When structure trumps skill

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Bulls, Original Content, Sharks, Super 14 on 12 May 2009 at 10:35
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I’ve been doing some thinking about the Bulls and have reached some conclusions that I’m not liking, to be frank. In fact, some of this stuff is starting to test my convictions to the very limit.

Now you know I’m no fan of the bully boys – in fact, everything about that team, from their baby blue jerseys to their appalling fan song, their boorish stadium announcers to their rabid, brandy swilling snor-brigade fans irks me deeply. Any pre-season suggestions that they might actually be a better team than the Sharks, or might be better positioned to succeed in this year’s Super 14 were met with a heavy dose of skepticism, if not outright disdain. This simply could not be possible, could it? They’re a limited, uninspiring team of mindless automatons coached by an unimaginative, perennial Super 14 failure.

The fact is, though, that the log doesn’t lie. The Bulls now face a final hurdle in their quest for a home semi-final (most likely a home final as well) which is to overcome a stuttering and disjointed Sharks outfit in Durban. Their opponents, in contrast, will need to totally annihilate the log leaders with a bonus point and depend on no fewer than three other results going their way over the course of the weekend – this just to sneak into the top four, despite looking like competition winners at the halfway mark. Quite a contrast, especially if you consider how much more difficult a draw the Bulls had this year.

The fact is, the Sharks’ lack of structure has let them down this year. Structure and process is the Bulls strong point and although you may not like their systematic approach to things, it’s becoming pretty obvious that the system works for them and works very well. Players don’t appear to be as creative, as individualistic or to have as much freedom of expression as their Sharks counterparts do, but when looking at the whole, there’s a kind of strange synergy that makes it greater than the sum of the parts. Perhaps it’s a teamwork thing? The band of broeders standing together in a way that the Sharks could only dream of, despite their protestations to the contrary in the media.

More likely, though, is that everything the Bulls do has been meticulously planned. They set out a few years ago to ensure that virtually every single promising young player in the country was contracted and as a result, they have a pool of young talent coming through that is the envy of all other teams. They enjoy success at age group level and their system and uniformity in coaching (and playing) style runs right through from Bulletjie rugby to the Super 14 side. Once you are in the system and you learn the moves, it’s never going to change. You could argue that it turns them into mindless drones, but it also makes it far easier to slot in a replacement in the case of injury.

The Sharks, in contrast, are constantly trying to reinvent themselves. Although the Sharks Academy does well in terms of acquiring talent, there seems to be a surprising gulf between the “chosen few”, those who are in the Academy yet already hold Sharks contracts and the rest – there doesn’t seem to be any real succession plan, or continuity up through the ranks. Add to that the fact that the Sharks Vodacom Cup strategy has been such a complete mess in the past, their really isn’t a clear career path that a player in KZN can follow. When injury strikes, we always seem to end up scratching our heads to find a guy, usually someone out of position, who can be brought in to fill the gap. We never know who the next in line is and trust that the system will deliver someone capable of performing, as the system has already moulded him into shape over a number of years.

Structure on the field is yet another manifestation of this. The Bulls ALWAYS know what their next move is going to be. Sure, it may not always work out and against a team that has figured out how to counter Plan A, they are often found wanting. The Sharks too often appear to lack even Plan A, though and you get the feeling they are making the whole thing up as they go – depending on the Kanko’s, Kockotts, Steyns and Pietersens to do something magic that will make it all seem all right.

The real test for the Bulls will come when they lose a raft of their stars – possibly as many as five or six current Springboks – after the Lions tour. What’s the bet they’ve already identified the replacements for all of these guys though and have been steadily working on getting them up to speed, teaching them the plays and moulding them into the one-size-fits-all Bulls pattern? You may not like it, but it sure seems a lot more effective than what the Sharks are doing right now. Hey – what ARE the Sharks doing right now anyway? Surfing?


  • Sharks forever!!!

  • Comment 1, posted at 12.05.09 10:54:51 by robdylan Reply
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  • 😯

    gOOde read!

    arent they on twiTTer? 😈

    Hard work wiLL beat talent when talent doesnt work hard!


