The Sharks have made a few changes to a winning formula, one that has been met with shock and confusion from their supporters. Firstly, Jacques Botes, the man that has been so integral in the improvement of ball retention at ruck time has been dropped to the bench for his 100th game, with Marcell Coetzee shifting into his spot and Willem Alberts getting another start. Then surprisingly another man who has become known for his work at the breakdown, Jean Deysel drops out of the 22 to make way for Botes on the bench, joining another two ball carrying forwards in Ryan Kankowski and Pieter-Steph du Toit.
If Plumtree was going for subtle he completely missed the pot.
In the backline we have Meyer Bosman at inside centre as a forced change and Fred Michalak getting another shot at flyhalf after one of his outstanding games of the season against the Cheetahs, which means a fit again Lambie now starts at the back for the first time this season and Viljoen drops out of the 22 completely, with Mr. Commitment Louis Ludik fit and covering the bench again this week.
We can only hope that our loose forwards learned something from the way Botes has been playing and that the improvement made in the way we played to the ball and protecting possession was more than just a selection change and something the coaches have actively been working on. Botes has clearly been the man in charge of organizing the players to protect the ball, a responsibility which now will have to fall on another player, a task Botes had been doing a damn good job of and hopefully leaving him out will not hurt our ball retention. The fact is we have 5 out of 8 forwards who are all natural ball carrying players, after that we have a prop and 2 locks left who between the three of them would have to carry most of the ball protecting load.
Fred needs to play the same type and standard of game he did last week, twice in a row. If he could do this, against all previous evidence, then I am quite happy to have Lambie at the back, since we know he’ll do a great job there, he is in fact the incumbent Bok fullback. The problem is Fred usually has a few brain farts and that could cost us this week.
If the above two concerns have been given attention by Plumtree and if these groups of players understand the above mentioned issues were why they were omitted from the team in the first place, if they can improve and have these areas of the game functioning to an acceptable standard, then a few positives could be taken from Plumtree’s selections changes.
The Stormers defence is strong, we all know that, but it seems, by all we’ve seen and heard this week, that all that effort that has gone into their defending has had an impact on their bodies. The idea here must be to go for their weak spot, as a boxer would do in a fight and see if this could break them down enough to open up some gaps in their impenetrable defence.
Fred tends to play deeper in the flyhalf channel, giving his backs a bit more space to move in. He also uses his boot by chipping and making grubbers much more than Lambie does, which usually is seen as a bad thing, but against the flat defence of the Stormers could be a good thing. Plumtree’s hand was also forced with the injury to Tim Whitehead and may have felt that Fred combines better with Bosman at inside centre. Bosman is a strong straight runner and should get us over the advantage line and with Fred standing deeper, will also have more room to make a few of his flat passes to the wings and even to Lambie who we will probably see joining the line, running onto Bosman’s passes.
Like I said, Lambie at fullback is a better choice than anyone else in this position, how many of us have said if only we can have one more Lambie. He will still be on the field and could still be used as a first receiver and will be joining the line from fullback, where we have seen him create space for his wings before, something that game breakers of Lwazi and JP’s quality will certainly enjoy.
After the initial shock, I just thought it would be good to point out some of the positives that so many changes could have, even to the very team that has given us the first bit of hope we longed for all season long. I’m still not sure that making so many changes before a big game was the best move. Especially since the team that has now been tampered with was the very team that produced the first 3 game winning streak of the whole season and after so much emphasis has been put on continuity (not by us, by the team), this move is still somewhat baffling.
It’s definitely bold, but not necessarily smart.