Versatility = Options, Options = Advantage

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Springboks on 23 Mar 2010 at 09:37
Tagged with : , ,

It continues to amaze me how we frown upon versatility and how we want to make every single rugby player a specialist.

The game of rugby union has come a long way, just this weekend when Joe Pietersen left the field with a quad strain, I mentioned to a friend a story I heard about a rugby player (NZ’lander if memory serves) in the mid 1900’s once told the ‘team doctor’ (many thought they were actually vets) to amputate a finger so he can continue playing…

However, as the IRB’s Rugby Charter states, rugby is still a sport for players and athletes of all sizes, cultures and backgrounds, and in modern rugby where we create monster athletes, this is still the case in my view.

Rugby union is unique in the sense that you need such an array of skills across your match-day 22, that you really can almost find a spot for all types of players who brings different skills to the party.

Some players will have more limited skills than others, or more specialised skills for a better word, it is therefore logical that their contribution to the game of rugby will also be more specialised but also, more limited.

Rugby union fans and coaches (including players) alike however must be the only people in the world where being limited is preferred!

Of course understand that it also pisses me off to no end when players are shoved from pillar to post and yes, the game of union definitely relies heavily on specialised skills, otherwise we would not need numbers on jerseys to start off with, but it really irritates me how versatility is shunned in favour, or rather at the expense of limited specialist skills.

Being versatile is as much of a needed skill in rugby union as being a specialist, and can add so much to a team and team dynamics.

So why do we not identify players as being specialised, and being versatile? Why do we continually want to stick versatile players in a limited role where they will compete against specialist where their major contributing strength is nullified?

In rugby, where you are limited to a large extend with what you are allowed to do, or what (and how many) you are allowed to pick, options is key – the more you have, the better off you are.

This brings me to a guy like Ruan Pienaar who is again being touted as being the guy to lead the Sharks from the number 10 berth given Andy Goode’s poor performances on tour so far for the Sharks.

It is fine that Ruan is considered to be played there, he is good enough obviously, but why the massive drive or motivation to have him specialise there?

I ask this because I want to know, what has Ruan Pienaar’s biggest contribution been to rugby both for the Sharks and the Springboks since 2005? Is it his specialised skills as a 9, or 10, or is it his versatility which enables him to basically cover any position in the backline (starting or from the bench)?

Why is versatility not celebrated as a specialist skill as-well? Because one thing I can guarantee you, very few players have the ability and the skill to cover 9, 10, 12, 11 or 14 and 15 effectively at union and national level.

A guy like Ruan gives any coach options, and options in rugby is a massive advantage, same as a prop that can play both sides, a lock that can pack down at loosie, etc.

Ruan Pienaar will be in my match 22 every single time injury permitting for both the Sharks and the Boks, he is that damn good, and this cannot be said of many players in world rugby.


  • I agree, but looking at it from a players perspective. Would Ruan rather be on the bench for every Springbok game or would he rather start in his prefered position if he played there extensively and proved that he is the best.

  • Comment 1, posted at 23.03.10 09:55:56 by Pokkel Reply
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  • Looking at the Sharks….it’s very clear than Ruan is a confidence player and he regained his confidence by playing in the position that he is most comfortable in. I still think he needs a good kopdokter more than anything else but if he now has a kak game at 10 it will probably take him another 3 games at 9 to return to form.

  • Comment 2, posted at 23.03.10 09:58:38 by Pokkel Reply
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  • Ruan should first regain his form Morne. He hasn’t been bad the last few games but he needs to perform consistently well, then and only then should he be considered for the Boks.

  • Comment 3, posted at 23.03.10 10:01:52 by wpw Reply
  • joe left the field with an ass strain 😳

  • Comment 4, posted at 23.03.10 10:18:59 by provincejoulekkading Reply
  • @provincejoulekkading (Comment 4) : occupational hazard, playing for the Stormers… :mrgreen:

  • Comment 5, posted at 23.03.10 10:22:51 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • Good article, how ever, a specialist versatile player, will only ever be good enough to cover the positions where a team does not already have a specialist for. Players just become better the longer you have them in one position. That’s why you don’t want a guy like Ruan moving around the backline his whole rugby career.

