I’m far more inclined, given what we’ve seen of late, to agree with the Peter de Villiers school of thought when it comes to specialisation over versatility. The Sharks backs are suffering through inconsistency in selection and through under-specialisation in their primary positions.
Running through the names we have in our backline, every single player bar Rory Kockott has been tried in more than one position in the past. Chief culprit (or is that victim?) is Francois Steyn, who has played at flyhalf, outside centre, wing and fullback for the Sharks under Dick Muir, as well as inside center, flyhalf, wing and fullback at national level under Jake White. Not far behind are Ruan Pienaar (scrumhalf, flyhalf, wing and fullback) and Adi Jacobs (flyhalf, both centres and wing) while each of the other players has played in at least two jerseys: Barritt (flyhalf and inside centre), Murray (inside centre and wing), Terblanche, Pietersen, Mentz and Ndungage (all have played both wing and fullback). Fred Michalak has played at scrumhalf as well as flyhalf in his career, although to date the Sharks have only used him at pivot.
While experience in a variety of positions is no doubt good for a player’s personal development (to an extent) as he accumulates a wider variety of skills and becomes more useful, it does nothing for the cohesion of the team and particularly the effectiveness of the line on attack and defence. The essence of successful backline play, to my mind, is combinations; guys playing together in a well-rehearsed pattern that can feed off each others’ brilliance – as well as compensating for each others’ weaknesses.
These combinations start with having the best guys – the identified specialists – chosen in each of the positions. Once the mix is right, the combinations need time to settle; to play together as much as possible, to learn how each other thinks and reacts in a wide variety of different circumstances. Each player is free to concentrate on the unique demands of his chosen position; the position in which he is a specialist. He doesn’t need to worry about the man inside or outside of him not knowing what to do, because that guy would be a specialist too.
To my mind, the Sharks need to have a good sit down and think about this and come out of that exercise with a list of 14 names. Those names need to be the number 1 and number 2 player in each of the 7 positions in the backline; no name may appear twice. Once we have picked the 7 that are considered best in each position, we pick the best generalists from the remainder to serve as the backline replacements. Should one of the 7 fall out through injury or serious loss of form, he will be replaces by his nominated backup. Nobody else will change position as a result.
My first stab at such a list would look like this:
Scrumhalf: Kockott (1), Macleod (2)
Flyhalf: Michalak (1), Pienaar (2)
Left Wing: Pietersen (1), Mentz (2)
Inside Centre: Barritt (1), Steyn (2)
Outside Centre: Murray(1), Jacobs (2)
Right Wing: Ndungane (1), Mvovo (2)
Fullback: Terblanche (1), Dames(2)
Following the “best utlity” theory, the bench for the Sharks would comprise Pienaar, Steyn and Jacobs as they offer the most utility cover.
I’m sure many will disagree with the allocation above, but what do you think about the principle?Tweet