“Things we wanted to concentrate on were our reaction to the breakdown situations, which was much better this week, our exits were better and we got the bulk of the possession, which helped,” is the somewhat understated reaction of sharks coach Robert du Preez after his charges turned in a significantly better performance against the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday. Early days yet, but I’m sure Rob must be very pleased with the way his charges reacted to some stinging criticism of their first-round malaise in Brisbane.
It’s hard, as a fan, to always know what to look for in this highly-complex and multi-faceted sport. Coaches will watch performances many times over, with a level of deep insight and analytics that would be lost on the average supporter, even ones such as us who watch plenty of rugby and like to think we have an in-depth understanding. As one who’s always hoping to improve my own understanding of the game, discussions with coaches are always valued and was rather interested when a good friend and very knowledgeable coach gave me his assessment of the Sharks’ performance against the Reds. I’d seen a fair few things that i wasn’t happy with, including he obvious handling errors and poorly-contested kicks, but this coach immediately identified the breakdown and a lack of intensity at the tackle point as the reason for the Sharks’ failing.
Interesting, then, to note how an improvement in this area is the first thing that Rob du Preez mentioned about the second game – along with fixing the handling and exit play as well.
Now, it was quite pleasing to see how effectively Andre Esterhuizen’s left boot (or “siege gun” as Bill McLaren would have described it) was used when the Sharks needed a big exit. It shows a level of thought and calmness to the play that the team were able to engineer situations where they could deliver the ball to Esterhuizen with little pressure, on order that he could use that big, but slow, weapon to ensure maximum territory game. In fact, that was perhaps the most pleasing thing about the team overall, was how, despite the frenetic pace of some of the play, the team managed, for the most part, to remain calm even when under pressure.
Much has been said of the last minutes, Pat Lambie’s strong leadership, Ruan Botha’s crucial line-out steal and the measured, well-executed attacking phases that led to the winning try. To us, it looked lucky, but listening to the players, it sounds as though everything was planned and they knew they had the ability to win that game if they backed themselves.
“When we kept ball in hand and started to put phases together, it showed what this team are capable of,” adds Rob. “I’m very pleased with that. At one stage we put together 19 phases. The patience we showed in the attacking zone was much better, we weren’t trying to off load 50/50 passes.” In the past, the Sharks have tended to do very silly things indeed in the opposition red zone, rather than have the patience to back their own phase play. This, to me, was perhaps the most pleasing thing about Saturday’s performance and one I hope to see them build on further as the season progresses.Tweet