Big Fish

Someone fetch Plumtree a beer


Written by (Big Fish)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 11 Apr 2012 at 10:25
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:arrow: In ancient Greece, a philosopher by the name of Zeno once founded a school of thought (Stoicism) that held that personal virtue was sufficient for happiness – that a well-developed and balanced mind would lead to a person being indifferent or invulnerable to the slings and arrows of misfortune. As a means of strengthening their spiritual strength, some stories hold that stoics daily challenged themselves to meet and endure difficult people and circumstances.

If this is true, than perhaps Zeno would have smiled upon the current plight of Sharks fans. Hot on the heels of a humiliating loss to the Hurricanes (the fourth loss in seven games), comes the news that talismanic hooker, Bismark du Plessis (apparently the more meek and mild of the du Plessis brothers) is on his way home and won’t be available to take on the Blues.

Everyone knows that the Sharks already have their collective backs against the wall and that the loss of Bismark, given his aggression, breakdown skills and ball-carrying is a further huge setback. However, despite my belief in Craig Burden and Kyle Cooper being two hugely talented players, I also think that the loss of Bismark is going to have a very unwelcome affect on the overall team dynamic and tactics, given his specific skill-set.

For many years South Africa was peculiar, particularly in a Southern Hemisphere context, in that we tended to follow the Jake White “fetch me a beer” line and eschewed a fetcher role in the team in favour of more generic loose-forwards with similar roles (think Burger, Smith, Rossouw, van Niekerk, Spies etc). A large part of the reason for this was that SA teams tended to win more ball from rucking over the ball or turning over ball due to superior ruck attendance, as opposed to ground-work.

This is a valid tactical choice, dependent on personnel, and is still quite popular in SA, although the new rules and speed of the game has resulted in more teams adopting fetcher-type roles in the team – the Sharks being one glaring exception in that they do not have any fetcher-type opensiders in their team.

For me this is especially problematic because of the style that the Sharks play – which has become much more similar to an Australasian style in this season. Whereas previously the Sharks tended to play the ball amongst the forwards as a matter of course, and only moved to the backs as a last resort or in broken play, we are now seeing the ball go wide much quicker than before. The gameplan on attack generally consists of attacking off quick ball in channels one and two with ball-carriers in the pack, and if that doesn’t work, moving the ball out wide and trying to break the line in midfield. The old predatory ability to hurt the opposition in broken play still remains as an ace in the hole too.   

This gameplan creates two primary turnover risks (leaving aside for now the lack of technique and discipline at ruck time that seems to have become endemic). Firstly, the reliance on individual, big ball carriers close to the ruck raises the chance for gang-tackling and opposition fetchers to turn us over (a regular occurrence this year), while breaking the line out wide also raises the possibility that we will not get numbers to the breakdown (Whitehead’s breaks last week are good examples of this).

Coupled with the loss of players who we are used to seeing bossing the rucks and creating a nuisance (Smit and Beast in particular), and the fact that all of the current loosies function as primary ball-carriers, the Sharks regularly find themselves outgunned at the rucks in terms of attendance and ground-skills. Even clean breaks and big ball carries often result in turnovers due to this problem.

Ultimately, a generic set of forwards is not able to address this problem, and it has been noticeable that at least with Bismark on the park we were able to compete at the breakdown. As well as Burden played last week, we suffered at the breakdown and coughed up after multiple phases (often close to the opposition try-line) purely because we did not have anyone to play to the ball and didn’t get numbers to the breakdown (not helped by poor work-rates amongst the forwards – often a back was at the ruck instead of a forward, while the forwards hung out in midfield). As soon as Bismark came on, we were able to turn over a few balls and not concede quick ball on defence.

So, I believe that in addition to the Sharks having a set of loosies not well suited to their gameplan (don’t buy the “everyone should be a fetcher” line – players have differentiated skill-sets based on their positions), the loss of Bismark makes us extremely vulnerable. The only (at least partial) solution that I see is for the Sharks to start Deysel; and this is likely to happen anyway, given the fact that Coetzee is lightly crocked. So while chance may see us having a bit of balance this week, the penny needs to drop for the powers that be if the Sharks are to turn their season around.  

