I’m starting to get more than just a little confused about the strategy when it comes to the Sharks bench in this year’s Super 14. The latest surprise is to see Ross Cronjé dropped from the Super 14 squad entirely after spending the last month touring with the team and sitting firmly on the bench for the entire 320 minutes.
Two questions are foremost in my mind at this point and both are equally baffling. Firstly, what exactly did Cronjé do during the pre-season that was impressive enough to warrant a spot in the 22 anyway, given that Charl McLeod should by rights have been next in the scrumhalf pecking order – and also has far more experience and maturity? Secondly, given that he has played a grand total of 15 minutes of rugby, despite being in the Sharks 22 every week for the last six rounds, what exactly is it that the youngster has done wrong that he had now been demoted? Hardly seems fair to be dropped when you’ve never even got onto the park in the first place, now does it?
I suspect that I already know the answer to both of these questions and the reasoning is pretty convoluted. Given that, when Ruan Pienaar was at flyhalf, the Sharks essentially had both their first and second choice scrumhalves in the starting XV, adding a raw youngster on the bench was probably a pretty safe bet, given that he was pretty unlikely to ever get onto the pitch. Cronjé has now had first-hand experience of being on tour with the Sharks and is presumably far better integrated into the team set-up and culture than he would otherwise have been. From that perspective, taking him on tour was no more wasteful than the way that Skipper Badenhorst, Joe Snyman and Justin Downey were lugged halfway round the world only to play no rugby whatsoever in the process. Pienaar’s injury now makes it far more important to have an experienced scrumhalf on the bench and given Charl McLeod’s good Vodacom Cup form to date, it probably does make sense to bring him in.
For Cronjé, Downey and the rest, as tough as it is to go from the Sharks bench one week to the Vodacom Cup the next, I guess the prospect of finally getting some time out in the middle must be an attractive one. I guess there’s never going to be an easy answer when you have 26 players going on a month-long tour. I would argue that the coach really has a responsibility to at least ensure half an hour of game time for eveyone in the party… I mean, it’s only 4 extra guys (3 if you consider that Waylon Murray still isn’t fit) and if you have a guy that you don’t consider good enough to play half an hour of Super 14 rugby without weakening the team, why the hell is he in the tour group anyway?
To take a leaf from Bryce’s book here, I feel Plumtree really does have a fair bit to learn about 22-man, 85-minute rugby. The days of the 15-man game are long gone and you need to pick a bench that actually adds something coming on against tired legs – it’s not just there in case you need to do an injury-enforced reshuffle. We’ve seen in the last weeks just how good and hungry Riaan Swanepoel and Zuks Vulindlu are for rugby. Might we not have a few more bonus points to our name had we actually introduced off the bench in our earlier games? Could Justin Downey not perhaps have contributed something to our quest for a fourth try last weekend?
I guess we’ll never know.Tweet