While it’s admirable that the Sharks have finally laid out a clear “career path” for Ruan Pienaar, John Plumtree, in his most recent interview with Jan de Koning, seems to have showed Rory Kockott the middle finger in no uncertain terms. While undoubtedly very talented, the “cotton wool” treatment that Pienaar seems to enjoy seems vastly at odds with the “play for your place” message handed out to other members of the squad.
There is no simple answer here, of course – if there was, we wouldn’t have spent nearly as much time debating this as we already have. Fact is, despite how badly everybody else wants him to be a brilliant flyhalf, Ruan Pienaar is not comfortable in that position. We know how good he can be at scrumhalf and on form, to my mind, he is a clear first choice in that position for the Sharks. Plumtree and the Sharks should be applauded for resisting the pressure from “up above” to pick Pienaar at flyhalf in the supposed “national interest”. The Bok selectors have done Pienaar and the Sharks no favours of late and I don’t see why that shouldn’t be mutual.
But for Plumtree to openly criticise one of his players in the press is simply not on. How is Kockot supposed to react to being told that he “doesn’t have the passing game required”. The implication is clear – if Pienaar isn’t needed at flyhalf, he’ll be in the number 9 jersey and Kockott will need to be content with a bench role, or else leave. Now we don’t know what has gone on behind the scenes here, as Kockott hasn’t really been on top form recently and may well have announced his intentions to leave soon anyway. Fact is, though, he’s currently the most reliable goal-kicker in the Sharks squad and most fans would feel a lot more comfortable with him in the starting fifteen based on that factor alone.
The Sharks need to categorically end any and all speculation about Pienaar being used at flyhalf and live with the consequences of that decision. If they intend to back him at 9, that’s fine, even if it means losing Kockott. If they tell him and Kockott to duke it out for the 9 jersey, also fine, since those are the rules that seem to apply to any other position in the squad. But the onus is then firmly on them to find a long-term solution to the flyhalf problem and by bringing in mercenaries and journeymen like Andy Goode, they only delay the inevitable. Is it too much to hope that somebody like Pat Lambie might find himself blooded at flyhalf in this Super 14, to take on the role permanently in the Currie Cup? That, to me, would be the best long-term solution.
John Plumtree needs to learn a lesson here, though. No matter what else is going on within the squad, publicly slagging off your players is not going to improve morale in any way. Use it, don’t use it…Tweet