The issues of leadership, discipline, mental strength and team culture are ones that a number of authors have raised already. These are things that cannot be changed overnight, but certainly need a great deal of attention. The selection of a fetcher-type player however, is a more immediate change that can be made, and my feel is that even with Coetzee fit, the Sharks may need to start Deysel and Bismark together if they hope to get the best use of their ball-carriers and game-breakers.



42 Comments

  • Well written Fish.. and I can only agree..

    Bissie is a big loss, but a team cannot pin all hope on one individual, and the team will have to be selected with exaclty your thoughts in mind.

    Let’s hope we can get it right this week.

  • Comment 1, posted at 11.04.12 10:32:56 by Richard Ferguson Reply
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  • Superb piece, Fish… the problem seems reasonably ingrained, though… I mean, the only “genuine fetcher” in the entire system is Chris Cloete and he’s no better than 5th in line to the number 6 jersey.

  • Comment 2, posted at 11.04.12 10:34:34 by robdylan Reply
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  • One question Fish…

    How do you explain the Stormers situation?

    No fetcher, no Bismarck type player for them in the tight 5?

  • Comment 3, posted at 11.04.12 10:40:32 by Morné Reply
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    MornéTeam captain
     
  • @robdylan (Comment 2) : In the SA Rugby mag arti on Marcell, Plum said they would like to turn him into an out-and-out fetcher. You know anything about this? Are they actually trying, or was it just a coach’s pipe dream?

  • Comment 4, posted at 11.04.12 10:41:53 by Die Kriek Reply

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  • @Morné (Comment 3) :

    Or the Bulls for that matter…

  • Comment 5, posted at 11.04.12 10:43:21 by Morné Reply
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    MornéTeam captain
     
  • Don’t agree with your point that every player can’t be a fetcher. Why not? There is no reason why any modern rugby player (forwards or backs) shouldn’t be able to turn over ball if they’re first at the breakdown.

    I would rather ask the question: “Why is every Sharks player not able to compete for breakdown possession?” and more to the point in the current Sharks setup, why (with the exception of Bismarck) are just about all of our forwards so poor in this department?

    And I’m just talking about defense rucks. Let’s not even start on the amount of ball we piss away on attack, because our opposition’s backs are better at winning ball than our forwards.

  • Comment 6, posted at 11.04.12 10:45:35 by rhineshark Reply
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  • What’s even more worrying to my mind, is that in some article I read elsewhere they had Willem Alberts as the leader in missed tackles in the entire competition! :shock: (despite the fact that he missed the first few games). Keegan wasn’t too far behind in the missed tackle count either. If that trend continues it won’t matter how effectively we can compete in the rucks as defence, as we all know, wins (or loses) games.

  • Comment 7, posted at 11.04.12 10:47:46 by Greg Reply

    GregSuper Rugby player
     
  • Thanks guys.

    @Morné (Comment 3) :
    A few things IMO. Firstly, Kolisi and Burger both compete strongly on the ground. Secondly, they use the Springbok tactic of not competing wholly at the breakdown, but tackling the opposition behind the gameline, and then competing fiercely on the ground. Thirdly, they don’t throw the ball around as much – hence the lack of tries.

    The Sharks biggest issue is probably how often they get turned over on attacking breakdowns – the problem on defence is more to do with poor communication and execution in the defensive system. But look how often tries against them come against the run of play.

    The Stormers’ have a high breakdown attendance. The Sharks struggle with that – a big contributor being that all 3 loosies are the ones carrying the ball.

  • Comment 8, posted at 11.04.12 10:50:28 by Big Fish Reply
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    Big FishAssistant coach
     
  • I believe the problem starts with poor ball presentation by the tackled player. If the ball is laid back far enough, it is easier for the second and third player to clean the opposition players away from the ball. Also allows the scrummy to clear the ball quicker. If the ball stays near the chest of the tackled player too long, makes it so much easier for the oppo to pilfer

    My concern is that Plumtree is supposed to be a breakdown expert, but the Sharks have collectively had poor breakdown skills for a number of years.

