Solving the depth problem

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super 14 on 26 May 2009 at 10:45
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Now that the dust has settled just a little, perhaps it’s time to look back on what went wrong for the Sharks in the Super 14 and see if we can find a way forward.

I’ve heard a number of reasons, rationalisations, justifications and (inevitably) excuses about why and how we managed to blow such a promising early campaign, including a completely unprecedented 75% win rate on tour, to the extent that we finished sixth – losing four of out of our last five games. Everyone seems quite happy to gloss over the fact that we actually lost the Bulls game as well – getting worked up into a completely inappropriate froth about the fact that we actually scored a bonus point. That’s kind of an aside, though.

So injuries seem to be the main reason, followed pretty closely by the one about “10 games without a break”. The issue in both cases comes down to a lack of depth and the associated need for top players to be overplayed. Where are the quality replacements that we can call on, to send in to do the business against lesser teams, like the Reds and the Cheetahs? I tell you what, if we’d given a few fringe players a run against both of the cellar dwelling teams, there would have been no lack of motivation…

So, it’s depth then, is it? Sure, we have no shortage of props, but outside of the front row, the cupboard is quite alarmingly bare in virtually every position. How can this be? Surely we have one of the top academy systems in South African rugby, as well as the most successful brand? Why are we not able to find players to step into the breach? Has Rudi Straueli been asleep on the job? What exactly is going on here?

Now, I like to think that I’m pretty up-to-date with what (and who) we have available in the second tier and I must say, I’m a little flummoxed as to why none of these guys have been given a chance to push for higher honours. It’s a bit like the old joke about the Pope’s surname – he has one, but he doesn’t use it. Although maybe it might have been referring to something else… I can never quite remember! That said, we have a number of young guns champing at the bit to get their chance and in many cases, getting quite frustrated that they aren’t getting that opportunity. Sure, some of them will turn out to be average Vodacom Cup or Currie Cup grade players at best, but if we never have serious intentions of testing these guys out at a higher level, why bother having them in the system in the first place? Wouldn’t it make more sense to rather get rid of them and contract in some guys who do have what it takes?

Don’t fool yourself, fans – the Sharks do not currently have a squad capable of winning the Super 14. This much is abundantly clear. Our first XV is an awesome unit, but looking deeper into even the match 22, there’s a worrying lack of experience. The wider training group, from which the coaches will need to select in the case of injury is bristling with promising, yet wholly untested players in every position. I, for one, am not seeing evidence of a clear plan to actually move on from that situation and get us to the point where we can seriously challenge for the Super 14 again next year.

Let’s look at specifics. In particular, it was the injuries to Jean Deysel and Ruan Pienaar and (to a lesser extent) JP Pietersen that really hurt. In the case of Deysel, we’ve known for years that we have a depth problem at blindside flank. We saw in the Currie Cup that we just plain did not have a solution to this problem without Deysel, as first Steven Sykes was played out of position, followed by the increasingly hopeless options of Nikolai Blignaut and Nick Strauss. This season’s approach was to play Keegan Daniel out of position as a blindside flank and although he personally did quite well, the negative impact on the games of both Jacques Botes and Ryan Kankowski was clear. Hell, this one stood out like the proverbial dog’s balls to all the fans, yet somehow the management couldn’t see it? The addition of the equally light Skollie Ndlovu on the bench was just plain ludicrous as well. It’s surprising that Kankowski managed to hold up as well as he did – he must have been completely finished after just 6 weeks of the competition!

Now the crazy thing here is that we have any number of potentially good youngsters who could step up. Justin Downey, Mike Rhodes, Thabo Mamojele, Jacques Potgeiter and even young Adriaan Theissinger are all in the system and could have been called up – hell, Downey even joined the tour when Deysel was injured, yet couldn’t seem to get onto the park. Why not? Is he not deemed good enough? The point here is we need to be honest with ourselves in terms of what we have. Either play them or let them go and find someone else.

Flyhalf, of course, is our Achilles heel. We all thought it was hugely risky going into the season without a recognised pivot and although Ruan Pienaar did well, his injury exposed exactly how woeful our depth is. I mean, come on – anyone who’s actually bothered to watch Frans Steyn play flyhalf in the last 18 months should know that he’s just not up to it. How can that seriously have been the only backup plan for a team that assured its fans it was going to win this year’s competition? It’s bloody laughable. If you then look a level lower and see that the only other options were Monty Dumond and Len Olivier, the reason for being forced to play Steyn seems clearer. There just aren’t any flyhalves in the system. Question is, what is being done about it?

Centre, wing, fullback – it’s the same in all of these positions. We’ve gone from the situation where we were unsure about who to leave out, to not having anyone to pick. So tell me, guys – what are we going to do about it?


  • On the flyhalf front all i can say is UNLUCKY,

    Only the Cheetahs (other than us) REALLY needed a new flyhalf due to injury during the season. Plumtree took a gamble that we wouldn’t need one and it didn’t pay off.

