A lack of continuity in selection at all level in KZN rugby is hurting and the “policy of rotation” needs to be changed now, before any further harm is done.
There are two factors at play here. In a previous article, I outlined why I believe the emphasis on versatility, rather than on specialisation was hurting the Sharks. The second issue, one which really goes hand-in-hand with the first, is that of continuity in selection. Picking the same combinations of players week after week and allowing them to develop an understanding of each other’s play, under a variety of different conditions.
We have spoken at length about how this has affected the senior team and in particular has lead to a dearth of try-scoring opportunities converted by the backs. The guys hardly know what number they have on their own backs, most of the time, much less do they have the luxury of forming a stable partnership with those around them. The curse, though, seems endemic within the province and the same madness prevails week after week at all levels of rugby.
We have just witnessed the Wildebeest, a team full of talented players and Sharks reserves, dumped out of the Vodacom Cup at the quarter-final stage. They were pretty fortunate to get that far, having won only 3 of the 8 matches played. During the course of the campaign, it became routine to announce a side featuring 5 to 7 changes from the side that played the week before. Rotation seemed the order of the day, which is fine if you have a large squad needing match practice, but not such a good idea if you are actually trying to win the competition. On this last point, I must say I battle to actually fathom whether the KZNRU do ever actually try to win the Vodacom Cup, or if they just consider it a waste of time. The latter would seem far more plausible, given the performances to date. The empty trophy cupboard remains, though, unless you count the Provincial Womens’ Competition that we won last year.
More worrying, though, is the number of guys that have been rotated through several different positions within the team. Andries Strauss, Riaan Swanepoel and Tiaan Marx have all been playing merry-go-round for numbers 10, 12 and 13. Scott Spedding is alternated between flyhalf and fullback. Neil de Bruyn plays at either scrum-half or flyhalf depending on the coach’s mood at the time. In the forwards, Nikolai Blignaut has been used everywhere from lock through to all three positions in the loose trio. Justin Downey can’t work out if he’s open-side, blind-side or sunny-side up anymore! About the only position where there has been any continuity is at tighthead prop, where Robbie Harris has started every game.
Looking at the team sheets for the under 19 and under 21 sides last year, much the same sort of pattern emerged. The teams changed markedly from week to week and guys were regularly played out of position.
To my mind, the madness has to stop now. Each player needs to identify his primary position. The union should identify “mentors” for each position, former players who understand the intricacies involved in that position and can work with the players to ensure they have the basics of their position well sown up. John Allen could help the hookers with lineout throwing, while Mark Andrews can teach the locks how to be hard bastards and not get carded. Craig Davidson could work with the scrum halves and Henry Honiballs with the number 10s. For any player to be considered for a secondary position, he needs to spend time with the mentor for that position to ensure that he possesses the basic skills necessary, before he can be selected. This doesn’t need to be a huge exercise either – it could literally be a half-hour one-on-one session where the mentor assesses his readiness to play in the new position.
With this system in place, we can then get to the position where we know who our first, second, third, fourth and even fifth choice player is in each position. It will also give Rudi and his procurement team a far clearer picture in terms of the depth available and where money needs to be spent in terms of bolstering the squad.Tweet