  • Comment 9, posted at 11.04.12 10:52:16 by Bokhoring Reply
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  • Sorry, first paragraph should read:
    “Secondly, they use the Springbok tactic of not competing wholly on the ground, but tackling the opposition behind the gameline, and then competing fiercely at the ruck.”

  • Comment 10, posted at 11.04.12 10:54:00 by Big Fish Reply
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  • @Bokhoring (Comment 9) :

    I’m not sure that is right to be honest. I think out 2nd and 3rd players are just too slow in support. Look at the Stormers, when someone goes to ground you immediately have 3 or 4 support players at the ruck.

  • Comment 11, posted at 11.04.12 10:55:51 by Pokkel Reply
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  • @Pokkel (Comment 11) : I think that it buys you the extra split second you need. I saw a number of cases with Sharks already attending the rucks (especially when they doing the pick and go) where the oppo flank gets his hands on the ball on the players chest / stomach

  • Comment 12, posted at 11.04.12 10:59:27 by Bokhoring Reply
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  • Not saying it is the only problem, but I believe that is where it starts. Obviously combined with poor technique from the players joining the ruck

  • Comment 13, posted at 11.04.12 11:03:07 by Bokhoring Reply
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  • @Big Fish (Comment 10) :

    I had a chat to Allister just after Schalks injury. He said they are in shit because they do not have a fetcher. It is too late to ask Burger to become a ground ball player again and Kolisi, Carr, Vermeulen, Koster are all ball carrying loosies.

    What they try to adopt is not so much a ‘fetching’ role but a player, or players, constantly playing towards the ball all the time.

    They rely on a Crusaders-like tactic to ‘blow-out’ over rucks rather then getting hands on the ground from which you will find the actual turn overs they do get are not the typical fetcher turn over but much rather the 2nd or 3rd arriving player simply picking up the ball.

    For this to work however communication is absolutely vital for the Stormers. Just as on defense, structure and communication on attack and these blow-outs are of primary importance so no player get’s isolated.

    I think most crucially here however is that none of this will ever work if it was not for the fact that the Stormers defend like they do. Tackling players not only effectively, but behind the advantage line is crucial for their success. It makes these blow-outs much easier against retreating opposition forwards.

    I therefore still do not prescribe to the fact that the Sharks require a fetcher – rather better structure and commitment from the players on attack and defense.

    For that you also need Plum to be consistent in selections – players need to find their groove and constant changes (granted loads of them injury enforced) is not helping.

  • Comment 14, posted at 11.04.12 11:08:28 by Morné Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 14) :

    I agree. Turnovers can be achieved by more than just a fetcher but then you need the forwards to work closely together and with a specific goal. I like the idea of an out and out fetcher but if you don’t have one then you need to change the way you look at rucks and turnovers.

  • Comment 15, posted at 11.04.12 11:15:36 by Pokkel Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 14) :
    I think that what I described in posts 9 and 10 is what you described here. Agree?

    Like you said though, tackling and cohesion are essential to that system working. I believe that the Sharks need a fetcher, at least with current personnel available, because our tackling and rucking isn’t good (you can’t even compare Chadwick, Marais and Jannie to their Bulls and Stormers counterparts here) while we realy on the loosies for ball-carrying in the midfield – they are never going to attend all the rucks in time.

    The Sharks want to play expansively, but that creates its own dangers. For years, our gameplan and the likes of Smit, Muller, Botes and Beast meant we could win ball without a fetcher. I don’t see us having the right people at the moment – easier to add a fetcher than change a whole pack’s current style – especially with players who are very new and unlikely to start for much longer.

