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The captaincy conundrum

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 23 Oct 2015 at 10:55
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A few eager souls have started discussing the thorny issue of captaincy for the 2016 season already, so I thought that a quiet Friday would be the perfect time to weigh in with my own opinion. Few would argue that the Sharks – particularly in Super Rugby – have battled in this area of late and it’s one where a genuine, long term solution needs to be found.

Let me start off by pointing out that I have the utmost respect for anyone asked to step up and captain a side under difficult circumstances and while I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that I don’t consider him a good fit as long term leader of the team, I do believe that Marco Wentzel has done a truly fantastic job in 2015. Initially signed as an option to increase depth in the second row (and the teach younger players how the lineout game works), Wentzel had to suffer the ignominy of being sidelined by Jake White, only to rise once more like a veritable phoenix to play just about every minute of every game for the Sharks this year – that at the age of 36. Putting personal health aside, Wentzel stepped up and took on the responsibility of being the only guy to “keep his head” when those around him were losing theirs and while the Currie Cup campaign was a disaster, I don’t feel we can genuinely apportion any of the blame in the captain’s direction.

All that being said, 2016 is a new year and if the plan is genuinely to play Wentzel into the ground once again, then I weep for the team’s prospects. With a number of stalwarts and experienced players having moved on, the time, I feel, is ripe for a fresh young captain to take control of the team and stamp his authority. Just as a raw Gary Teichmann stepped up in 1995 and became the talisman of the Sharks “team of the nineties”, so we need a leader to do the same 20 years later; and if he were “home grown” like Teichmann, so much the better, I feel.

Let’s have a look at a few candidates and try to assess the pro’s and con’s of each.

- Patrick Lambie seems the obvious choice in many ways, ticking virtually every box. He is calm under fire, respected by team mates and opponents alike, home grown, young, brave (even fearless) and is in many ways the “poster boy” of Sharks rugby. My only real concern with Pat, though, is whether he genuinely wants the job and has the force of personality required to pull it off. He’s a very deep thinker, is Paddy, but is naturally laid back and quite reserved, qualities, I feel, which led to Keegan Daniel’s ultimate downfall as captain. A definite leading contender and hopefully my reservations are unfounded.

- Tera Mtembu was asked to step up in last year’s Currie Cup and I thought he did very well for a young captain who in parallel needed to establish himself as a starting option in the team. 2015 been a tough year for him, though, with injury keeping him out of the entire Currie Cup, while Super Rugby options were limited given competition for the number 8 jersey. A fully fit Tera is a player that the Sharks absolutely need to come through for them this season and he absolutely has to prove that he deserves to start at number 8 ahead of new man Philip van der Walt. That’s likely to be a tough enough challenge as it is and I feel that Tera would be best suited for a vice captaincy role in Super Rugby, with Currie Cup being the time when he once more leads the team.

- Philip van der Walt is a player who adds immense value and leads from the front, but doesn’t come with any real captaincy pedigree. Asked to lead the team once in Currie Cup this year, he did admirably, but my preference is for a player who has come up through the Sharks ranks and is likely to be committed to the union long term. I’m not saying van der Walt isn’t committed, but I’d like to see how things go with him before committing to him as a long-term captaincy option.

- Jean Deysel has done it before, but has a rather chequered disciplinary record of late and arguably needs to find form based on an injury-free run before any discussion about captaincy would make sense. While I have tremendous respect for the man and the player, there are younger, better options at loose forward for the Sharks. The same argument would apply to another potential elder statesman as captain, Odwa Ndungane.

- Call me a romantic, but I would love to see a guy like Thomas du Toit captain the Sharks one day. This man, to me, embodies passion for the team and could, I’m sure, step up to become a great prop captain in the mould of Ireland’s Nick Popplewall, Samoa’s Peter Fatialofa or Bok legend Hannes Marais. He’s still only 20, though and seemingly in the midst of a very tricky positional switch, so the time is not right for Thomas, even if it might be in years to come.

- Monde Hadebe is a guy who has captained with success at lower levels of the game, but is currently in a bit of a logjam at hooker and struggling (in my mind) to prove he has the goods to be a guaranteed starter at Super Rugby or even Currie Cup level. You can’t have a captain who isn’t sure of his place and Monde has work to be done before any talk of further honours would make sense.

Call me crazy, but I’m not seeing anyone to seriously challenge Pat Lambie for this job. Are you?


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