  • Comment 6, posted at 23.03.10 11:26:38 by Letgo Reply
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  • It’s even better finding a more average player who specializes in that one position, because probably after a season or so, he’ll be better in that specific position, than the versatile player would be. Unless ofcoarse you get the versatile player to stick to that position for a season or two, in which case he will be better in that position than the average specialist.

  • Comment 7, posted at 23.03.10 11:29:52 by Letgo Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • @Letgo (Comment 6) : The problem is that Ruan himself is confused where he wants to play 😉

  • Comment 8, posted at 23.03.10 11:31:19 by Charlie Reply

  • @provincejoulekkading (Comment 4) : @robdylan (Comment 5) : I hope Joe is not another Pretorius in the making :mrgreen:

  • Comment 9, posted at 23.03.10 11:31:55 by Pokkel Reply
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  • But then ofcoarse if you want to move him back to another one of his positions, he’ll need a season or two to be better in that position than the average specialist.

    It’s just not a good idea to move players around, especially if, like Ruan, they could be the best in one position.

  • Comment 10, posted at 23.03.10 11:31:56 by Letgo Reply
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  • @Charlie (Comment 8) : Yip, but it will be better for him, to just stick to one position…doesn’t matter where.

    He can be a great 10, 11, 14, 15 or 9…He can’t be a great 10,11,14,15 AND 9!!!

  • Comment 11, posted at 23.03.10 11:33:40 by Letgo Reply
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  • @Letgo (Comment 10) : thats what i say keep them in one position and get others to the other positions but now thats me 😉

  • Comment 12, posted at 23.03.10 11:34:22 by Chaz Reply

  • The only time you can call a player a specialist versatile player is when they’re not really specifically great in any one position, but has the ability to cover almost any position, because he has the basic skills required to do so.

    Then you can use this guy as a cover for when you don’t have anyone else in those positions.

  • Comment 13, posted at 23.03.10 11:36:00 by Letgo Reply
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  • @Letgo (Comment 6) : @Letgo (Comment 7) : @Letgo (Comment 10) : @Letgo (Comment 13) :


    This applies to all your posts… 😉

    This is almost as foreign a concept to us rugby fans as mental coaching and is quite difficult to express on a post by post basis but here goes;

    Do not confuse versatility with playing guys at 15 the one week, 10 the next and 9 the week after.

    The main thing to remember here, and where this is born from, is that rugby is no longer a game played by only 15 players a side, it is played by 22 players a side, for 85 minutes.

    There are no longer substitutes, or reserves, but impact players.

    Also, impact players are no longer the guys that comes on 50 or 60 or 70 minutes into the game, impact players can be used in the first 30 or 50.

    The ability for players like Ruan to play successfully, at a very high level, in more than one position is a massive advantage in rugby union and one very few coaches get right.

    In that respect, the only coach that got the role of impact players partly right in SA rugby was Nick Mallet.

    Think back to Bob Skinstad.

    Was he a great 7 or 8? Was his versatility and skills a blessing and a strength for his game in rugby, or because how it was used and utulised, a weakness?

    The role for the versatile player and his role in modern rugby has never been clearly defined in my view, and we are stuffing it up – what could be a major strength, is in fact a major weakness. Where Ruan should be one of the most valuable players in any rugby team because of his tremendous skills, he is being misused, abused and suffer from low confidence because of this.

    The potential to alter your team dynamics with the skills of a Ruan like player, is absolutely tremendous.

    Yet we stuff it up, with coaches like Muir player Frans Steyn at 14 stating “he is just too valuable to leave out of a team”.

    That I totally disagree with, and is not what is said in this article.

    Versatility in rugby is a major strength for any coach and team, AND PLAYER, if used correctly, versatility in specialised positions is like gold dust.

