The days of being able to saunter into Kimberley with an under-strength team and emerge 80 minutes later with five Currie Cup points are long gone. The Sharks, given the current depletion in their player ranks, were on a hiding to nothing and yet still conspired to shoot themselves in the foot too.
Playing Griquas away, without your Boks and with a hefty injury toll to boot, is a little bit like being sent to see the Headmaster. Standing around outside his office, you know exactly what’s about to happen – but that doesn’t mean you can do anything to stop it. That said, I found myself quite pleasantly surprised going into half time with the Sharks leading 22-8, thinking ‘this looks far easier than it should be’. I guess the Sharks team thought the same thing, as the pack was taken to the cleaners in the second half, while the pedestrian backline could do nothing to stop the faster home side from scoring at will off a feast of turnover possession.
To my mind, this match was lost in two places, one of them easier to remedy than the other. I’ve written a number of previous articles about just how tough the Sharks are going to find it given the decimation of their Super 14 pack. I take no particular pleasure in being so emphatically vindicated, though. Fact is, there is simply no way for a tight five to get better than by playing together and in Pat Cilliers, Wiehahn Herbst and the rest, we have young players who still need to go through the furnace in order to be made hard. We have been clamouring for youth and now that we’ve got it, at least in the front row, we need to give it a chance to flourish, even if there are some setbacks along the way. Plumtree and his team messed up here by refusing to adjust the composition of the back row (and the game plan) to counteract the softer tight five. Hardly bloody surprising, though, given their track record.
The second problem, as again pointed out hundreds of times, is that you can’t get away with a pedestrian backline if you don’t have a dominant pack. The Sharks have shown on countless occasions that without Adi Jacobs, JP Pietersen and dare I say Ryan Kankowski, counter-attacking football isn’t an option. They lack the creativity in the centres to fashion anything off bad ball and rely on big forwards to break the line and supply the backs with front-foot ball. The current pack isn’t going to deliver that, so a new backline strategy – coupled with more adventurous selections – is what’s needed.
All fairly obvious stuff, I’m sorry to say and nothing particularly new here. Perhaps a slight deviation from the tried-and-tested could have turned a predictable defeat into an avoidable one.Tweet