Solving the loose forward dilemma

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super 14 on 24 Mar 2009 at 17:56
Tagged with : , , , , , ,

“It’s not particularly well-balanced, but for the time being, it seems to be working.” That’s more-or-less how I would sum up the the Sharks loose trio at this stage of the competition. Some tricky decisons lie ahead for the coaching staff, though.

Let’s start with conventional wisdom… you’re meant to have a fetcher on the openside, a bruiser on the blindside and a link-man at the back. Ideally, a smaller, faster guy with superb ground skills wearing 6 (or 7, if you’re not South African) is paired with a big, burly, ball-carrying option on the blindside. The number 8 tends to be pretty much a blend of the two. This, according to tradition, brings balance to the loose trio, although history has shown that various other configurations can be just as effective.

The Sharks started off last year with pretty much the ideal mix – Jacques Botes and Ryan Kankowski were offset very nicely by the hulking figure of AJ Venter on the blindside. Venter, history will show, proved a disappointing loose forward option under the ELV’s as his lack of pace was badly exposed by the new high-tempo game. His designated replacement, the Tongan Travesty Epi Taione, didn’t solve any problems and while the still green Jean Deysel was forced to watch from the sidelines, the irrepressible Keegan Daniel went on do some sterling work on the blindside, particularly against the Bulls and the Blues. As the season wore on, though, whether through attrition, or better understanding of the new game, the “all-pace” loose trio that the Sharks were playing started to wane in terms of effectiveness. They started to look one-dimensional and not just a little soft and it wasn’t very long before Venter found himself back in favour on the blindside of the scrum. Daniel was back on the bench and continued to add his inimitable dynamism coming on against tired defenders.

Venter and Taione both left straight after the Super 14 and the Currie Cup presented its own challenges, not least of which was the loss of both Kankowski and Deysel for the first half of the season. An alarming problem suddenly had a spotlight cast on it: the Sharks had virtually no depth at either 7 or 8 outside of the first choice players. Keegan Daniel again took the step up, this time as a makeshift number 8 – incidentally a position which suits him far better than blindside flank does – while a number of blindside options, including Steven Sykes, Nikolai Blignaut and Nick Strauss, were tried and discarded. It was only when Deysel returned to the side of the scrum that the Sharks started to look like a proper side and the young former-Lion’s hard edge was just the tonic needed to complement Botes and Daniel’s more skill-based games. Daniel was replaced by Kankowski in due course, but the formula remained the same – pick Deysel, together with any of the other two and the trio works like a dream. Leave him out and they often fail to get going.

Fast forward to 2009 and the inevitable b*tch-slap of fate – a serious injury to Deysel in only the third match of the campaign. Casting one’s eye over the squad, a gaping hole is revealed once more, in that we have only “Pollyfilla” Daniel and Skholiwe Ndlovu available as loose forward cover, with three hard games yet to come. Neither looks anything like a traditional blindside option and as we saw against the Reds, once the tide of the forward battle turns against you, you need a brute like Deysel to get some momentum going the other way. Kankowski and Botes are both capable of getting involved in the physical stuff when required, but to do so really nullifies their real strength. You need a big unit like Deysel to get stuck in while the fancy boys show off their skills.

Now, I really don’t want to take anything away from Keegan Daniel here, because the young man performed an absolutely crucial role on tour and I feel he stood head-and-shoulders above any other Sharks forward in terms of his contributions over the duration of the tour. He truly is the ultimate utility forward and can “do a job” anywhere in the back row. My contention, though, is that playing Daniel together with Botes and Kankowski is counter-productive in that it hampers the freedom that the latter two players need in order to be at their destructive best. Simply put, JB and Kanko get sucked into the donkey work that Jean Deysel would usually do the lion’s share of.

So what do we do now? It looks like Deysel is still a few weeks away from being ready to play. Do we risk a young, untried player like Justin Downey or Mike Rhodes in the number 7 shirt? Or do we continue with Daniel until Deysel is back… in this case, who do we keep on the bench? I for one am pretty disappointed that Plumtree didn’t see fit to at least give Downey 15 minutes against the Force, because then we would have a far better idea about his aptitude for Super rugby than we do currently. As great a guy as Skollie Ndlovu is, I stand by the opinion that he is not the right guy to include in a 22 that already includes two other similar-size players in Daniel and Botes.

