Big Fish

How the game was lost and where it got us

Written by (Big Fish)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Stormers, Super Rugby on 2 May 2011 at 11:59
Tagged with : , ,

Rugby is a game of small margins played by big men on a big field. It doesn’t always take a gulf in quality to translate into a drubbing on the scoreboard, and neither does it always take a complete change of personnel or game plan to change winning into losing.

It would be both disingenuous and unfair to place the comprehensive defeat suffered by the Sharks on Saturday solely at the feet of poor Sharks play. Alistair Coetzee is an excellent coach, and has built a great team in the Stormers/WP.

To appreciate the strength of this team visualise the following series of play; Grant kicks off deep, Habana and Aplon place pressure on the receiver and the clearance kick is not long. The resultant line-out is won by Bekker, providing good ball for a midfield rumble by one of the big back-rowers or centres, and the ruck  ball is won as cleanly as usual. Perhaps there is a series of drives resulting in a goaled penalty, or perhaps they turn over the ball in the 22. Now the kick is not for touch due to the line-out, but down the centre – fielded by broken-field runners like Aplon or Habana. Repeat ad nauseam…

Simple but very effective. Reminds one of a Bok team of a certain vintage perhaps? Strong set-piece, collision dominance, good rucking, powerhouse midfield (on attack and defence), a 10 who tackles hard and takes the ball flat, and wings that can run at you from broken field. And to top it off – a superbly executed rush defence.

Coetzee has taken his lessons well, and is a  coach that I have great respect for. He took the flash and gimmicks of the Erasmus era and tempered that with pragmatism. The forward play reminds me of what we had when Plumtree first appeared as forwards coach, culminating with the displays in 2007 and 2008. Basic execution was great, while there was innovation and smarts too – not physically joining a maul to milk the penalty, and the alarming tactic of not competing for the ball at attacking lineouts in our 22, but all the forwards crouching into a fighters stance and simultaneously driving and dismantling the maul before it even formed properly.

And therein lies at least some of the rub for the Sharks. We have some players of such high quality that we have become complacent and built game-plans around them with no Plan B. So we use Alberts for go-forward, and ignore the open field threat of Kanko in midfield. We use Beast and Bismark to drive over the gain line around the fringes and so don’t deign to ever use the pod system of forwards (I love the way a rampant Bulls side uses this – sometimes the supporting players SLINGS the arrowhead forward over the tackler, and immediately bridges over him when he falls to ground).

And most of all, we have such an awesome pack, and such slick finishers (JPP, Mvovo, Kanko and Alberts) that we depend on forward play and broken field play to score our tries – something I have previously lamented.

The problem with not having a Plan B or playing the heads-up rugby Morne loves so much, is that you can be worked out, or you can meet a team whose strengths counter yours, and exploit your weaknesses. It is fashionable after a massive showing to say that “X team would have beaten anyone on the day”. This is seldom true. Different teams cause different results.

The Reds beat the Stormers because they recognised that the Stormers’ strengths were geared to overcome their normal style of playing. So they changed how they played. The REAL Bulls side do not share the weaknesses the Sharks do, and will not lose in the same way. The Crusaders forwards who also humiliated the Sharks not long ago will also pose a significant challenge to the Stormers.

What does one need to take on the Stormers? To start with, dominant scrum or competitive lineout, a crashballer or stepper in midfield to break through the rush defence, a solid defence of your own.

And discipline. G West wrote a nice piece that didn’t get enough airtime last week noting the few penalties and no cards conceded by the Sharks to date. That is about discipline – not just in emotion, but most importantly, in execution. Team’s whose tactics are failing start to flounder, to lose confidence and to hesitate. For THAT try, Bosman could hear the heavy footfalls of JDV before he even got the ball, and he made the wrong decision.

In our only maul close to their tryline, our forwards formed up badly and were beaten of the ball. Attitude? Or perhaps a flagging team, finding the things that worked suddenly don’t, questioning themselves and their team-mates? I have been in situations like that, and I know that nagging doubt, that indecision and loss of cohesion. It’s what leaders in any field – war, sport or business – try to root out early.

Plumtree and the lads didn’t go into this crunch game without ambition or self-belief. It’s an insult to believe that professionals of that quality are that naive. And to paraphrase something I posted earlier, righteous indignation may win you a few matches, but it is insufficient to sustain a campaign. So I hope that there is more depth to the game analysis than Plumtree’s pronunciations so far – even coaches need time to hurt.

