This has been an issue that has been on my mind for a while now. Why have the Sharks struggled to win the Currie Cup in recent years, despite having teams with good players. What has made the Bulls so successful since 2002? In my opinion it is not just about the ability of the players. The difference in tight high-pressure games is more often than not in the mental department.
This post is intended to stimulate discussion, I would like to hear what people think about this.
So, here goes, I am going to highlight 10 points which I believe to be vital components to a championship winning team (in no particular order):
1. Talented players: The first obvious requirement is that the team needs to have players which are talented. This is why no one is thinking that a team like Griquas is going to win the Currie Cup. However good their win was last weekend, they simply do not have the quality of players to mount a serious challenge in the Currie Cup. To be fair to the Griquas I think if they did fantastically well, they would make the semi-finals. Back to the point, a team needs to have players which are up to the task of winning trophies in terms of their ability and experience and temperament.
2. Depth: One thing which is inevitable in modern sport is injuries. Thus the ability of a team to deal with these injuries is vital in winning a championship or not. These “second-string” players then need to be managed very carefully so as to keep team spirit up as well as ensuring that when injuries do occur, the players in the wings are better equipped to step up to the plate and perform well. This is a fine line for management to tread, but their role will be discussed a little later.
3. Senior players: The senior players play a huge role in the psyche of the whole team, these are the guys who provide leadership to the younger guys. If your senior players do not have a good attitude and self-discipline, this will rub off on the younger players. The senior players also have a vital role of providing an example in how they follow the leadership of the captain and coaching staff but at the same time taking their own measure of responsibility. The senior players also need to have the ability to step up and be captains when required.
4. Captaincy: A captain is the guy who gets to lift the trophy first, and this is for a reason. He is the one man who represents his team towards the referee, media and supporters. Obviously the captain needs to make the right decisions on the field. But, on top of that, he is responsible for creating a good impression of the team to the referee and to do this, he needs to communicate effectively with the referee, a good example of this would be Sean Fitzpatrick. The captain also needs to inspire and motivate his teammates, there are different ways of doing this, examples being the big talker in francois pienaar and the quiet lead-by-example character of Gary Teichmann. It is no coincidence that teams often struggle when their captains are unavailable. But, as mentioned above, a championship-winning team will have senior players able to step into the void. Thus leadership development is also important.
5. Captain-coach relationship: It is valuable for the captain and head coach to have a good relationship. This improves team morale as the core leadership of the team are on good terms. There needs to be a large measure of trust between the coach and captain. The coach needs to be clearly in charge of the team but at the same time willing to listen to the input of the captain.
6. Coaching staff: These are the guys who more often than not get criticised when the team is performing badly and rarely get the credit when the team is doing well. That said, a good coach in my opinion is one who stays relatively anonymous and stays more in the background. The role of the coaching staff is to manage players properly, ensuring they are mentally and physically prepared for the game at hand. It is important that they have a proper relationship, without being too unaproachable or too familiar with the players. Among their most important roles is deciding upon game strategy, and to win trophies the right strategy for the right game needs to be employed.
7. Big match temperament (BMT): This is an area in which teams like the Sharks and All Blacks have seemed to struggle in recent years, with the All Blacks lack of BMT peculilarly coming around during RWC play-off matches. BMT is the ability to perform at optimum when the situation requires, a good recent example is Morne Steyn slotting the last minute penalty to win the series against the British and Irish Lions. The Bulls seem to have cultivated a group of players with BMT, and this is probably one of the reasons why they have been so successful post-2002. Obviously BMT is vitally important in winning tight play-off games, and a championship winning team needs to have developed some sort of ability to win the difficult games, as BMT is often the factor which separates two evenly-matched teams, and can even result in a team of lesser playing ability beating one with more talent.
8. Confidence: In my mind, this is very closely related to BMT and often comes from winning the big games. It is important that the line between confidence and over-confidence is not crossed. This can be disastrous. So, this factor in a championship winning team is simple, you have to believe you can win. However dodgy the circumstances were, this is a factor the Bulls had in the 2007 Super14 final and the Blue Bulls had the belief during last years final, when they nearly stole the trophy at the death. Luckily for Sharks supporters the Sharks also had enough self-belief to pull it through.
9. Ruthlessness: This is where a team, when on top, twists the knife and does not allow the other team back into the game. However good the Sharks were in last year’s Currie Cup, this characteristic never materialised much with the possible execptions of the Griquas game in Kimberley and The Lions game at the Coke tin. Teams that have had this characteristic is the Australian cricket team of a few years ago, no surprise they were so successful in that time. This is strangely something that South African teams seem to lack, and not just rugby teams. In short, do not let your opposition back into the game when you’re on top, and you will have an excellent quality required for winning multiple championships.
10. Good fortune: This has been commonly known as “the bounce of the ball” but as Gary Player said: “The harder the practice, the luckier I get” This factor also refers to picking up long-term injuries or not during a campaign. But, I would say this factor would more likely rule out a term ( more on the injury front) than help a team into a winning position. Another unfortunate aspect of this factor is the role that referees can play where key decisions they make can determine the outcome of a game, even a championship, and this is a factor which out of the players hands.
So, these are my thoughts on the main factors which may determine whether a team wins a Currie Cup or indeed any other championship. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I have not discussed each factor in a lot of detail. This is because my goal with this post is to stimulate discussion.
And, yeah I know, the Currie Cup is not won in July, but I figure it will be more fun to debate these things now.Tweet