The Sharks trial match was held this weekend and I thought I’d share a few of the insights I got from attending this event.
Firstly, for anyone that happens to be in the area for the next trial match, do yourself a favor and come to the stadium, it’s a real treat and a completely different experience to a competitive match. It’s much more relaxed, but intense, especially for the guys on the field, body blows and crunching hits, echoing through the rather empty stadium. It’s awesome.
Louis Ludik went on a run for the “Raggies” and instead of slowing down and attempting some sort of evasive action he decided that maintaining his speed and direction may give him enough momentum to get the best of his defender. His defender was JP Pietersen. Needless to say his momentum was met by a force great enough to stop him almost instantly. The collision produced a sound that prompted the small, but quietly enthusiastic crowed to grunt with approval and then continue to discuss the hit and the players involved. Yes, we were a smallish crowed and some of the best plays of the night was merely applauded with a gentle clap, but the discussion was intense and the environment was intimate. Coaches were going onto the field, players were being moved around, things were happening and we were a part of it. Serious fun. And man did it get me excited for the season to start.
Things started off slowly and right away you could see that this whole exercise was not really to see what the “Raggies” could to, but rather in what shape the “Zambesis” was. The tight five of the Raggies was just never going to set up any kind of base for their team to work with. Although I think Monde Hadebe showed some good signs with his individual play, they never looked up for it as a unit though. Chadwick and Herbst were really solid on the night and it seems like Burden gets bigger every season. His tight play was just as good as the rest of his game and that’s really pleasing to see, since this has been pointed out as one of his weaknesses. Ross Skeate was again the reliable player we’ve gotten used to and Jandre Marais was strong with ball in hand and busy in the rucks. It’s hard to say with such a mismatched team, but I think he outplayed the so far preferred Anton Bresler.
The player that stood out the most amongst the loosies was Pieter-Steph Du Toit. I didn’t know his name at the game, and I was quite surprised that an unknown (or at least unknown to me) player was picked in the team that seemingly was the would be team, but I definitely know his name now and can see why the coaches gave him a proper shot at proving himself. He’s a big guy and tall, he was used as a line-out option. He made several strong runs and had the Zambesis on the front foot for most of the game. Again he did this from a solid base created by his tight five, but still quite impressive. Keegan was his usual self. Making runs and flip passes. He was involved in a beautiful try of interplay between JP, Bosman and himself. He had a Keegan game. I’m just not sure if that’s a good thing anymore. It just feels too loose at times. But that’s a matter for another day. Mtembu stood his man for the Zambesis. He looked good with ball in hand, but wasn’t involved a lot on the day. Even with a few injuries, the Sharks really don’t have anything to worry about in the loose forwards.
Jacques Botes was the best player for the “Raggies”. He definitely looked like he was trying to proof his own point. A lot of young players were there to do the same thing, but Jacques as one of the senior players nowadays, was definitely showing his coaches that he STILL had it in him. Kankowski looked rudderless the whole night. He did receive the ball on the back foot with no space all night, but geez he really does seem to be lacking that spark that made him so great. I really hope he can find some of that magic again before the season starts, because Kankowski at his best is invaluable.
With such a dominant performance from one team’s forwards, you were never really going to see the potential the other team’s backs might posses. Having said that, Cobus Reinach would have to step up his game if he wants to be a regular feature in the 22 of the Sharks in this year’s Super 15. He was under a lot of pressure and didn’t receive much clean ball, but this is the type of pressure you’ll have to be able to handle if you want to play at Super Rugby level. Later in the night his halfback partner, our French import Freddy Michalak, was switched into his position and looked more calm under pressure, but in my opinion his passing was never crisp or clean enough for that position. Michalak also didn’t look good at Flyhalf. A lot of his passes went to ground, his decision making wasn’t good and it didn’t help that there was clearly an issue with communication between the players that was probably playing together for the first time. All of this didn’t give the two young centers next to him much chance to show their potential. When he wasn’t passing loopy bad passes to them, he wasn’t passing to them at all. He tried to do too much on his own, either taking on the line and then making a low percentage offload or kicking the ball away. I would have a third Fly Half if I was the coach.
All of this obviously led to very little ball for the Raggies back three. Louis Ludik seemed to be frustrated to be on the wrong side of the field. I felt like he did all the right things when he got the ball, but his opposite number didn’t do anything wrong and everything at this match seems to indicate that he would be the preferred player to start at the back.
Charl McLeod had a really good game, the type of game where he really didn’t do anything or anything except pass, he did this really quickly and crisply every time and that’s what made him one of our most important players in the 2010 Currie Cup season. If he continues like this into the season, it will be a pleasure to see him behind the scrums again.
Meyer Bosman looked really good on the night. He also looks like he might have buffed up a little during the off season and it seems like he’s really enjoying having a player next to him that runs attacking lines and gets over the advantage line… well on the night, every time. Bosman has never been the type of player to take on the defensive line, he’s always been a distributor and unlike Andries Strauss before him needs players around him that he can put into space with crisp and accurate passing. And JP Peterson seems like he could be the man for the job, the first advantage of having him in the midfield being, that he gets the ball more and that could never be a bad thing. I know it was only a trail match against, let’s just call it what it was, the B-Team or Tackle Bags, but I was really impressed with JP in this position. And the murmurs each time he got close to the ball would indicate that most of the crowed felt the same way. He ran good lines, always got over the advantage lines set up a great try with an inside offload to Bosman and he really looked enthusiastic in his new role, which could be the most important aspect if this move has a chance of working. One thing that could be a bit of a worry is that he really did not look comfortable passing the ball to his right, something he would have to work on if this experiment is going to be a success.
I felt a little disappointed in the outside backs. They had a lot of room to work with several times and didn’t make as much with it as I thought they possible could have. I suppose it comes down to not having played in a while and not being as sharp as they would be during the season.
I must say it still was awesome to see Lwazi Mvovo in full flight again, swerving and stepping around opposition. I can’t wait for the season to start again.
I can’t even wait for next week’s game against Boland.Tweet