Some key factors in our loss were the following;

–          Mcleod’s inability to kick meant that Lambie was under pressure on each defensive set piece or breakdown

–          Weak lineouts allowed them good ball and us poor ball, and made kicking for touch a gamble

–          The Stormers’ had the back 3 to counter when we chose not to go for touch, guaranteeing them good possession

–          Collision and general forward dominance meant that what possession we got was poor, while they won a lot of penalties and possession from infringements

–          Comprehensive midfield superiority meant that they could snuff all our attacking movements, while threatening us at will – JDV, Fourie and Aplon’s tries all came from this

I do not believe that our campaign is lost. We have the players and a very good coach. We will win many more games and go far in this series – the question-marks are whether we can win when we are matched in the forwards – so the Crusaders, resurgent Bulls and Stormers are the teams we need to adapt to.

If Plumtree were to take any advice from a nobody like me, it would be this; ask yourself if you have ANY locks who can compete for lineout ball, or whether it is better to ask something different from a lineout forward in your team, start Adi and use Oupa’s versatility of the bench, and most of all, hire a backline consultant to work on the defensive system and attacking play.

I look forward to a good game next week.


  • top notch analysis, Big Fish. Thank you.

  • Comment 1, posted at 02.05.11 12:08:34 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • Agree with most of your article – I just think we have loads of backline advisers, perhaps too many cooks spoiling the broth?

  • Comment 2, posted at 02.05.11 12:09:29 by MerckZ Reply

  • Really concerned about our locks… We are missing a real jumper who dictates and dominates the lineout in Matfield and Bekker mode. Mostert can be the enforcer, Sykes is a bit of both, which doesnt help, Hargreaves needs to take charge and can be a good jumper, Skeate is all over the show without actually doing anything. Thus, my pick going forward, Hargreaves and Mostert, with Sykes on the bench.

  • Comment 3, posted at 02.05.11 12:11:55 by catfish Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 1) :
    Thanks chief. Appreciate the typo correction too. I left the others for authenticity. 😉

    @catfish (Comment 3) :
    A hard as nails midfielder and aerially-competitive locks. Every successful Sharks campaign has had them.

    Olivier Roumat, Steve Atherton, Mark Andrews, Johann Ackermann (briefly) and Albert from the Mountain. Thats quite a list.

    Then think the blue collar brutality of Dick Muir, the midfield destroyer that was Pieter Muller, the granite of Brad Barritt, the deceptively petulant power of Frans Steyn, and the direct and immovable strength of Andries Strauss.


  • Comment 4, posted at 02.05.11 12:18:36 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @MerckZ (Comment 2) :
    Something like the rush defence can require implementation by a specialist. And Eddie Jones added great value to the 2007 Boks in a short time.

    I am not convinced by our current backline coaches though. But these decisions are easy for us, but hard for them – they are working in the real world.

    As much as I think Adi at 13 is a no-brainer, one must wonder how much of Oupa’s job is to provide another kicking option given that Ludik doesn’t punt much and Mcleod has a very weak boot.

  • Comment 5, posted at 02.05.11 12:24:32 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • Thanks for a great read Fish. I thoroughly enjoyed that (especially the technical analysis)
    And here I thought you only knew much about poetry and how to impress the ladies. 😈

  • Comment 6, posted at 02.05.11 13:00:35 by wpw Reply
  • @Big Fish (Comment 4) : You have it spot on… Coming back to your aticle…if we need Oupa’s boot, and LL hasn’t got it (which will be shame as he is a rock at the back) We could move Odwa to the back as he hasn’t got a bad boot at all and maybe play Oupa on the wing or bench? Surely Bosman’s boot can’t be that bad either?

  • Comment 7, posted at 02.05.11 13:16:57 by catfish Reply
  • Excellent analysis. Forgive me for being realistic but these problems simply will not be solved this season.

  • Comment 8, posted at 02.05.11 13:19:17 by war1 Reply
  • catfish
    Why does Oupa have to start though?? He offers nothing imho. He is not a good distributor and the fact he is playing 13 ahead of someone like Adi is just ridiculous.
    He offers NOTHING at 13 imo.

  • Comment 9, posted at 02.05.11 13:22:04 by wpw Reply
  • @wpw (Comment 6) :
    Thanks – I think. 😆

    @catfish (Comment 7) :
    Like I said, Adi at 13 is a no-brainer for me. I’m just pointing out that the decision had factors affecting it which could be beyond just what happens in midfield. A coach’s job is a tough one.

