The difference between a team totally reliant on individual performances, and a team reliant on total team-effort, is a Currie Cup title.
The Currie Cup final provided us with a unique insight into the psyche of South African rugby and in my view, exactly why we got our asses whipped by the All Blacks and Aussies this year.
Sharks captain Stefan Terblanche’s speech on receiving the Currie Cup trophy highlighted this too, and although a bit too melodramatic for my liking from the Sharks skipper, it takes nothing away from the message, and that is the game of rugby is about a 22-man effort for 80 minutes.
The weeks leading up to the final, the Cape media inundated us with articles quoting Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Schalk Burger, their importance to the team in an effort to win the title for the first time in 9. Even Western Province coach, Allister Coetzee highlighted the importance of these, and other key men as crucial to their assault on the title.
On the other side, you hardly heard a word from the Sharks camp.
I am quite a keen follower of social networks like Twitter in addition to your normal main-stream media, and apart from the odd Twitter message from a couple of Sharks players and the odd interview with the Sharks coach John Plumtree, there was no column or spread or endless quotes in articles on or from Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis, Pat Lambie and the likes.
They were quietly flying under the radar.
A couple of months ago a lot was also written about how the Sharks play the game. Many likened the Sharks brand of rugby to that of the All Blacks, a ball in hand, fast paced approach to the game where you kick when you need to, but possession is primary.
In the week leading up to the final I was asked what the Sharks needed to do to beat Province.
For me it was simple, force them to play outside of their comfort zone, and shut down their stars. The Blue Bulls (in a close win for WP at Newlands) and the Cheetahs with their victory in the league stages showed Province has no plan B. They are simply incapable to think on their feet and/or adopt in an in-game situation – pretty similar to the Springboks this year who are also super-reliant on superstars playing well rather than a team effort.
Of course if the superstars do click on the day, the result can be devastating to the opposition, but ask yourself what is easier, planning against 4 or 5 guys, or having to plan against 22?
My message to the Sharks fans was simple.
On attack, have your first receiver be Pat Lambie for 90% of the time and let runners (ball carriers) run off him into wider channels (either inside or out depending on the defensive structures) and suck in Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers and Duanne Vermeulen.
On defense, shut Jean de Villiers down from the outside, i.e. remove his outside options and force him to play back to the Sharks strength, the forwards and tight 5 – do this with a rush defense. Get this right, and you take De Jongh, Habana and Aplon right out of the game. And with Jean de Villiers not favouring kicking as an option, you will shut Province down.
Do this and mark their known (and only ball carriers) in Schalk Burger and Duanne Vermeulen and you are half-way to the title.
My observations were not rocket science. Having watched all the Western Province and Stormers games this year their game-plan going into the final were as predictable as strong winds in PE. And knowing they are incapable of changing their approach or pre-determined game plan, it was pretty obvious what was needed from the Sharks to have a fair shot against all these Province superstars.
Stats will show you Lambie handled the ball 36 times, one behind Charl McCleod the top player in this stat on 37 and the next guy way behind on 19. Out of the 36 times, he passed it 16 times, 6 were classed as playmaker passes, and he kicked 9 times. He carried the ball 12 times and made 153 meters.
Is this significant?
On the face of it not so much, but then look at how many times the forwards handled the ball. The individual with the highest count here is Ryan Kankowski on 16, with Alberts one behind on 15.
Then compare it to WP. De Wall handled the ball 35 times, but of this he passed it 27 times, that is over 77%. He had 5 ball carries, gained 96 meters but shockingly, only kicked two times…
I will come back to De Waal, but from the Province forwards this one stat is significant to me. Schalk Burger handled the ball 28 times (almost as much as his flyhalf), Vermeulen 21 times. None of them had any line breaks, and they only gained 80 and 94 meters respectively.
Here is where it gets interesting though, the combined meters gained by Schalk and Vermeulen is 6 meters short of the total meters gained by the whole Sharks starting forward pack!
It is quite clear to see that there was absolutely no variety in the Province’s approach with ball in hand. Their flyhalf was reduced to a ball shifter, their skipper simply had to be part of every single attacking move which left Western Province, a predictable, dull bunch or wallies you can coach a high-school team to defend against.
Add the intensity and hunger the Sharks brought to the game, and the result is not all that surprising.
The last thing that fascinated me about the final from a Western Province perspective was the comments from the captain (Schalk) and coach (Coetzee).
Firstly Coetzee mentioned they identified the Sharks back-three as super dangerous and thus did not want to kick any ball onto them.
Schalk chipped in explaining his insistence of going for the line (what was it?) 6 or 7 times instead of posts was because they had to play catch-up rugby after being down 20-3 at one stage.
Gentleman, or anyone, I would love for you to explain to me why Willem de Waal, a known Currie Cup final match winner with his boot both territorially, and hitting the penalties, was selected in the first place? Why select a player, and then tell him you are not going to provide you with the platform he thrives on? And for the record Schalk, the first time you turned down a shot at goal, there was still 34 minutes of rugby left to be played and you were only two scores behind…
Where the Sharks did everything to give us a great final, WP rugby seemingly did their utmost to enhance the reputation of South African teams and players being completely dof.Tweet