  • Comment 2, posted at 12.05.09 11:00:35 by Oranje Orakel Reply


    GO SHARKS !!! :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

  • Comment 3, posted at 12.05.09 11:01:53 by Charlie Reply

  • Maak sag voor, slaan agter, eenvoudige plan, maar met soveel talent kon dit maklik werk, maar toe kies hulle skop, skop, skop… πŸ‘Ώ πŸ™„ πŸ‘Ώ

  • Comment 4, posted at 12.05.09 11:04:28 by Charlie Reply

  • @Oranje Orakel (Comment 2) : I think there are certain people who have been waiting close on three years for me to write something like this. I hope they’re happy.

  • Comment 5, posted at 12.05.09 11:05:50 by robdylan Reply
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  • @Charlie (Comment 4) : you need to get everyone together playing as a team first

  • Comment 6, posted at 12.05.09 11:07:00 by robdylan Reply
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  • @Charlie (Comment 4) :

    Hey Charlie

    “Maak sag voor, slaan agter, eenvoudige plan”

    Just make sure that CoachDiv do that for the Lions!

    Or rather ensures that it can be done!

  • Comment 7, posted at 12.05.09 11:08:25 by Oranje Orakel Reply

  • Very good article, and you know I agree completely.

  • Comment 8, posted at 12.05.09 11:08:48 by MornΓ© Reply
  • @MornΓ© (Comment 8) : yes – you prompted it with what you said at the beginning of the season

  • Comment 9, posted at 12.05.09 11:09:41 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 6) :


    its not about them being haPPy!

    Eish I sounds like Cabarnero!

  • Comment 10, posted at 12.05.09 11:09:47 by Oranje Orakel Reply

  • @robdylan (Comment 6) : Ok, Broederbond πŸ™„

  • Comment 11, posted at 12.05.09 11:11:06 by Charlie Reply

  • @Oranje Orakel (Comment 7) : That’s in the plan πŸ˜‰

  • Comment 12, posted at 12.05.09 11:11:33 by Charlie Reply

  • @robdylan (Comment 6) : So then the Sharks are the Real Madrid of SA rugby πŸ‘Ώ

  • Comment 13, posted at 12.05.09 11:13:14 by Charlie Reply

  • On the article

    With Slaptjips there the BuLLs backline isnt THAT shaBBy either!

    If JP Nel can be saved from his “I waNNa my yeLLocard” moments the “Blue line” is actuaLLy becoming kind of potent- and it sure isnt “thin”

  • Comment 14, posted at 12.05.09 11:13:46 by Oranje Orakel Reply

  • @Charlie (Comment 12) :



  • Comment 15, posted at 12.05.09 11:14:33 by Oranje Orakel Reply

  • @Charlie (Comment 13) :

    aLL they nEEd is a Alex Ferguson and then the patience…..

    and the ManU dreams might just haPPen.

  • Comment 16, posted at 12.05.09 11:15:54 by Oranje Orakel Reply

  • Can’t believe you used the word structure so many times…where am I …what’s the URL?? 😈

    Rob, I applaud you for even trying to diagnose the Sharks’ problem…because I think even Plum is still battling with this one.

    Ok- the word STRUCTURE comes into play again…just like it did when the Boks didn’t do so well in the Trinations.

    Apart from two or three games, where we were really bad, the Sharks have created loads of try-scoring opportunities and were let down by either poor decision-making or poor passing and handling. Would you call that a lack of structure?

  • Comment 17, posted at 12.05.09 11:16:04 by blackshark Reply

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  • @Oranje Orakel (Comment 15) : πŸ˜€

  • Comment 18, posted at 12.05.09 11:17:13 by Charlie Reply

  • @Charlie (Comment 13) : maybe? Not a bad analogy, I guess… although I think that applies more to the Stormers

  • Comment 19, posted at 12.05.09 11:20:13 by robdylan Reply
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  • @blackshark (Comment 17) : I’d call that a lack of discipline… all part of the same problem.

