I had to borrow this slogan from the Varsity Cup simply because it best describes why some teams seem to be on the up, and others going down.
A couple of weeks ago I shared some thoughts on coaching highlighting the principles of Reds coach, Ewen McKenzie. For those who missed it, the key areas for successful coaching according to McKenzie basically came down to recruitment, retention and team culture.
As we approach the end of the first season of Super Rugby, it is interesting to look back specifically at South African teams and how they performed this year.
Even though the Lions and Cheetahs find themselves in the bottom half of the log yet again, there seems to be a feeling of accomplishment associated with those teams rather than the doom and gloom which is usually associated with them at the end of a Super Rugby season.
Both teams at times played some scintillating rugby knocking over some big teams in the process, and recording some surprising victories on tour. The Lions’ season of course is over, but their performance in their last match in which they held the star-studded Sharks side to a dramatic 30-all draw at Coke Park will go a long way to instil some sort of confidence amongst their supporters and the South African rugby public in general.
The Cheetahs will close off their campaign this weekend against the table-topping Stormers, and I will be surprised if you find one supremely confident Stormers supporter out there this week as they prepare to travel to icy Bloemfontein where they have to record a win to qualify for a home semi.
Both teams, their coaches and their fans will tell you there is a lot of work that still needs to be done at both unions or franchises, but there is no doubt that these teams are on an upward curve.
Analyzing the seasons of these teams, one thing sticks out to me; ‘When the situation demanded it, they backed their boykies!’.
Of course, much of this can be argued to be the result of the teams’ inability to recruit outside talent either based on lack of financial muscle, or players currently unable to move to new teams because of existing contracts in place. We also know that injuries played a big part in certain players being forced, rather than backed to step up, but the end result remains the same, they stepped up big time.
The Cheetahs started their season seemingly backing the ‘tried and tested’ players and combinations, and where some are world class, others are decidedly average. It was also not a case of players starting their professional careers that made the step up, in fact, many of them have been waiting in the wings for some time, names like Ashley Johnson, Sarel Pretorius, Robert and Sias Ebersohn, are just a few who had a massive impact for their team in this year’s competition.
The Lions’ story is similar. Although they had the cash, their timing on recruiting quality players was off resulting in the team and coach being forced to risk the untried and untested. Names like Minnie, Strauss, Murray (prior to injury), Van Rensburg and Killian are a few youngsters who suddenly had some tongues wagging given their on-field contributions at Super Rugby level.
But it is not just the teams languishing at the bottom of the log that we can highlight. The Stormers seemed to have turned a corner in their retention policy too. Names like Kitshoff, Elstadt, Cronje, Schroeder, Van Aswegen, Coleman, Poolman, Sadie, Engelbrecht were all called upon for the Super Rugby competition at some stage and for most, impressed all in sundry with their performances.
The Bulls for years have been known to bring through young talent, and although they are stuttering their way into play-off contention, a look at their back up players that will take over from next year once the old-guard ships off, and the experience they will have amongst themselves, ensures that the Blue Machine will keeping on steaming ahead in 2012.
It is one team however that left me perplexed as I watched the match at Coke Park last Saturday. Apart from the Bulls, the Sharks has arguably been one of the best teams in South African rugby in the last decade especially given their performances at Super Rugby level. They are a team blessed with many Springboks, past and present, but lately, their player retention and player recruitment policies seems to have taken a massive dive.
In the last 4 to 5 years, the Sharks have lost many players, and although this is not new in professional rugby for any team, the fact that many of these players are well below the age of 30 or even 25, and who replaced them either through recruitment or development, must even have the most passionate Sharks supporter slightly worried.
It cannot be blamed on lack of finances available, or the lack of talent coming through the ranks of the academy or their successful U/19, U/21 and Vodacom Cup structures, so just why the Sharks currently seem unable to ‘back their boykies’, remains a bit of a mystery.
I don’t propose to know the players and their levels of skills currently waiting in the wings in the Sharks setup intimately, also not that I am a better talent scout than the gentleman within the union at various levels currently, but what I do know is that it was rather embarrassing for a union with such riches and reputation to be taught a rugby lesson at Coke Park last Saturday against a bunch of relatively unknown players at this level.
Don’t get me wrong, it is great to be able to see rugby geniuses like Michalak play Super Rugby, but you also have to sit back and ask at the expense of who, or what?
It’s actually quite ironic, the one player who sparked the amazing comeback for the Sharks being 9-30 down at one stage to end-up on 30-all at full time, was one of the very few youngsters the Sharks did decide to back in the last couple of years, Pat Lambie. Perhaps there is a lesson in that…Tweet