  • Comment 16, posted at 11.04.12 11:31:50 by Big Fish Reply
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  • @Big Fish (Comment 16) : My biggest concern at the moment is how easy the Sharks turnover possession at the moment- usually when we on attack near the line

    That means everyone needs to work towards protecting the ball – no matter the number of the player’s back. Having a Brussouw in the team would be great, but what do you do if he is buried in the previous ruck

    So I agree with Morne on that issue

    Obviously I would also like them to slow down / steal the ball at the breakdown on defence as well, and this is where the fetcher types like Brussouw and Bismarck really come into it

  • Comment 17, posted at 11.04.12 11:39:03 by Bokhoring Reply
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  • @Big Fish (Comment 16) :

    I believe I can though – remember the Stormers have a whole bunch of inexperienced youngsters in their team doing just that job (tackling, ball protection, ruck attendance etc).

    If the technique is bad, fix it. If the game plan of playing too wide too quickly is wrong, fix it.

    The Sharks have the players to win games – where they lack is attitude (specifically defense) and aptitude (strategy and coaching).

  • Comment 18, posted at 11.04.12 11:46:14 by Morné Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 5) : Remember that Fish did not say you need a fetcher. He said our particular game plan requires one. Bulls and Stormers rugby might very well be ok without one.

  • Comment 19, posted at 11.04.12 11:56:21 by King Shark Reply
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    King SharkVodacom Cup player
     
  • @Morné (Comment 18) : I fear the current coaching staff are not suited to introducing the sort of changes you recommend in the limited time available to them. One gets the feeling that Plum especially is just too set in his ways or too conservative to make this happen quickly.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  • Comment 20, posted at 11.04.12 11:58:40 by vanmartin Reply
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  • Awesome article Fish, and it looks like Plum might have read it, starting Deysel even though Marcell is fit. I completely agree with this article.

    I tried to say something similar in one of my ranting posts, but this says it way better, when someone asks, I’m going to refer them to this article. :grin:

  • Comment 21, posted at 11.04.12 12:04:21 by Letgo Reply
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  • @Letgo (Comment 21) : Marcell is also starting, with Deysel.

  • Comment 22, posted at 11.04.12 12:17:08 by Ice Reply
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  • @King Shark (Comment 19) :

    Fair enough – but my point is that it is easier to change the game plan or type of game you play than look for something (fetcher) in short supply (or changing a player’s role to be something he is not really known to play).

  • Comment 23, posted at 11.04.12 12:22:14 by Morné Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 23) : Fair enough. I have been wondering about something: I don’t know how long Botes will still remain with the squad and whether Kanko will regain form. If not, our loosies would be nicely complemented by one Francois Louw when his contract with Bath runs out…

  • Comment 24, posted at 11.04.12 12:38:22 by King Shark Reply
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    King SharkVodacom Cup player
     
  • @King Shark (Comment 24) :

    You have one of the more exciting loosies in the country if not the competition in Coetzee. We know what Alberts can do and for that matter Deysel.

    Kanko is a game breaker of note in top form and then there is your captain still!

    The Sharks have a bunch of really good loosies – for me it’s a case of getting the combination right (balanced) and giving them an extended run in ONE position.

  • Comment 25, posted at 11.04.12 12:40:48 by Morné Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 23) :
    I disagree Morne. I think changing a gameplan is harder than changing a player or a player role. The absence of Bismark last week illustrated that.

    Right now the Sharks need to think short-term – and Deysel and Beast may be the answer.

    @King Shark (Comment 19) :
    Spot on.

  • Comment 26, posted at 11.04.12 12:46:06 by Big Fish Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 25) : They are really good but none of them are out and out fetchers. Kanko, Coetzee and Alberts definitely aren’t, whilst Keegan, Botes and Deysel won’t get the opposition to make plans on how to stifle them at the breakdown. In SA we have Brussouw and Louw that are really good fetchers, with Minnie, Stegmann and Watson only moderately effective.

  • Comment 27, posted at 11.04.12 13:00:15 by King Shark Reply
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    King SharkVodacom Cup player
     
  • @Big Fish (Comment 26) :

    The game plan that needs changing is not playing too wide too quickly, i.e. attack shorter channels until you get quick ball over the advantage line.

