With the benefit of hindsight – and a few days to calm down, let’s have another look at the Sharks disappointing semi-final defeat last weekend and try to work out what actually went wrong.
I’m going to look at a number of the factors that I feel contributed to the below-par showing and try to apportion blame where I feel it belongs. These are in particular order.
1) Cohesion. There was none in the team, as the team had not played together before, for various reasons. The major factor here was the large complement of Bok players that needed to be rushed back into the side, coupled with a number of injuries in the last few weeks. We went into the semis with a lock partnership and loose trio that had not played together in several weeks, together with a centre pairing that have never played together. This against a settled Cheetahs side who knew each other well and had built up some strong continuity over the course of the last few weeks.
2) Fatigue. Call it burn-out, or a Tri-Nations hangover, or whatever you like – the fact is, the Boks weren’t up for this game their lack of physical and mental commitment was palpable. In hindsight, perhaps they shouldn’t have been rushed back, but how can you blame the coach for wanting to pick his strongest available side for the semis? Had he picked a weakened team and still lost, we would have flayed him. The Bulls suffered from this as well – let’s not forget that they only narrowly beat a far weaker (on paper) Province side despite being laden with Boks themselves.
3) Injuries. Say what you like – but Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Johann Muller and Jean Deysel all carried injuries into the semi-final. It was pretty clear to see that none of them was anywhere near top form on the day and here the blame has to fall squarely on the coach’s shoulders. You cannot, surely, underestimate your opponents enough to justify sending injured players into battle in such an important game. Sure, our team would be weakened without them, but surely Al Hargreaves, Mike Rhodes, Craig Burden and the others would have played out of their skins if given the chance? In the front row, the coach had little option but to soldier on with Beast, though, given the freakishly high attrition rate amongst our backup prop stock this season.
4) Selection. This has been frankly shambolic all season and again, the coach has to take this one on the chin. We have been complaining about the lack of go-forward in the pack for the whole season and yet the loose-forward combibation remains woefully light. And as for picking Dries Strauss on the bench – well, we saw how badly that one backfired when we were left without a right wing barely half an hour into the game.
5) Tactics. This one has been spoken about ad nauseam. The jury is out as to whether the blame here should lie with the coach or the players. Whatever the case, the option-taking in tight games has been crap all season. Simply no other way to put it.
6) Use of substitutes. Again, something Plum hasn’t managed to get right since taking over. He tends to follow the Jake White approach of playing his starting 15 into the ground. That Jannie du Plessis and Craig Burden didn’t come on was frankly sinful.
7) On-field leadership. We’ve tried other options and they’ve failed. John Smit is the natural leader in this squad and he needs to be the captain whenever he plays. Finish and klaar.
8) Mental strength. Again, quite simple. The Sharks are lacking in this department and it shows when the chips are down. This is a collective failing of the entire management team, as they should have a specialist working with the players to address this failing. They don’t, because Plum doesn’t believe in it, apparently…
So there you have it, chaps. What do you think? What have I missed? Which of these factors was the most telling in the final analysis?Tweet