Sharks coach John Plumtree has hinted that since his side will emphasise results over all else over the coming weeks in Super Rugby, this need to win every game at all costs is likely to see the side emphasise defence more than attack.
Looking to the so-far successful pattern of teams like the Stormers and Chiefs, who have conceded just 9 and 12 tries respectively over the first 11 rounds, the coach is quick to point out that the sides that defend better, hence conceding fewer scores, are those which do better in Super Rugby. This, he says, is something the Sharks want to emulate going forward and will seek to build victories off a platform of strong defence, coupled with territorial dominance.
We saw this against the Highlanders and while ugly, one has to concede that it did, in fact, work in that game, although there were some quite alarming factors to come out of that victory. Strong defence is one thing, but if the Sharks are going to regularly be forced to make over 200 tackles each game – around 250% more than their opponents – then it isn’t going to be very long before the men getting through the bulk of that work, the Coetzees, Breslers and so on, start to break down. Again, while teams in possession tend to be penalised more and make more mistakes, surely conceding two thirds of possession to your opponents cannot be the blueprint on which base a winning game plan?
I concur fully in the need to play in the right parts of the field, but when you’re in those parts, you’re going to need to have an attacking plan too – one that involves holding the ball through the phases and ultimately creating scoring opportunities.
There was far too much aimless kicking from the Sharks at the weekend and my fervent hope is that the coaching staff will make the necessary tweaks to the approach to ensure that defence and pragmatism doesn’t replace “all-out attack from everywhere” as the only string to the bow. The Sharks have been crying out, for a number of years now, for a Plan B; the ability to think on their feet and change the approach within a game if the one they started with clearly isn’t working. My concern right now is that they’re simply switching to a different Plan A, which may yield short-term success but probably won’t take too long for the opposition to figure out.
Not trying to shoot anything down here, but the chances of the Sharks out-boring the Stormers in a few weeks’ time don’t strike me as particularly good. After all, the men from the Cape have been playing this style of defensive rugby for years and have one of the best defence coaches in the land as their mastermind. I doubt the Sharks will really be able to successfully replicate that within just a few weeks, especially given the paucity of specialist coaching options in the bunkers at Kings Park. Not, at least, without all other aspects of their game going to pot.
Still, as Plumtree was quick to point out during Tuesday’s press conference, the Sharks “don’t practice dropping the ball”, so I’m quite confident the attacking game will continue to receive as much emphasis in training as it always has…Tweet