  • Comment 20, posted at 12.05.09 11:21:46 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 20) :

    My friend, lack of discipline is Rory playing FIGHT NIGHT on a rugby field.

    When a team as talented as the Sharks makes so many unnecessary errors in crucial stages of the competition or match…we can place the blame on only one aspect of the game…the dreaded C—-R word. To respect my fellow Sharkies – I will use the politically correct ” lack of BMT”.

    They talk about it before the match, lead us to believe that they understand what’s at stake – but come matchday I find myself thinking ” Do these guys know what’s gonna happen if we lose this game – cos they don’t look the part??? ”

    Where’s that fighting spirit? I didn’t see it on Saturday… did you?

    I say it’s all in the MIND!

  • Comment 21, posted at 12.05.09 11:33:00 by blackshark Reply

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  • Very nice article Rob, and it brings me back to my school days when we played against the local Afrikaans school, HANGKLIP(not many would have even heard of them) who in terms of talent were limited, but every year they had a very good side, why discipline and heart.

  • Comment 22, posted at 12.05.09 11:56:49 by Whindy Reply
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  • @Whindy (Comment 22) :

    Eastern Cape Windy?

  • Comment 23, posted at 12.05.09 12:02:41 by wiLLem Reply

  • @blackshark (Comment 21) :

    Yes it is all in the mind.

    Individuals simply perform better and with more confidence in a structured environment.

  • Comment 24, posted at 12.05.09 12:04:11 by MornΓ© Reply
  • @wiLLem (Comment 23) : Thats me My boy Queens Colledge and we had three really tough hard games Grey Grens and Hangklip, those guys would rather die that loose

  • Comment 25, posted at 12.05.09 12:08:07 by Whindy Reply
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  • @Whindy (Comment 25) :

    Always confuses Hangklip with Marlow!

    Cradock I believe?

  • Comment 26, posted at 12.05.09 12:12:59 by wiLLem Reply

  • Marlow is in Cradock

  • Comment 27, posted at 12.05.09 12:16:44 by Whindy Reply
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  • Amazing. A guy grew up in the shadow of Loftus, in close proximity to all this truth and wisdom, yet takes years to comprehend.
    You are still missing a vital part though. The Bulls style, what you call structure, is not just more effective, it is also more intelligent.

  • Comment 28, posted at 12.05.09 12:55:17 by fyndraai Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • Expressing himself, being free and creative is what Earl Rose was when he took that quick throw-in.

    It was also very stupid.

  • Comment 29, posted at 12.05.09 12:58:14 by fyndraai Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • @fyndraai (Comment 28) :


    Now that Fynes

    is a Damascus moment, which is maybe a bridge tOO far!


  • Comment 30, posted at 12.05.09 12:58:49 by wiLLem Reply

  • @Whindy (Comment 25) :
    What is the name reform school in Queenstown? We played those guys once or twice, dirtiest buggers I have ever played.

  • Comment 31, posted at 12.05.09 12:59:12 by Ollie Reply

  • @Whindy (Comment 27) : Steven Sykes’s school

  • Comment 32, posted at 12.05.09 13:05:42 by robdylan Reply
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  • @fyndraai (Comment 29) : You just made me spit my tea out… fisrt time I’ve laughed in days.

    Thanks fyndraai… maybe you’re not such a bad guy πŸ™‚

  • Comment 33, posted at 12.05.09 13:10:24 by robdylan Reply
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  • @fyndraai (Comment 28) : Bulls & intelligent in the same line 😈

  • Comment 34, posted at 12.05.09 13:23:03 by Charlie Reply

  • I’m sorry – I cannot agree with the concept that there’s only ONE effective structure for playing rugby.

    I just think the people who make less mistakes within their “structure” of choice will obviously reap more rewards. In this case – we’ve let our structure down…but there’s nothing wrong with it. SHARKS forever.