    @war1 (Comment 8) : Depends on what you mean by solved – or rather, to what degree a resolution is a solution.

    This comes back to small margins – we can solve the problems at least to an extent now.

    Perhaps play Sykes and Mostert at lock for the grunt since Hargreaves or Skeate aren’t appreciably better in the air.

    Vary our play in midfield and second phase more, and back Bosman’s ability to create space and Adi’s ability to exploit it.

    Our gameplan has been largely successful – we need not make wholesale changes to garner a bit more success. Like I tried to explain yesterday – there isn’t quite a gulf between the Stormers and us.

  • Comment 10, posted at 02.05.11 13:34:33 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 10) : If Plum hasn’t sorted out the midfield already what makes you think he will now? Blaming the players only is a bit of a cop out. This team has the makings of a champion side but we’re not there and we won’t be this year, probably not next year either.

  • Comment 11, posted at 02.05.11 13:51:22 by war1 Reply
  • @war1 (Comment 11) :
    That thorny midfield blindness has had me confused ever since we let Murray go.

    Yes, he was out of sorts, but good enough to be a Bok under Jake at 20 meant that he would rise again.

    But the positive is that coaches don’t always make profound realisations – sometimes they stumble upon them.

    We were destined for a few more seasons of staid flyhalf play until injury forced Plumtree to select Lambie.

    A few tweaks should be enough – but like you point out, the solutions are only there is Plumtree chooses to see them.

  • Comment 12, posted at 02.05.11 14:50:01 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • We have analyse, identified and debated what the Sharks problem areas are – think it’s time to get them to Plummo…top notch advice for free… :mrgreen:

  • Comment 13, posted at 02.05.11 15:09:48 by Charlie Reply

  • Thanks for a great article, BF.

  • Comment 14, posted at 02.05.11 17:50:42 by SharonvanWyk Reply
  • JLP has impressed me far more than MB has. He should get an extended run at 12 with Adi at 13 or should at least feature on the bench. Move Oupa to 15 for now. LL’s time will come!

  • Comment 15, posted at 02.05.11 19:09:09 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • How good were them Stormers though. 😉 😈

  • Comment 16, posted at 02.05.11 20:49:55 by McLovin Reply

  • @ McLovin
    They were damn good weren’t they?? :mrgreen:

  • Comment 17, posted at 02.05.11 21:02:00 by wpw Reply
  • @wpw (Comment 17) : :mrgreen: 😀

  • Comment 18, posted at 02.05.11 21:09:04 by McLovin Reply

  • I don’t think Bosman is our problem at all. And yet people are going off already, saying he was a bad buy. I never was a fan of Meyer when he played for the Cheetahs but now that he is here I have come to like the way he has played. He just had a very poor game and even that first missed tackle could partly be blamed on Stef as well. I say leave Bosman on 12 and play Adi on 13. They would make an awesome combination when they start to gel.

  • Comment 19, posted at 03.05.11 00:09:04 by Ben Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • Oh yes and thanks Big Fish was a great read. Summed up pretty much all of it in a nutshell.

  • Comment 20, posted at 03.05.11 00:21:03 by Ben Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • Great article Fish, I too agree that we are not as bad as we came across, and too advocate a greater technical presence in team management. We need a defense guru and an attack guru. I waxed lyrical on our centre pairing and too maintain that a specialist like Adi is a better partner for Meyer. Adi plays with confidence when he is hot, he needs more game time. Adi too has long overcome his defensive frailties. Sharks can infuriate me with their centre management.

  • Comment 21, posted at 03.05.11 07:39:45 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • What about kanko to centre and big vic, deysel and botes/ daniel loosies??

  • Comment 22, posted at 03.05.11 08:19:03 by ruggabugga Reply

  • @DarkDestroyer (Comment 21) : I don’t think we can expect any changes in the midfield…Plum seems stubborn enough to prove a point on his selection… 👿

  • Comment 23, posted at 03.05.11 08:21:32 by Charlie Reply

  • @ruggabugga (Comment 22) : 😆 The ball will never go to wing… 😈

  • Comment 24, posted at 03.05.11 08:21:58 by Charlie Reply

  • Good article, Fish! Does your day job pay well; I think we could hold a whip around to pay you as coaching consultatnt at the Sharks?

