Having taken a little time to get over the initial shock, I reckon it’s time to look at the Sharks most recent signings calmly and rationally. There’s been a fair bit of emotion expressed here and I think it’s safe to say that, as fans, we’re all a little stunned and confused at this point.Firstly, we heard yesterday morning that the Sharks had made a deal with the Bulls and requested that Emerging Bok lock Wilhelm Steenkamp join the squad. The official announcement would have been made first on the Sharks website, were it not for the Bulls jumping the gun and running the story early. It was hardly a secret, though, since Steenkamp arrived in Durban early in the week already. One of our posters even got wind of the story on Wednesday – but he clearly has lost my number!
Now, looking at this from the wider SA rugby perspective, it’s a good move for Wilhelm Steenkamp to be playing Super 14 rugby. He’s one of the top young locks in the country and behind Victor Matfield, who incidentally happens to be the Bulls captain, he’s unlikely to see much Super 14 gametime in Pretoria. Getting regular exposure at this level can only improve his game. It’s a good move for the Bulls too – they get “free” player development and have made very sure that the move is only temporary. When they need Steenkamp back in the Currie Cup, he’ll be there and he’ll be a better, more experienced player. The only risk to them is that he might pick up an injury, but that could always happen in the Vodacom Cup too.
For the Sharks, the benefit is purely short-term. We get a player coming in who, while somewhat more experienced than some of our own young locks, is by no means world class. Still, he’s a good youngster and a pretty safe guy to pick in your Super 14 squad. He’ll give his all for the team and do his best, but at the end of the day, he’s going back to Pretoria in May. The Sharks squad and system benefits nothing from giving away Super 14 gametime to a player from another union. Making the matter even worse is that we have umpteen young locks already in our wider squad, none of whom will now be given the opportunity to step up. I have reached out to one or two of these guys and to say they’re pissed off is an understatement.
The Sharks management are being incredibly short-sighted here and seem intent on sacrificing the the medium-term health of the squad in the interests of a potential short-term gain; even that is doubtful, though. I mean, it’s not like we’ve overlooked our own youngsters for a seasoned international, or anything. Alistair Hargreaves, had he played for the Bulls, would by now have had just as much opportunity to develop because they would have backed him. The process that resulted in Steenkamp already having 19 Super 14 caps is one that could and should be used in Durban too. Instead, we end up with the “B team player” syndrome. Guys who have come through the Academy and hang around the lower ranks for a while until they eventually get fed up due to lack of gametime and go elsewhere. And the more young players that leave, the more panic buying you need to do when injury strikes.
Speaking of panic buying, let’s look at Andy Goode.
I guess that we all knew Plum and Straueli would start looking around for another flyhalf as soon as Steve Meyer’s brainfart made the news. As reported yesterday, Meyer seems hellbent on worming his way back into the Sharks squad, but time and professional rugby waits for no man and having given up his chance, he’ll be bloody lucky if another one comes along. Fact is, though, it’s downright suicidal going into this competition – and especially on a five-week tour – with only a reluctant Ruan Pienaar and Monty Dumond in tow as the flyhalves. The lesson that was learned in 2009 was that you can’t put all your flyhalf eggs in the Pienaar basket and as much as I want Ruan to settle in the number 10 jersey and play there regularly, having an experienced international pivot like Goode in the squad just makes sense, even if it’s for insurance only.
I’ve seen comments along the lines of “we shouldn’t be in this position” and I agree with them. The situation is what it is, though and I don’t really feel we could have found a better option than Goode right now. Flyhalf is a tricky position in the South African game – we just don’t seem to develop them the way New Zealand does – and in this case, I’m going to have to climb down off my “backing youth” bandwagon in the interests of pragmatism. We’ve all seen how throwing an unprepared youngster in at pivot can backfire – the result is the Gaffie du Toit formerly known as a rugby player!
So let’s hope that sanity prevails. Keep Goode in the squad, but don’t play him ahead of Pienaar unless there’s no other reasonable option. As for Steenkamp, I guess the die is cast there as well and I wouldn’t like him to think, even for a second, that we won’t back him all the way as long as he wears the jersey. Reports that he’s being looked at to start at 5 ahead of Hargreaves, though, really get my back up and you can expect many more angry inches from me should that be the case!Tweet