And what do we do with Daniel once Deysel is back? Has he done enough to warrant another start in the number 6 jersey, or must he be content to play the remainder of the season off the bench? Plenty questions to answer over the coming weeks, that’s for sure.


  • and just when I though we were learning, it turns out we’re not…

    Looks like Skholiwe will be back on the bench this week while Justin heads off to East London with the Sharks XV

  • Comment 1, posted at 24.03.09 18:30:21 by robdylan Reply
  • The current 3 are great players and will work fine. Kankowski just need to get his performance up to the same level as last year.
    This season he tends to run side ways on attack and wave opponents through on defence.

  • Comment 2, posted at 24.03.09 21:08:03 by fyndraai Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld fyndraai
  • Well Brumbies have 4 potential key injuries and their backline without Mortlock and Gerrard is worse than the Stormers without De Villiers and Bobo. Not that familiar with the Brumbies but they don’t have any bruisers in the pack do they? Daniel/Botes/Kanko good against George Smith I think. I think we’ll be ok without Deysel until we play Canes, Tahs or Bulls. That unfortunately only gives us until next weekend. Hopefully Deysel makes a mirracle recovery. Canes are not a soft side… Well, we’ll see against the Lions anyway… Superbru is farked again this week.

  • Comment 3, posted at 24.03.09 21:50:13 by deanoelsch Reply
  • @deanoelsch (Comment 3) : Peter Kimlin is a pretty big bugger

  • Comment 4, posted at 24.03.09 22:49:05 by robdylan Reply
  • in fact, Sita Timani is even bigger… 2.02m and 119kg!

  • Comment 5, posted at 24.03.09 22:50:24 by robdylan Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 1) :

    Couldn’t agree more…

    @deanoelsch (Comment 3) :

    Aussies have plenty of 2m powerful quick locks coming off the production line… so too blind-siders/8’s with powerful hookers… not to mention their backs rarely avg less than 95kgs excluding the 9’s…

  • Comment 6, posted at 25.03.09 03:03:48 by bryce_in_oz Reply
  • One win again and it seems Plumtree has reverted back to playing 15man 80min rugby till the end of the season… other than his injury forced backline change and front-row swop…

    One of Botes/Daniels, one of Sykes/Muller could do with a bench start break…

    I find no solice against the big Brumbies backs of solid pack with our back-up loosie smaller than their 9…

  • Comment 7, posted at 25.03.09 03:34:47 by bryce_in_oz Reply
  • Strat with Albert VDW with Hargreaves on the bench and play Sykes on the side of the scrum?

    Did Sykes go to Michaelhouse?

  • Comment 8, posted at 25.03.09 08:06:27 by Loosehead Reply
  • HAPPYYYY BIRTHDAYYY KSA SHARKETTE!!!!! All the best for the day and the year ahead!! 😀

    @Loosehead (Comment 8) :

    Sykes went to Marlow Agricultural school..

  • Comment 9, posted at 25.03.09 08:13:05 by Prof. Ice Reply
  • Happy birthday Kette!!!

    Hope that lazy hubby of yours at least makes an effort to be romantic tonight!!! 😈

  • Comment 10, posted at 25.03.09 08:20:00 by wpw Reply
  • @Prof. Ice (Comment 9) : Thanks.

  • Comment 11, posted at 25.03.09 08:23:13 by Loosehead Reply
  • @wpw (Comment 10) : 😆

  • Comment 12, posted at 25.03.09 08:27:04 by bryce_in_oz Reply
  • @Loosehead (Comment 8) : they tried Sykes at flank in the Currie Cup and it didn’t work. He is quick for a lock, but battles to keep up with the pace at loose forward

  • Comment 13, posted at 25.03.09 08:50:16 by robdylan Reply
  • @bryce_in_oz (Comment 6) : Fair enough. Comment Fail then… I only looked this morning at Brumbies team and see they play with Locks on the side and back of the scrum but maybe 3 fetchers types are needed to play against Smith… OK, I am just going to shut up now. I know nothing clearly.

