At the start of the year I published an article expressing a sense of optimism over the 2012 edition of SupeRugby. However, as that had not been the first time where I entered a season with a rose-tinted outlook, only to emerge at the tail end in the throes of depression and frustration, I opted to focus on some outcomes (other than a trophy) that I was hoping for in 2012.
Now that the southern hemisphere’s premier franchise competition has wound down, it’s time to see how we fared. As a refresher (not that it’s necessary, because I just now y’all commit my articles to memory, right?), the issues up for discussion were: player rotation, coaching, succession planning, brave decision-making, a solution at 13, and finally, appropriate results.
1. Player Rotation
I’ll acknowledge that rotation is obviously easier to talk about than to implement in practice; players need to be managed to allow proper recovery, but coaches are employed to win using the resources at their disposal, and changing a winning habit and team is not something that is lightly done. There is obviously no blanket rule that can be applied, and each player has to be managed on a per-case basis. To the Sharks’ credit, they’ve ended the season with very few players out injured (JPP & PSDT), so clearly the conditioning programs followed must be excellent, and player management appears to be acceptable. However, the workload carried by players such as Anton Bresler, Bismarck du Plessis, Keegan Daniel & Marcell Coetzee to name a few has been too high, and although they’ve emerged relatively unscathed, this is sure to catch up with them in the longer term. Additionally, it means that their understudies have not had adequate game time (see Craig Burden’s combined playing time of 37 seconds for the season as an example), and will be entering the Currie Cup severely undercooked.
This is bound to be a contentious issue; how good is our coaching team actually? Did we do as well as we did in 2012 because of them, or despite them? Under Plum’s guidance we’ve won two Currie Cups, and played in an additional two (I think, but stand to be corrected) finals, as well as progressing to the SupeRugby 2012 final. Furthermore, it would appear that Plum has created an environment in which most players are actually very happy, with several having declined big-money offers and recommitted to the Sharks in recent years. Lastly, we’ve seen the Sharks evolve to play scintillating, devastating rugby at times (Currie Cup 2010 and the latter part of this year’s SupeRugby being prime examples). Countering this is the persistent issue of inconsistency, predictability and a tendency to regress that has been dogging the Sharks for years now, and has ultimately resulted in us failing to reach the giddy heights many feel we should have, given the obvious player talents within the squad. My take on it is that our coaching team is good, just not good enough, with the two single biggest failings being the lack of (quality) assistant/specialist coaches, and Plum’s continued lack of belief in the necessity for aforementioned coaches.
3. Succession Planning
Succession planning is, for me, the process of ensuring depth in every position, either through mentoring and development of young in-house talent, or through shrewd recruitment. With the exception of scrumhalf, where Conrad Hoffman has apparently bought some timeshare in a Nedcare facility right next to André Pretorius’ wing, and Jaco Reinach is largely untested, I’d say we’re sitting very pretty indeed.
4. Brave Decision-Making
Really, what I was saying here was “don’t feel compelled to use the player I shall not name just because someone signed off on a big pay cheque for him”. In lieu of that, I’d say I’m pretty satisfied. As a secondary plea, I was hoping the coaches would display a bit of adventurousness, instead of sticking to the tried and tested. JPP at 13, Riaan Viljoen in at 15 in a semi after a prolonged stint on the sideline, Alberts at 4… all in all, I’d say there’s been a fair bit of out-of-the-box thinking, and while it hasn’t always worked, I’m glad to have seen some meandering down the road less travelled.
5. A Solution at 13
We ended 2011 with our options at 13 being Stefan Terblanche and the player who shall not be named. In 2012 we can list Paul Jordaan, Tim Whitehead and JPP as credible options, and in Paul, Tim and Frans Steyn we suddenly have the best pool of centres we’ve seen at the Sharks in years. Dog years even.
6. Appropriate Results
While all fans obviously want us to win trophies, I said that I would be willing to forego the SupeRugby trophy (for now) in lieu of clear evidence that systems are being put in place that would ensure sustainable, long-term success. As such, this one is still a little early to call. Reaching the final of SupeRugby is no small feat, and while we seem to have a pretty decent squad, we’ll really only learn how well equipped we are when we see how we fare in the Currie Cup (and what brand of rugby we play) without our Springboks in the mix:
Score: Judgment deferred until a later date
As always, debate is encourage and welcomed, as are gifts of appreciation for aforementioned articles, preferable in the form of cash or (decent) whisky. Contact me for banking and delivery address details. Now let the Currie Cup begin!Tweet