The Sharks XV performed way below expectation in losing to the Blue Bulls by 30 points in their Vodacom Cup semi-final a few weeks ago. That result has, in some quarters, been used as a blanket argument against the existence of any quality depth within the Sharks setup.
Never being one to take things at face value, I’ve been doing a fair bit of thinking about this situation, since regular readers will know that I am somewhat of a champion of the overlooked youth within the Sharks structures, despite taking pretty regular criticism for that stance. As yet another round of panic buying looms ahead of this year’s Currie Cup, I remain more convinced than ever that the Sharks’ best chances of resurgence lie in continued investment in the youth structures already in place.
In the run-up to that semi-final, I wrote an article introducing the Sharks XV and if anything, erred on the side of talking up their chances against the Bulls. A number of factors stand out about that side and while I chose to highlight the fact that an astonishing number of those players had come through the Academy system, the statistic I missed was how many of them were playing in their first Vodacom Cup campaign.
The issue here is one of turnover and a lot may have to do with the perception of the Vodacom Cup competition itself. The fact remains, though, that the Bulls somehow manage to retain the core of their B squad over the years, whereas the Sharks typically end up fielding a wholly new lineup in the Vodacom Cup each year. Of the startiing team that the Sharks fielded that day, no fewer than 8 players came straight up from last year’s under 21 team. The entire back division outside of the halfbacks were playing in their first Vodacom Cup. Up front, four of the tight five were in the same position. Only Pat Cilliers, Charl McLeod and Monty Dumond could claim to have regularly played at a level higher than this.
The Bulls had a Springbok hooker in their pack, not to mention Currie Cup regulars like Jaco Engels and Fudge Mabeta. Amongst the backs, Tiger Mangweni and John Mametsa are both hugely experienced, while other such as Francois Brummer and Stephan Dippenaar have been blooded slowly over three years. I don’t have the exact figures, but I’d be very surprised if there we more than two or three players in that team contesting their first Vodacom Cup semi.
My point is that we should not now write off the entire squad that played in the Vodacom Cup and start all over again with a new bunch next year. The Sharks must now look within and give some of these players further development opportunities in the Currie Cup. Good teams aren’t built overnight – just ask the Bulls.Tweet