  • Comment 14, posted at 23.03.10 11:48:23 by Morné Reply
  • Versatility and Specialising are all about the mind. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
    If you are mentally strong and smart I see no reason why a player can’t play more than one position, and be world class. In South Africa, the mindset appears to me to be something that does not believe this. Perhaps it is because we coach our players to be robots on the field?

    Why can a Matt Giteau play 10 and 12 so easily, Stephen Larkham change from fullback to flyhalf so easily? Muliaina able to change from 13 to 15 etc etc? Perhaps things are starting to change in SA rugby, de Jongh playing 12, Hougaard playing 11, Smit playing the whole front row!

    I played every position on the hockey field from 2-11 (granted it is phyiscally different to rugby…after all rugby is far easier!). I found some players struggled to adjust to different positions, others found it easy. What it first required is the confidence to play anywhere and then knowing what to do. The actual physical skills can be picked up and adjusted along the way…after all at an elite level these guys can pass, tackle etc etc…they just need to adjust their running lines, communication etc.

    Just my 2c worth, but maybe we need to look more at the coaches and their attitudes rather than the players? And the players for my mind should be grateful just to be allowed to play! If they want a certain position, they should have to earn it by clearly being worthy of the position.

  • Comment 15, posted at 23.03.10 13:20:38 by sanjaydeva Reply

  • There are very few players who can mentally change from one position to another quickly. What ‘specialists’ have as an advantage over other players is the ability to do something naturally, without second thought. The longer you play in a certain position, the less thought you pay to the basics and the more time you allow yourself to think about the finesse.

    Ruan has the skills to play anywhere in the backline but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he can adjust comfortably into each role without time to settle in.

  • Comment 16, posted at 23.03.10 13:35:34 by Flashman Reply

  • @sanjaydeva (Comment 15) : I didn’t realise there were positions in hockey 🙂

  • Comment 17, posted at 23.03.10 13:49:00 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • @robdylan (Comment 17) : LOL, I could say the same for rugby the way some forwards stand in the backline!

    The point I was trying to make was that some players can play anywhere, others struggle. Why is this so?

    What gave me confidence was making my first age group rep side and being given a sheet of all the positions and learning what was required for each position. The skills can be massivley different from forward to back (much like rugby), but in hockey it makes sense if you’re a forward to know about fullback play as they effectively mark you. I always felt confident no matter where I played because I knew what was expected of me. (What I lacked in talent I made up for by knowing what to do and where to be). For instance if you look at good fullbacks in rugby e.g. Andre Joubert and Percy Montgomery, their positional play was much more superior and allowed them to compete with the likes of a ‘naturally talented’ player such as Christian Cullen. That’s why I believe the mental game is the most important one, and for me that is why the Bulls are 1 on the log, and the Sharks are wherever they are.

    Actually Danie Rossouw is a guy who quite often moves from lock, flank and number 8, and the bench to starting. I’ve never heard him complain or ask to specialise. Maybe it’s something Pienaar and F. Steyn should take on board.

  • Comment 18, posted at 23.03.10 14:54:01 by sanjaydeva Reply

  • @sanjaydeva (Comment 15) :

    Very true and very good post.

    As I mentioned, the term and role ‘versatile’ needs to be redefined.

    To me it seems we put something negative on it where it should be hugely positive…

  • Comment 19, posted at 23.03.10 15:13:59 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 14) :

    Well Said.

  • Comment 20, posted at 23.03.10 15:28:08 by Milissa Reply

  • @MORNÉ: but a versatile player still has to have a speciality position to allow him to be selected there, but as the need during a game arises, he can be utilised elsewhere. Exactly how Ruan is being used now. Playing 9 and then the last odd 30 at 10 to eject Foode of the park. And Ruan had a 100% kicking accuracy on Saturday. Sign of confidence.

  • Comment 21, posted at 23.03.10 17:55:10 by JustPlainSHARK Reply


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