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Forward mobility the key to excitement?


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks on 2 Jul 2015 at 11:12
Tagged with : , , , , ,

At yesterday’s pre-Currie Cup press conference, Gary Gold spoke of the depth available to him and expressed his confidence in the squad he has, despite the usual player losses to the Springbok cause. In particular, he dived into one particular aspect – that of mobility amongst the pack – that warrants further discussion.

“If you take just one position – lock – Etienne Oosthuizen will go to second row, he’s played back row in Super Rugby, you have those kinds of mobile players in the second row which can only stand you in good stead. Then there’s Philip van der Walt, Jean-Luc and Daniel du Preez, Khaya Majola and Jean Deysel to pick from in the back row, we have quite a mobile team. I think it can lead to some exciting rugby.”

I guess it’s fair to say that the Sharks will inevitably sacrifice a fair amount of up-front bulk – and with it “grunt” – going into this campaign. I mean, you simply do not remove Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marcell Coetzee, Willem Alberts and Renaldo Bothma from a forward pack without drastically changing its complexion and while the Sharks will argue that they have able backups in most positions, you’re still losing a massive amount of experience and cohesion, never mind the sheer weight.

Fans will be hoping – in line with what Gold appears to be saying – that the team may be forced into playing a more expansive, continuity-based style of rugby as a result of this change in personal. Oosthuizen aside (he actually ends up being about the heaviest man in the new pack, at 118kgs), you’d have to be crazy to expect 100kg Khaya Majola to play the same “wrecking ball” role at openside as 112kg Marcell Coetzee does. Similarly, a player like Philip van der Walt (who may be roughly similar to Renaldo Bothma in a pure kilogram sense) brings such a completely different skill set that trying to utilise him in the same way would be foolish. Let’s not even talk about Alberts…. I mean, NOBODY is the same size as that monster!

The loose forwards will need to be used differently, which is no bad thing, but the key question I have is about the tight five – how do the Sharks ensure that this new era of exciting and mobile forward play does not inevitably lead to a deterioration in set piece performance? While it must be said that the once-feared Sharks scrum has been in drastic decline over the last few years, even with the behemoth Bok front row, it is worrying to consider just how much worse it could get, should the lighter and more “mobile” Dale Chadwick and Lourens Adriaanse not find their scrumming mojo. Marco Wentzel did a pretty impressive one-man rescue job at line-out time during Super Rugby (emerging as the top ball-taker and ball-stealer in the entire competition), but with new hookers, new lifters and new support jumpers, a lot of work is going to be required in this area too to ensure the Sharks remain competitive.

One thing that’s for sure is that the lineout drive 5m from the line surely cannot remain as the de facto route to points; that could be a good thing, though. Remember the days when the Sharks used to use the lineout as a platform from which to launch exciting attacking moves that required forwards and backs to work together – and actually pass the ball to one another? Let’s hope that the new emphasis on “mobility” could be the catalyst for a return to this exciting style of play.



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