Marketers will tell you that the four p’s of price, promotion, placement and product are the critical ingredients of a successful marketing mix. When it comes to building a winning rugby team, I believe there are five p’s we need to take into account. Let’s assess the Sharks against these areas.
The first p could stand for either procurement or players. It’s a case of making sure you have the right people in your squad to allow the coaching staff to put a winning team onto the field. It’s about having depth, about having options and about having the fabled “blend of youth and experience” that unimaginative commentators wax lyrical about. After a strategy of buying a team in the 90s, the Sharks finally wised up and founded an Academy of their own in the early part of the decade. A full-time Commercial Manager in the form of Rudolf Straueli was also brought in and he is solely responsible for the hiring, firing and HR-type issues that affect the squad. At a high-level, the system seems sound.
The results, in practice, have been less than inspiring and one feels that if it wasn’t for a freakishly-talented group of youngsters that all came through more-or-less simultaneously in 2006, the Sharks wouldn’t have much of a squad now at all. Dark rumours continue to surface about Straueli’s style and how it tends to annoy coaches and players alike. Talking to the players, there seem to be two distinct schools of thought, with some seemingly quite happy with the former Bok coach’s authoritarian style. Others seem deeply distrustful of Straueli’s motives, though and seem to feel that he isn’t a natural fit with the Sharks’ notoriously laid-back culture. There are suggestions, too, that Straueli and the coaching staff might not always be pulling in the same direction when it comes to which players are needed and where each should play. This, of course, is not really something that can be laid solely at the Commercial Manager’s door, but the feeling I get is that there isn’t always as close a working relationship as I would expect.
Looking at the current Sharks squad, it looks pretty good on paper, particularly if the much-rumoured signings of Willem Alberts and Louis Ludik do come off. What is concerning is the number of seriously talented young players that have been released in the last few years, with Bradley Barritt and Frans Steyn the most notable. Rumours suggest that Waylon Murray may not be far behind, leaving the Sharks with a real dearth of quality centres. The impression is that certain players are allowed to stay on almost indefinitely, despite quite palpably delivering nothing of value year-in and year-out. Skipper Badenhorst, Andries Strauss and Nikolai Blignaut, for example, have all been kept around for ever without ever making the grade while other better young players have been forced to seek greener pastures due to a lack of game time.
The feeling is that the Sharks are determined to get their “pound of flesh” out of their group of contracted players, even if it means playing them out of position or when out of form. It’s hard for promising youngsters or fringe players from the club scene to get a look in, which tends to make a mockery of the strong club system that has been built as a result of the Academy. We have mentioned this ad nauseam, but the way the Sharks have failed to develop any sort of meaningful depth in the blindside flank position despite having a slew of youngsters on their books ideally suited to the role, is nothing short of embarrassing. The merry-go-round in the centres is another example of having a reasonable set of players, but not using them effectively.
The Sharks are fortunate in that their strong brand and the promise of a top-class coastal lifestyle is always going to attract players to the Union. I feel that in order to really excel in the area of the first p, they need to really streamline their procurement and player management processes to ensure that the coaching staff and procurement team remain on the same page at all times. Management of young players and their progression through the age-group ranks to senior rugby also needs serious attention.
We’ll have a look at the second p, preparation, in the next installment.Tweet