    Surely that is not too hard to adopt?

    As for other changes in technique and commitment that should be a given at this level not so?

  • Comment 28, posted at 11.04.12 13:02:51 by Morné Reply
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  • @Morné (Comment 28) : @Morné (Comment 28) : Although it seems when near the line, the attack becomes very narrow and predictable.

  • Comment 29, posted at 11.04.12 13:06:09 by Bokhoring Reply
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  • @King Shark (Comment 27) :

    My point was never about a fetcher. I don’t prescribe to the theory personally. :)

    You have designated players playing towards the ball all the time with every single player needing the technique and strength to steal balls at rucks should the opportunity present itself.

    Jaque Fourie is the best backline player/fetcher. Bissie does this from a tight 5 position. Who says only loosies should be scavengers?

  • Comment 30, posted at 11.04.12 13:06:52 by Morné Reply
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  • Saddhu, Big Fish, Saddhu!

  • Comment 31, posted at 11.04.12 13:07:11 by Culling Song Reply
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  • @Bokhoring (Comment 29) :

    When near the line you either exploit space wide, or use your strike runners (like Alberts) to convert to points. Something Michalak failed to do twice in the 50 minutes of rugby I saw last weekend.

  • Comment 32, posted at 11.04.12 13:08:15 by Morné Reply
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  • @Culling Song (Comment 31) : Why is he an Indian holyman?

  • Comment 33, posted at 11.04.12 13:08:39 by King Shark Reply
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    King SharkVodacom Cup player
     
  • @Morné (Comment 32) : Time for frogman to go back to Paris methinks. Meyer Bosman seems to be our second best flyhalf at the moment.

  • Comment 34, posted at 11.04.12 13:09:55 by King Shark Reply
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    King SharkVodacom Cup player
     
  • @Morné (Comment 32) : No idea what Michalak was thinking running into 4 players instead of just going wide

  • Comment 35, posted at 11.04.12 13:10:42 by Bokhoring Reply
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  • @King Shark (Comment 34) : Meyer Bosman is also the back who “fetches” well.

  • Comment 36, posted at 11.04.12 13:12:42 by Bokhoring Reply
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  • @King Shark (Comment 34) : @Bokhoring (Comment 35) :

    It was bad judgment by one player – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and change things for bad judgment calls by one individual.

    Things will improve with Lambie there – but the Blues are desperate and will throw the kitchen sink at the Sharks in this game.

    Sharks seems to be getting teams coming off bad losses needing to prove a point all the time which is not helping!

  • Comment 37, posted at 11.04.12 13:13:38 by Morné Reply
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  • @Bokhoring (Comment 36) : You see, it is a two for one deal! :lol:

  • Comment 38, posted at 11.04.12 13:13:46 by King Shark Reply
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    King SharkVodacom Cup player
     
  • @Morné (Comment 28) : “As for other changes in technique and commitment that should be a given at this level not so?”

    Should be but unfortunately that doesn’t mean it is! :???:

    All roads inevitably lead back to coaching when it comes to the Sharks.

  • Comment 39, posted at 11.04.12 13:59:38 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @King Shark (Comment 33) : In Vaisnava discussion, when a dude says something particularly insightful, sometimes other people who’re in the room listening will mumble or shout “Sadhu! Sadhu!” which means “wise man” or “sage” – the idea being that when somebody says something so completely on-point that you can’t add anything, it’s natural and fitting to just recognize out loud.

  • Comment 40, posted at 11.04.12 14:12:46 by Culling Song Reply
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  • @Culling Song (Comment 31) :
    Dhanyavaada!

  • Comment 41, posted at 11.04.12 14:25:36 by Big Fish Reply
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  • @Culling Song (Comment 40) : Nice! And thus my education is enhanced. Thx mr.

  • Comment 42, posted at 11.04.12 16:05:15 by King Shark Reply
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    King SharkVodacom Cup player
     

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