-group players in the starting team (10 if you count Renaldo Bothma) and a further five on the bench. I’ll not do a detailed analysis on the other South African teams that played in the last round, but I’d be genuinely surprised if any of them was able to beat that ratio. Sure, the presence of a Matt Stevens, Lionel Cronje or Conrad Hoffmann in the squad is always going to grab the headlines, but we shouldn’t be too quick to let the perception cloud the reality.

That’s not to say that the Sharks couldn’t be doing a better job when it comes to promoting from within, but we do need to acknowledge that there isn’t always a steady stream of willing and able youngsters coming through, in all the right positions. In years gone by, there have been gluts at lock, prop, hooker, scrumhalf at times when there simply weren’t places for all of these players in the senior squad. A bit of movement, in other words, is to be expected and the Sharks remain a nett producer of rugby talent at age group level. Again, when such a “discard” comes good at another province, it’s always going to make headlines, far more so than a junior who does progress through the ranks in Durban. Just as there have been these surpluses in some positions, there have been shortages in others; I’m genuinely not seeing evidence of enough good wing or fullback options in the junior ranks to convince me that the Sharks shouldn’t strengthen this position via acquisition, just as an example.

There’s also a very strong feeling that juniors need to prove themselves and earn promotion. In a season when the Vodacom Cup team has lost all but two matches (after an under 21 campaign last year that failed similarly) it’s hard to make a genuine call for blanket youth promotion. While everyone likes to pretend that the Lions have a team chock-full of brilliant 21 year olds, the reality is that the spine of their team is far more experienced than that and the Sharks would be foolish to think they could do well in Super Rugby without a core of seasoned players.

The right answer to this question, as always, is one of balance. I believe that the Sharks should genuinely always look to what they have in house first, but should not be afraid to invest in quality experienced players from outside the province when the junior systems do not have any suitable candidates in a particular position. If anything, the issue over the last few years has not been too much procurement, but rather that too high a percentage of the players that have been procured have let the side down.

A good youngster will always be a better option than an average older player; let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that every youngster is automatically good, or every older player necessarily and over-the-hill mercenary or journeyman.


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