Urrgghhh. As much as it pains me to write this, I fear I must. You see, I was one of many that watched the Bulls come back from 20 points down to stuff the Crusaders. And all I could think of at the time was:’ if only the Sharks could pull that off.’
Rugby is a simple game. And it generally goes without saying that the team who does more with the possession they have tends to win the game. In layman’s terms you hold onto a ball and you dictate the play. You hoof a ball away and you turn it into a lottery. But the Sharks this season couldn’t do much with ball in hand or when they put it to boot, so that makes them double losers, I guess.
Still if John Plumtree and Johann Muller were watching the Bulls-Crusaders game, they couldn’t do worse than note the following:
1)When down in the opposition 22 – come away with points.
The Bulls employed a successful strategy against the Crusaders. Get into their half and come away with points. Any points will do. Unlike the Sharks who, all season, battered away at the opposition tryline only to knock-on over the chalk countless times, Morne Steyn saved his players incalculable energy by pipping over the drop goals and keeping the score line ticking. I’m not saying drop at poles all the time, especially if there’s a 9 man overlap. But if you’re struggling to break the defences, come away with some points, any points, dammit.
2) Stop taking your leader off after 60 minutes
We have seen how invaluable Victor Matfield is to the Bulls’ cause. When the chips are down, he is the one who cries: ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’ or some Afrikaans equivalent thereof.
He is so focused on the task of leading his men that he sometimes forgets to shave for days on end.
Yet in Sharks country we like to take our talismanic leader (and by that I mean, John Smit not Muller) off the field so that when things get dicey and we get pipped in the last minute, all he can do is look on with anguish. Go figure.
3) Run the ball back
Oh gee, this one sounds simple, but we just can’t seem to do it. I have the utmost respect for Stefan Terblanche but no wonder PdV has opted for more exciting options at fullback because all this guy does is hoof ball away all day long. We saw how the Bulls punished the Crusaders for their silly chip-and-chases by running the ball back at unorganized defence. This was the 5 minute patch where the Crusaders bombed and the Bulls took charge. They kept the ball in hand, offloaded to the Roid Machine and the rest is history.
4)Have a half-decent flyhalf
Ruan Pienaar was unlucky to be injured, but we saw how Morne Steyn improved the more games he played this season. The guy isn’t flash but he does the basics well and his kicking was superb. If Ruan was allowed to settle into the position and play more games it might have been a different story for the woeful Sharks’ backline. A decent flyhalf knows when to play ten man rugby and when to run it and Fransie Boy had not the slightest clue. Oh, and when the Stormers stop messing around with the more-than-decent Peter Grant, they’ll start winning some games too.
Easier said than done, you may say. I say, let’s take a leaf out of the Bulls’ book from Saturday.
At 20-7 down I thought they were finished. Of course I would, because I’m used to the sorry state of play in Durbs. You see when the Sharks get an early ‘klap’, they panic and scatter like antelope at a waterhole. The team goes into individual mode, with messrs Kankowski, Kockett and Steyn all trying to prove that they can win it on their own. It takes a good leader to calm the troops down and to focus on team play and to still keep doing the basics. One of the biggest problems this season was the lack of adequate protection at the rucks, and it was largely due to individuals running away from their support. Now this sounds simple but when you’ve got the ball in hand, it pays to look around for your support rather than trying to take the rapidly diminishing gap. And that, friends is what teamwork is all about. Doing the basics well, even in the face of defeat.