My mate Big Fish sent me a pretty telling sms on Saturday, after the Sharks had squandered a healthy-seeming lead and lost to the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup semi-final.
He was, needless to say, just a little worked up at the time, but his words ring true nevertheless. “What kind of an amateur [email protected] coach can only think of up-and-unders and drop-goals as a tactic with 13 internationals in his team?” Now I realise that I have somewhat of a penchant for scattering the blame far and wide when the Sharks lose, but in this case, my learned friend is spot on. We lost on Saturday due to poor coaching and John Plumtree needs to take this one on the nose.
The Cheetahs, despite fielding a team that, on paper, should have lost by 15 points or more, managed to outplay the Sharks in every facet of the game and I don’t for one second buy that they ‘wanted it more on the day’. They were the better coached side and actually went into the match with a game plan. The Sharks looked, as always, like they were trying to make it up as they went along.
So, on to the specifics. How is it possible that the Springbok front row was so comprehensively drilled by a bunch of relative no-names? Are the Sharks front five soft, all of a sudden? The same front row that bested the Lions and won the Tri-Nations? I doubt it. Were all three front-rankers carrying injuries? That’s possible, but then howcome both front row replacements sat on the wood for 80 minutes? It was, to me, pretty baffling that we had numerical superiority in terms of front-rankers in the squad, yet chose not to use it. Poor tactics. And poor scrumming technique, which again comes down to coaching. Who is the Sharks scrumming coach these days anyway? Balie Swart is now with the Lions… Did Straueli piss him off too?
Our pack, as a whole, never fronted up at the breakdown. This is an issue we’ve identified before and discussed as recently as two weeks ago, after exactly the same thing happened against the Lions. The problem seems to be a combination of poor technique and bad selection. Plumtree, as a former loose forward and specialist forwards coach, seems unable to identify or correct either problem. Instead, we’re fed the same tired excuses about the referee, or Hein Brussow, or the humidity, price of oil, war in Iraq, or whatever else he happens to think of at the time.
It’s the backs, though, that present the biggest problem and running an eye down the list of names makes the mind boggle – how can that combination be anything other than simply unstoppable on attack? How can a team that contains the combined attacking genius of Pienaar, Jacobs, Pietersen and Hernandez, fail to score tries by the bucketload? Well, if they’re being told to kick the call away, it might go some way to explain it. Rugby is a simple game. The forwards win clean ball and backs attack with it. Our backs, to a man, have shown that they have the individual talent to make things happen with ball in hand and yet the meaningless kicking continues unabated.
It’s nowhere near good enough and I for one hope that somewhere on the shopping list the Sharks have drawn up, we might find the name of a coach capable of doing this team justice.Tweet