The Sharks have lost a truly astounding amount of backline talent over the course of the last few years, leading to a worrying lack of depth – this was evident against the Lions on Wednesday night. We don’t seem to be replacing these players through external contracting, while the youngsters from the Academy don’t seem to be benefiting in terms of opportunities to play at a higher level.
I’ve looked back at the squads we picked for the Currie Cup and Super 14 competitions going back as far as 2006 and the level of attrition is frankly shocking. Of the 22 backline players to have represented the Sharks in the 2006 Currie Cup (the year of the infamous “dual squad” approach), only 7 now remain. Looking at a more recent times, a review of the backs in the 2008 Super 14 squad (that was just last year) reveals that more than half have now left. Let’s just bear in mind here that we’re not only talking about the Ockie Vermuelens and Brett Hennesseys of the world – the Sharks have lost seriously big names including Butch James, Bradley Barritt and most recently, Francois Steyn.
The attrition rate amongst the age group teams is hardly better, with a number of promising players, such as Scott Spedding and Sizwe Zondo, moving off overseas before representing the senior side at all.
All a little bit concerning if you consider that the only backline players that have actually been procured in the last few years are Len Olivier (who has never been played) and Charl McLeod. Sure, there’s the occasional marquee international flyhalf brought in for a campaign, but what that does in terms of building long-term capability is unclear. We now end up in the situation where we are drastically understaffed at flyhalf, centre, wing and fullback. Only scrumhalf looks all right with Rory Kockott, McLeod and Ross Cronjé all viable options.
The failure to groom a long-term successor to Butch James has seen a slew of players tried (and discarded) at flyhalf. Ruan Pienaar has emerged as the new first-choice, but now that Steyn and Barrit have left, we have only Monty Dumond as cover, who is patently not up to the job. Len Olivier and Guy Cronjé are completely untested, as is exciting youngster Pat Lambie.
In the centres, Riaan Swanepoel has suddenly become our first-choice inside centre, after being a complete greenhorn last year. Andries Strauss is still as slow as always, leaving Adi Jacobs as the only center of proven quality in the squad. Ian Adendorff and Zuks Vulindlu are the young guns on the horizon, although the latter may well be pressed into service on the wing, where we are again hopelessly short of options outside of the established pair of JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane. Lwazi Mvovo looks the best of the up-and-comers.
Fullback offers no clear options outside of the rapidly-aging Stefan Terblanche.
Here’s a partial list of backline players to have left (or otherwise become unavailable for) the Sharks in the last few years:
Scott Spedding, Steve Meyer, Sizwe Zondo, Brad Barritt, Andrew Binikos, Gcobani Bobo, Brett Hennessey, Butch James, Cedric Mkhize (retired), Dusty Noble, Howard Noble, Sandile Nzumalo, Grant Rees, Brent Russell, Frans Steyn, Mzwandile Stick, Ockie Vermeulen, Ignus Prinsloo, Tiaan Marx, Craig Burden (converted to hooker), Scott Mathie, Henno Mentz, Dumi Matyeshana, Fred Michalak, Frank WagenstroomTweet