Anton Bresler, named on the bench to face the Leopards this evening, will win only his third Sharks cap if he runs onto the field. Despite being part of the squad all season, the young lock forward has enjoyed a total of 19 minutes of on-field action, despite being named in the match 22 on three occasions.
Bresler is just one of a number of (particularly forward) replacements who have been riding the bench for large portions of the season without ever getting onto the field for any reasonable length of time and his case is perhaps the most extreme. Kyle Cooper and Michael Rhodes are the others to suffer from John Plumtree’s “79-minute syndrome”, which sees forward replacements underutilised during the course of the game. This has long been a trend with Plumtree, going back to his first season in charge in the Super 14.His thinking was very much based around a starting 15 and 7 other blokes that you have to have there, just in case.
Tactical substitutions were about as likely to happen as they were under Jake White when he coached the Boks. Remember how much fun Shimmie Shimange had spending season after season on the bench with no prospect of ever getting onto the field? Not only does this sort of thing actually harm the team (since you’re effectively pitting 15 men against 22), but it utterly destroys the morale of those deemed good enough to get a jersey, but not quite goo enough to get onto the park. Players tend to pick up on these subtle messages from the coaching staff and the message that comes through loud and clear here is that “the coach doesn’t trust me. He doesn’t back me to deliver”.
As the season draws towards its business end, player fatigue starts to become a real factor and it’s round about now that coaches find themselves having to call on those fringe players to fill gaps in the team as the regulars start to pick up injuries. Plum is really lucky to have Gerhard Mostert to call on this week, with Hargreaves forced to sit out, but putting all of one’s eggs in that injury-prone basket seems a little foolish and if Bresler, Rhodes, is to be called on to play lock in a crunch knock-out fixture, wouldn’t it be better if he could do so with a few good 30-minute runs under his belt, to get the confidence up?
Rugby is a team game – and a squad game – and you can’t expect to win the Currie Cup, let alone the Super 15, with only 15, or even 22 players. Adequate rotation and ensuring gametime to the fringe players, without impacting results, is a delicate balancing act for all coaches and one that I feel Plumtree, in particular, struggles with. The Sharks procurement team has done a great job in assembling a hugely talented pool of young talent, but the coach needs to be just a little more willing to back them in the Currie Cup. He needs to know, of course, that his bosses won’t come down on him if he does and it doesn’t work out completely to plan.
So come on, Plum – use the bench tonight. We’ve all seen how a youngster like Pat Lambie can flourish when given the opportunity to play. Let Bresler, Rhodes and Cooper have at least half an hour each tonight. They won’t let you down!Tweet