  • Comment 35, posted at 12.05.09 13:30:39 by blackshark Reply

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  • @Ollie (Comment 31) : It was a trade school, and we were terrfied of them really tough “KIDS”, HEADING STRAIGHT TO JAIL

  • Comment 36, posted at 12.05.09 13:34:58 by Whindy Reply
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  • Its been the same pattern all S14 long. We scored more ‘lucky’ tries than grafting tries. Whether going for the bonus point or trying to turn a loss into a win we just couldn’t do it. Poor decision making,handling errors etc

  • Comment 37, posted at 12.05.09 13:39:06 by Rahul Reply

  • @robdylan (Comment 32) : They were an agricultural college if my memory serves me right, he must have been a farm boy

  • Comment 38, posted at 12.05.09 13:39:24 by Whindy Reply
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  • @blackshark (Comment 35) :

    To add to that :

    Had we converted 80-90% of the good chances we’ve created since the beginning of the tournament…we would’ve collected more BP’s…would’ve beaten the REDS…and the SADERS…and I don’t think this structure article would be in existence.

  • Comment 39, posted at 12.05.09 13:44:25 by blackshark Reply

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  • @Ollie (Comment 31) :

    Did you ever play Excelsior from King William’s Town?

    That was a reform school and rough and tough as hell!! πŸ˜†

  • Comment 40, posted at 12.05.09 13:51:46 by Villie Reply
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  • Assuming Chiefs beat Brumbies, then we are looking at the Crusdaers result. They are away at the no guarantee of the win. Should they win without the BP…then we will make semi’s if we beat Bulls with the BP! πŸ˜†

    Asking a lot I know…especially as we couldn’t even beat the Crusaders or Waratahs at home!

  • Comment 41, posted at 12.05.09 13:53:24 by Villie Reply
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  • @Villie (Comment 40) :

    Screwdrivers in the socks blokes πŸ˜†

  • Comment 42, posted at 12.05.09 13:54:01 by Ollie Reply

  • @Ollie (Comment 42) :

    Exactly bru…

    Heck our 4th team used to play their 1st’s (they were only a small school) but the attrition rate was mega high!

  • Comment 43, posted at 12.05.09 13:57:39 by Villie Reply
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  • @Villie (Comment 43) :

    Hehehehe, and their fields where the close to the hardest in the Border region, next to those of queens

  • Comment 44, posted at 12.05.09 13:59:12 by Ollie Reply

  • @blackshark (Comment 39) : lotta ifs and hads in there…

  • Comment 45, posted at 12.05.09 14:01:44 by robdylan Reply
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  • @Ollie (Comment 42) : sounds a bit like HTS Tuine in Pretoria…

  • Comment 46, posted at 12.05.09 14:02:21 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 46) :
    Might be, I never played them

  • Comment 47, posted at 12.05.09 14:03:46 by Ollie Reply

  • @robdylan (Comment 45) :


    That’s hindsight for you…I could argue that this whole article is IF’s and HAD’s…only spelt differently…

  • Comment 48, posted at 12.05.09 14:14:59 by blackshark Reply

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  • @blackshark (Comment 48) : fair enough.

    Ok, BS… enough sniping from the sidelines. I expect YOUR article about what’s wrong with the Sharks (or what’s right) will go up shortly. :mrgreen:

  • Comment 49, posted at 12.05.09 14:26:49 by robdylan Reply
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  • Rob, hats off.
    Heading is wrong though πŸ˜‰
    It takes a heck of a lot of skill maybe toooo much for most teams – to play AND stay in structured rugby 😈
    Maybe it is the whole “surf-culture” to ‘wing-it’ the island-style.
    It sure is not – lekker – to practice structure day in day out.
    One has to view from ‘afar’ to see the genius and pleasure in it’s execution.
    I have always celebrated the banana-boys freedom of execution – I am not now about to crucify them for it.
    I personally believed they played – tooooo dumb-rugby this year.
    It won them the CC and bit them in the arse with the real big-boys of Super rugby.
    The problems the Sharks have/had are not of the playing-ability
    it is in the 6 inches between their ears.
    It stays a MIND-GAME first and foremost.

  • Comment 50, posted at 12.05.09 15:04:46 by The Brand Reply

  • @The Brand (Comment 50) : hate to say it, but I agree. It’s a question of focus, application, concentration.

