The quest for continuity – Super Rugby challenge #1

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 20 Jan 2011 at 10:35
Tagged with : , , , ,

So here’s the thing. In a season that comprises 16 games, all against top opposition, with virtually no breaks in between, how do you best manage your squad without sacrificing continuity? This is the main challenge that will face John Plumtree and the other 14 Super Rugby coaches as they chase a maiden title in the expanded South Hemisphere show-piece competition.

Looking back at the Super 14, it was generally those teams who were luckiest in terms of injuries (particularly to key playmakers) who prevailed. Over the course of 13 matches, with a bye coming hopefully somewhere in the middle, you can hope to pick roughly the same team throughout, only changing a player here or there as form and fitness dictate. Squad depth was still important, of course, but the concept of rotation in the interests of keeping players fresh was not really embraced. Coaches – at least successful ones – settled on a team early and stuck with that team, by and large, throughout the competition.

Super Rugby in 2011 should, I imagine, be different and if you pay attention to the various sound bites coming from the coaches, it becomes clear that every one of them is far more concerned about depth than they were last year. Suddenly, the talk is of planning and strategy – perhaps even tactics that might see them opt to field a less experienced side in games that aren’t quite as important in terms of conference points. While the Super 14 was always pushing the envelope a little in terms of a “sprint”, there’s very little doubt that Super Rugby is very much in the “marathon” category – and one of the key differences, as any distance runner will tell you, is that you can’t afford to go flat out all the way.

Looking specifically at the Sharks, John Plumtree might, in fact, he in a slightly more fortunate position than most, in that there isn’t really a clear “starting XV” and “second XV” amongst his charges. In a squad that hovers just below the 30 player mark (too small, but I’m sure that will be addressed in time) he has very few players, if any, that would weaken the side if they were brought in. Eugene van Staden, Craig Burden, Conrad Hoffman and Luzuko Vulindlu are the only players who are a little low on Super 14 experience and I feel that the Sharks, in most positions, have at least two players who are well up to the standard required. Plumtree, in short, has better depth than most and can probably afford to change his team around more regularly and hopefully avoid fatigue and injury.

There lies the catch 22, though, because the moment you start fiddling too much – breaking up combinations week after week – you lose any vestiges of continuity. We all saw in the Currie Cup that the Sharks played their best when the same players were picked in the same positions week after week and the coach would be foolish to completely ignore that factor in the interests of keeping everybody fresh. If, however, he decides to go with a “starting VX plus reserves” sort of mentality, he does run the risk of perhaps damaging morale in the camp, with far more quality players than he can accommodate in most positions. In particular, will any of John Smit, Beast Mtawarira, or either of the du Plessis brothers be content with a bench role throughout the competition? I doubt it.

Perhaps the secret is to break the season down into a number of sections, with the aim of playing a different side in different phases of the campaign. That way, you can still allow a settled team to build up continuity over a string of 4-6 games without playing anyone into the ground. It does sort of hark back to Dick Muir’s infamous “dual squad” nightmare that cost the Sharks a place in the Currie Cup play-offs in 2005, but in that case, there was a clear first and second string. Plumtree could afford two, within reason, pick two sides of very much equal strength. It’s a risky strategy, but one that just might work.


  • I think for success a coach needs to know his preferred best 15 and im sure that Plum knows the 15 he would like to see on the field, and yes favourites play a part in any coaches mind. He will also know which players he is concerned about whether it be fitness,injury or form and he will need to know who he will replace them with should the need arise. The problem arises when a player is playing well, do u rest him and risk him not getting back that form. Or do u leave a guy on the bench and risk him getting rusty when he could also do the job but isnt a favourite of the coach. The best a coach can do is be very clear that this is the 15 he is going with until they are tired,out of form or injured. Those not in the 15 will have to wait to get their chance to prove that they should keep the jersey until tiredness,loss of form,injury etc.

  • Comment 1, posted at 20.01.11 10:46:53 by SheldonK Reply
    SheldonKAssistant coach
  • I made the statement last week that the Super 15 will see the development and implementation of ground-breaking coaching strategies specifically to player conditioning.

    The sad news in my view is that if any coach, did not start planning last year November already, it will be too late now.

    The challenge is continuity as mentioned above, but it is not as important as how players conditioning is managed and the conditioning, or most important part of conditioning should have been done during the off-season.

    Continuity and maintaining that becomes easy when you have fit players (physically and mentally).

    In season conditioning will also have to be adapted.

    Preferably, the time period for optimum conditioning is 12 weeks. Coaches are cut a bit short on this due to reasons we all know and the international season which include EOYT etc.