    I’m in agreement that the margins in Super Rugby are small; despite what McLoving might believe, a comparison of the squads and their respective strenghts bears this out – front row: Sharks, locks: Stormers, loosies: Sharks (although I’ll hazard this will create vigorous debate), scrumhalf: Stormers, flyhalf: Sharks, centres: Stormers, back three: Sharks. So, pretty evenly matched as a whole.

    The problem was that with the type of game we tried to play vs. the strategy employed by the Stormers, the areas of Stormers superiority handed them a significant advantage. For instance, looking at set pieces, while our front row is stronger, it was never going to do to the Stormers what the Crusaders did to us. On the other hand, we could not utilise the lineout as an attacking platform, nor could we disrupt it for them.

    With our centre pairing, the ball never reached our dangerous players out wide, or if it did, did not release them into space. Our scrumhalf caused pressure to be ransferred to the flyhalf. And so one could go on looking at the collisions, etc.

    The thing that grates me, and which was highlighted in your article, is that the Stormers’ strengths are well known (Plum even mentioned this before the game!), and teams like the Reds could alter their strategy to cater for this; why couldn’t we!?

  • Comment 25, posted at 03.05.11 09:06:41 by Culling Song Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
    Culling Song
  • @Culling Song (Comment 25) :
    I was thinking along the same lines regarding Big Fish’s day job and this piece. He is a lawyer so I would suggest he liberate himself, burn the books and toga, head for the nearest CNA, buy some pencils and scratch pads and hit the sports fields.

    Great piece BF, especially from someone that was there, it analysis the game, the plays, the quandry of the coaches and very importantly also gives us supporters perspective that all is not gloom and doom.

  • Comment 26, posted at 03.05.11 10:12:01 by Salmonoid Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Salmonoid the Subtle
  • @vanmartin (Comment 15) : Agreed, I think they`re attacking the wrong centre. Oupa didn`t concede those crucial tries did he?

    Stefan would offer more if he plays at 15 though, we just haven`t got the personel to accommodate this.

  • Comment 27, posted at 03.05.11 10:29:39 by Original Pierre Reply
    Original Pierre
  • You boys must be sick of me continuing to sing the same song…

    Coaches need coaching as much as players do.

    Just as players do not become bad overnight, neither do coaches, but as with players having to be stimulated to perform at a high level week in and week out, being mentally fresh and prepared – so too do coaches!

    A clear indication of a coach lost for answers is when he turns to players for the reason for defeat.

    I have read Rob and now Fish’ analysis, and this is becoming as clear as daylight to me.

    Yes players need to take responsibility, but what type of responsibility, and how they react, is 100%, completely up to the coaching staff.

    Players’ execution on-field in a game, comes of a direct result on what has happened in the hours spent on the training pitch.

    Drill after drill, hammering set plays into them WILL NOT EVER IMPROVE EXECUTION in a match situation!

    Last week I wrote something about how the Bulls (players and coaches) have no clue as how to fix their problems simply waiting for the cliched ‘wheel to turn’ or for the ‘ball to bounce in their favour’.

    Fish is right, the margins in winnning and losing are very small, I watched and analysed this game yesterday, and the scoreboard might reflect a 20-point margin, but the contest was much more even.

    The Stormers won this match because they came into it a ‘thinking’ team. They know why they lost to the Sharks in the past, and through a thinking and adapting approach, ensured they will not give them the same scope or rope again.

    It is a far cry off from my ideal for SA teams to do this actively in a match, but doing it from training pitch to match-day is at least a start.

    The Sharks lost because of the opposite, they did NO thinking, they did not adapt one iota!

    As was mentioned above by Fish and Rob of course.

    The difference between winning and losing is in the inches, and every SA team still don’t use the most important of these inches – between the ears.

    If you want players to think, coach them to think.

    Champion teams lose, but the difference between champion teams losing, and average teams losing, is that champions never lose the same way twice…

    The Sharks need to realise this and quickly, because they have all the ingredients to become a champion team still.

  • Comment 28, posted at 03.05.11 10:38:59 by Morné Reply
  • Oh and nice read Fish and Rob.

  • Comment 29, posted at 03.05.11 10:41:02 by Morné Reply
  • @Culling Song (Comment 25) : Was only messing with you guys. Having a bit of fun. 😈

    But it seems this loss hurt more than I thought.