    Ironically the guys with the best up and coming backup Flyhalf, (Bulls) didn’t need to use him other than a 10min run here and there.

    The Stormers had two and never really gave the better one a chance to play at 10. :sad:

  • Comment 1, posted at 26.05.09 11:13:50 by KSA Shark © Reply
    KSA Shark ©Head Coach
  • I think this letter must be send to the Sharks management. A very good read thank you. @Rob, this is the most sensible thing you’ve posted all week :lol: :wink:

  • Comment 2, posted at 26.05.09 11:59:54 by JarsonX Reply
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  • @JarsonX (Comment 2) : it’s about the only thing I’ve posted all week :)

  • Comment 3, posted at 26.05.09 12:06:32 by robdylan Reply
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  • some replacements were given a chance and did not do too badly, swanepoel, vulindlu. i do not think that dumont would be so appealing that it justified playing steyn out of position.

    and playing daniel instead of deysel looked tome more like wanting to have him staring XV than real consideration.

  • Comment 4, posted at 26.05.09 18:10:32 by rekinek Reply
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  • @ROB Finally someone that feels the same as me about the current Sharks setup, I have seen Monty D play at flyhalf last year and it is clear that he has not got the pace or determination to do well at Currie Cup level let alone S14 (Danie Rossouw ran over him to score what ended up being the winning try against die blou balle!!!).

    They took in Len Olivier but never used him???? Andries Straus the same as monty! When last did you see this guy break a line???2 – 3 years back?? A guy like Nonu does it 3-5 times a game!!!

    Johan Muller is simply not up to it, does not bring bulk, not good at lineouts and yet make him captain? We need to get a specialist fetcher asap to compete and definitely a back-up full back, why cant we buy a bit of bulk and quality? I mean a team like SWD are buying players to add value why cant we?

  • Comment 5, posted at 26.05.09 18:21:43 by morneL Reply

    Under 21 player
  • @rekinek (Comment 4) : do you mean appealing or apalling?

  • Comment 6, posted at 26.05.09 18:29:07 by robdylan Reply
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  • to solve the depth problem… Hmm, ok no1, fill up the hole or no2 dig deeper. Ok, through Adolf in the hole and fill it up or dig deeper into your pockets and buy decent specialist players.

  • Comment 7, posted at 26.05.09 19:02:00 by JarsonX Reply
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  • Pienaar can play, 9, 10, 11, 14 and 15.
    Steyn any position from 10 and 15.
    Jacobs can play 10, 12 or 13.
    3 guys in the starting team that can be the primary place kicker for any other team.
    Most teams would love to have backup like that. Its very expensive to keep a top level player as backup and most top level players would not do it for any amount of money. They all want play timed and exposure.

    I do not think the Sharks problems were due to a lack of depth. The backline was poor last year too and was also not very flash with RP at 10.

  • Comment 8, posted at 27.05.09 02:29:59 by fyndraai Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 6) : my english exposed – again ! :-)
    meant “appaling”

  • Comment 9, posted at 27.05.09 09:12:06 by rekinek Reply
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  • @fyndraai (Comment 8) : without getting into discussion of playing players out of position.
    the fact was that some guys were overplayed by the time the break came. so even if there was depth – it was not used.

  • Comment 10, posted at 27.05.09 09:14:20 by rekinek Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 9) : sorry to correct you, but I just wanted to make sure I understood your intention :) They mean very different things, of course!

  • Comment 11, posted at 27.05.09 09:51:40 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 11) : yes, they do – it indeed came out confusing – looks like I’m good at it :mrgreen:

  • Comment 12, posted at 27.05.09 10:00:08 by rekinek Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 12) : :mrgreen:

  • Comment 13, posted at 27.05.09 10:10:29 by robdylan Reply
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  • I don’t think the problem was depth…the problem was not having enough trust in the fringe players to fit in with the “A TEAM”.

    We had the same coach from the CC to the Super 14…but it sure didn’t look like it. At times it looked like we, the bloggers, had more faith in our back-up than he did. Why was that?

  • Comment 14, posted at 27.05.09 11:11:39 by blackshark Reply

    blackshark - I'm back!Super Rugby player
  • @blackshark (Comment 14) : we got chris boyd.
    maybe it was all his idea.

    at the beginning it looked like they tried to tested combinations but maybe they overdid it.

  • Comment 15, posted at 27.05.09 11:27:27 by rekinek Reply
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  • @rekinek (Comment 15) : well, Boyd is now on his way back, having accomplished, to my mind, the sum total of f*ck all

  • Comment 16, posted at 27.05.09 11:43:12 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 16) : is he ? are you serious?

    I hope i am not going to be lynched for saying this but maybe we should get campo back.

  • Comment 17, posted at 27.05.09 11:51:11 by rekinek Reply
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