    Point is, if coaches did not start with this straight after the CC final with the majority of their squad, they have made a mistake.

    At most, players can only enjoy a 2 week break nowadays, tough cookies I say, that is what you sacrifice being a pro player.

    So whereas I agree with Rob that during the competition continuity & depth will be key, I think the only way to even have a hope in hell in having that depends mostly on what has been done during the off-season.

    And it is because of that I find the absence of conditioning experts within SA Super rugby squads even on a consultation basis only, disturbing.

  • Comment 2, posted at 20.01.11 10:48:57 by Morné Reply
    MornéTeam captain
  • @Morné (Comment 2) : we have one of the best in the game – Mark Steele

  • Comment 3, posted at 20.01.11 10:59:03 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
    robdylanHead Coach
  • all i know is subs at the right time will be a big key players only 60 min a game and using ur bench wisely not just in the useual sense.using ur bench with the current game and the next game in mind

  • Comment 4, posted at 20.01.11 11:00:49 by juba_fan Reply

    CrazySharkFanCurrie Cup player
  • Winning your conference doesnt guarantee a home semi, you might still lose when playing away. In my opinion u still have to pick a team that can win any game.

  • Comment 5, posted at 20.01.11 11:15:00 by Jarson (AddicteD) Reply
    Competition WinnerCompetition WinnerCompetition Winner
    JarsonXAssistant coach
  • @robdylan (Comment 3) :

    Other than one or two references about Steele, I do not know much about him to be honest.

  • Comment 6, posted at 20.01.11 11:16:05 by Morné Reply
    MornéTeam captain
  • Isn’t the harshness of super rugby the same of currie cup..we play hard and easy teams there is a lot of travel as well as a long season..

  • Comment 7, posted at 20.01.11 11:28:36 by shaniboi Reply

    shaniboiVodacom Cup player
  • I guess Byes will be important,

    Sharks have 8 straight weeks playing (4 abroad in this phase), REST, 3 straight, REST, 5 straight, and possibly a few more.

    So even though its a marathon, they really need to get out the blocks well ; although all of this goes without saying.

  • Comment 8, posted at 20.01.11 12:16:55 by Jeremiser Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    JeremiserVodacom Cup player
  • It would probably be a good idea to consult with North Hemisp. coaches. Rotation has been part and parcel of the Guinness Premiership and Top14 rugby for years. The only problem would be that Euro clubs always try to field their strongest teams for Heineken Cup fixtures, so there is a difference to super rugby in this regard.

  • Comment 9, posted at 20.01.11 12:21:18 by beet Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    beetCurrie Cup player
  • @beet (Comment 9) : I reckon there’s no perfect answer… rugby is far too unpredictable for that

  • Comment 10, posted at 20.01.11 13:04:14 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
    robdylanHead Coach
  • @Morné (Comment 6) : he stays under the radar, but those I know who’ve worked with him seem highly complimentary.

  • Comment 11, posted at 20.01.11 13:09:47 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
    robdylanHead Coach
  • @beet (Comment 9) : you can see it in the quality of their rugby. their rugby just doesn’t seem to at the same intensity as superrugby.

  • Comment 12, posted at 20.01.11 14:53:07 by try time Reply

    Super Rugby player
  • @try time (Comment 12) : exactly… comparing apples with grapes :)

  • Comment 13, posted at 20.01.11 14:56:37 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
    robdylanHead Coach
  • @robdylan (Comment 13) : i have tried to get into the odd game, but i get bored. it is like they go nowhere. they kick the ball all game to get into the oppositions half, then hope to be awarded a penalty. when players do decide to attack they run away from their players leaving them exposed when they get tackled. what amazes me most is more people go to the stadium to watch that in dreadful conditions than go to super rugby games.

  • Comment 14, posted at 20.01.11 15:02:02 by try time Reply

    Super Rugby player
  • @Morné (Comment 6) : @robdylan (Comment 11) : He was a solid tough College 1st team wing back in about 1992 and he was of the coaching staff that kept Kearsney in the SA Top 20 about 5 or 6 years ago.

  • Comment 15, posted at 20.01.11 15:11:54 by beet Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    beetCurrie Cup player
  • @try time (Comment 14) : ja… I also struggle with it. Maybe people in the SH are spoiled by having too much good rugby available

  • Comment 16, posted at 20.01.11 15:39:59 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
    robdylanHead Coach
  • Hey new-look sharksworld, looks cool

  • Comment 17, posted at 21.01.11 05:29:52 by RuckingFun Reply

    RuckingFunTeam captain

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