  • Comment 51, posted at 12.05.09 15:18:43 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 51) :

    Kry beheer en konsentreer?? πŸ˜‰

  • Comment 52, posted at 12.05.09 15:33:45 by Prof. Ice Reply
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  • @Prof. Ice (Comment 52) : something like that

  • Comment 53, posted at 12.05.09 15:38:15 by robdylan Reply
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  • Structure is a problem, but not the only one.

    I agree with Brand and that a lot of it is mental – and most worringly, a lot of that is with the coaching team.

    Allowing and ecouraging egos and individual agendas to the extent that the Sharks have this year is a coaching mistake.

  • Comment 54, posted at 12.05.09 15:39:19 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • Not exactly an article Rob…and it saddens me to say this…but the the problem with the SHARKS is that as a collective-the SHARKS players dont have THE HEART AND GUTS of the Sharks Fans. How do we fix that?

  • Comment 55, posted at 12.05.09 16:03:05 by blackshark Reply

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  • @blackshark (Comment 55) : give them yours πŸ˜‰

  • Comment 56, posted at 12.05.09 16:05:28 by Rahul Reply

  • @blackshark (Comment 55) :

    So when last did you not play “player23” from the couch- BS


    Just asking!

    tough statement that on the players- any teams’ players

  • Comment 57, posted at 12.05.09 16:12:00 by wiLLem Reply

  • @Big Fish (Comment 54) :

    It is always a huge challenge – just how to get the mix right
    between structure and expression.

    I believe the best is still – to allow full expression within the structure !!!

    Without very defined structure that 15 players on the pitch follow
    nobody knows what is going to happen next
    with the result
    that most players “sit-back”
    and wait-to-see what is going to happen before they run themselves to ground.

    And with that “wait-to-see” Frame of Mind
    execution falls short when needed most.
    It is very very difficult
    to have wait-and-see attitude and also a switched-on attitude simultaneously.

    In the crunch-moments the Sharks seemed to be ‘rushed’ for a better word and could not execute effectively.

  • Comment 58, posted at 12.05.09 16:31:58 by The Brand Reply

  • My 2 cents worth: the Sharks had almost NO structure, so to go with their more ‘imaginative & skills’ approach, only a lil bit more structure would have pulled them through. I mean, I watched the Bulls/Cheetahs game right after the sharks game and WOW what an adrenaline ride! Attacking at speed, tackling with vigour, protecting the ball carrier (just doesnt seem to get isolated at all)

  • Comment 59, posted at 12.05.09 16:35:30 by JustPlainSHARK Reply

  • @Big Fish (Comment 54) :

    Managing the egos
    well THAT is something all together different 😯

    allowing egos to roam ‘unchecked’ is simply looking for kak in any sport
    never mind a team-sport.

    I am very old-school regarding that 😈

  • Comment 60, posted at 12.05.09 16:35:36 by The Brand Reply

  • @JustPlainSHARK (Comment 59) : Sharks backs did not have a rhytm at all – I think Ruan concentrated so much on kicking that forgot everything else. There was no deep passing to allow the players to attack ball with a speed. Methinks

  • Comment 61, posted at 12.05.09 16:42:01 by rekinek Reply
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  • Tough statement to say…and I am certain it doesnt apply to all the players…but I just didnt see them put up as much of a fight as we do…from the couch…

  • Comment 62, posted at 12.05.09 16:43:55 by blackshark Reply

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  • Oh, and please dont crucify Plum! This is his 1st year. 2007 the Bulls were champs…..2008 they ended 10th, I think, under new coach Ludeke. This year they are up there and ready to take the title again. Give Plum a break.

  • Comment 63, posted at 12.05.09 16:59:25 by JustPlainSHARK Reply

  • @Villie (Comment 43) : Ollie I had a sleepless night trying to remeber that bloody schools name, it was JJ Serfontein, they always had metalwork on a wednesday before we played them, wonderful bunch.

  • Comment 64, posted at 13.05.09 06:32:31 by Whindy Reply
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