  • Comment 14, posted at 25.03.09 09:27:45 by deanoelsch Reply
  • @deanoelsch (Comment 14) : you are in good company here, then 🙂

    Bryce is a size queen… :mrgreen:

  • Comment 15, posted at 25.03.09 09:42:30 by robdylan Reply
  • @Loosehead (Comment 8) : Hargreaves injured himself pretty badly against the Blues, he’s not playing.

  • Comment 16, posted at 25.03.09 09:48:58 by Baldrick Reply
    May all the children behave 😛

  • Comment 17, posted at 25.03.09 09:52:17 by rekinek Reply
  • and good morning to the rest 😆

  • Comment 18, posted at 25.03.09 09:53:30 by rekinek Reply
  • @Baldrick (Comment 16) : yes… ankle screwed and needs an op. Poor guy.

  • Comment 19, posted at 25.03.09 09:54:10 by robdylan Reply
  • @rekinek (Comment 18) : ello


  • Comment 20, posted at 25.03.09 09:58:45 by robdylan Reply
  • any updates on injuries ❓
    ruan, diesel deyse, when murray will be back ❓

  • Comment 21, posted at 25.03.09 10:03:53 by rekinek Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 19) : that sounds bad, will he be back for S14 ❓

  • Comment 22, posted at 25.03.09 10:04:52 by rekinek Reply
  • @rekinek (Comment 21) : I imagine Ruan and Wolla still ahve at least 2 weeks to go.

    As for Waylon, who knows? It’s all a bit cloak and dagger with him.

  • Comment 23, posted at 25.03.09 10:07:35 by robdylan Reply
  • @rekinek (Comment 22) : you mean next year?

  • Comment 24, posted at 25.03.09 10:08:33 by robdylan Reply
  • it’s also Quinny’s birthday…. when last did anyone see him?

  • Comment 25, posted at 25.03.09 10:09:11 by robdylan Reply
  • I am also disappointed that to date we have hardly seen any reserves. and when vulindlu replaced swanepoel i really started to wonder whether plum thinks he can get through entire tournament with 17 players.

  • Comment 26, posted at 25.03.09 10:18:48 by rekinek Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 15) :

    I’m a ‘balanced loose-forward trio’ and ’22man 85min’ stickler… we seem to have neither with Plumtree so far… and that’s me only criticism…

  • Comment 27, posted at 25.03.09 10:20:05 by bryce_in_oz Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 24) : i meant this 😆

  • Comment 28, posted at 25.03.09 10:21:50 by rekinek Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 23) : that’s long 😥

  • Comment 29, posted at 25.03.09 10:24:18 by rekinek Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 20) : @rekinek (Comment 17) : @wpw (Comment 10) : @Prof. Ice (Comment 9) : thankyou :mrgreen: thankyou :mrgreen: thankyou :mrgreen: thankyou :mrgreen:

  • Comment 30, posted at 25.03.09 10:31:42 by KSA Sharkette Reply
    KSA Sharkette
  • @rekinek (Comment 28) : unlikely, I would say… maybe latter parts of Currie Cup? Who knows? Unlucky player.

    @wpw (Comment 29) : I am on the verge of removing that comment… Apologise please and remember that it’s just not right for Stormers supporters to be making allegations like that. Remember, people in glass houses…

  • Comment 31, posted at 25.03.09 11:01:31 by robdylan Reply
  • @bryce_in_oz (Comment 27) : worrying hey – but we still keep winning – let’s hope it will be like that until the END

  • Comment 32, posted at 25.03.09 16:53:30 by rekinek Reply
  • how do I manage to get away with using phrases like “inimitable dynamism”…?

  • Comment 33, posted at 25.03.09 17:44:07 by robdylan Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 33) : we allow u to be creative :mrgreen:

    just read on sharks website that medical team is working hard to bring ruan and diesel deysel back for crusaders game and if not – after bye.
    that’s helluva long time 🙁 😥

  • Comment 34, posted at 25.03.09 17:54:43 by rekinek Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 33) :

    We’re skim readers… 😉

  • Comment 35, posted at 26.03.09 04:33:23 by bryce_in_oz Reply

Add Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.