    Maybe I’ll be more sensitive next time. Or not. 😛

  • Comment 30, posted at 03.05.11 11:12:22 by McLovin Reply

  • @McLovin (Comment 30) : No need. The Sharks supporters were euphoric when the Sharks culled the Stormers on multiple occasions last year. The tables have turned. We are mature enough to deal with that. The cup has neither been lost nor won yet and teams that are strong during the league phases can be culled in knockout play. Something Shark supporters also know too well. The Stormers are a good team and I think the mutual admiration between the Sharks and Stormers is high, unlike for example between the Stormers and Bulls..

  • Comment 31, posted at 03.05.11 11:17:33 by Pablo Dinero Reply

    Pablo Dinero
  • @Pablo Dinero (Comment 31) : True. So much more to happen still. With it been so long since we (Stormers) beat the Bulls & Sharks in matches that ‘count’, I figured I might as well get maximum mileage out of this wave while it lasts. :mrgreen:

    We all know sport can be very cruel to us supporters. In a month or so’s time I could possibly be the one sitting here crying into my porridge wondering were it all went wrong. 😐 😉

  • Comment 32, posted at 03.05.11 11:30:53 by McLovin Reply

  • @Pablo Dinero (Comment 31) : It’s difficult to like those Bulls (from a rugby perspective). 😈

    I do however want to beat them the most. 😈

  • Comment 33, posted at 03.05.11 11:33:12 by McLovin Reply

  • @McLovin (Comment 33) : Actually I dont have a problem with the Bulls team per se… but their supporters seem to group the lowest common denominator in human nature. Like a massive congregation of Jerry Springer show guests.

  • Comment 34, posted at 03.05.11 11:37:05 by Pablo Dinero Reply

    Pablo Dinero
  • @McLovin (Comment 30) : It did indeed. Imagine my excitement when finding out that I will afterall be able to watch the game on the Ile of Maurice….imagine my disspointment having to end my last night there on that note!!! 🙁

  • Comment 35, posted at 03.05.11 11:46:49 by Pr'Ice Flower Reply
    Competition Winner Ice
  • @Pr’Ice Flower (Comment 35) : Good reason to get drunk though…

  • Comment 36, posted at 03.05.11 11:50:24 by Pablo Dinero Reply

    Pablo Dinero
  • @Pablo Dinero (Comment 36) : Believe me….I slept LEKKER on the flight back! 😆 😆

  • Comment 37, posted at 03.05.11 11:54:57 by Ice Reply
    Competition Winner Ice
  • @Ice (Comment 37) : Except for waking up once or twice with a recurring nightmare crying “Tackle Meyer, tackle”!!!

  • Comment 38, posted at 03.05.11 11:59:35 by Pablo Dinero Reply

    Pablo Dinero
  • @Pablo Dinero (Comment 38) : No _ I decided to go past the stage of waking up with nightmares….go all the way or go home :mrgreen:

  • Comment 39, posted at 03.05.11 12:54:55 by Ice Reply
    Competition Winner Ice
  • @McLovin (Comment 30) : The messing around thing was understood, and taken in that spirit. Besides, you could back it up with a performance from your team worthy of your big mouth 😈

    Seriously though, the truth is often uttered in jest, and there were certainly some hard facts in there regarding the respective strengths of the two squads, and how the advantages gained from it were utilised (or not, in the case of the Sharks).

    And yes, it did hurt. Not so much the margin as the manner of the defeat.

  • Comment 40, posted at 03.05.11 12:58:41 by Culling Song Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
    Culling Song
  • @Ice (Comment 39) : I hear you… I self medicated with Rohypnol.

  • Comment 41, posted at 03.05.11 13:03:00 by Pablo Dinero Reply

    Pablo Dinero
  • @Ice (Comment 39) : You back at the coalface, sistah? How was Mauritius? You tanned? 😛

  • Comment 42, posted at 03.05.11 14:20:01 by SharonvanWyk Reply
  • @Pablo Dinero (Comment 41) : Does that block out what happens before you take them too? 😆

  • Comment 43, posted at 03.05.11 14:21:40 by SharonvanWyk Reply
  • @McLovin (Comment 30) : please don’t. I would hate to have to be nice should the sharks happen to beat stormers :mrgreen:

  • Comment 44, posted at 03.05.11 14:37:59 by rekinek Reply
    Competition WinnerCompetition Winner Author
  • @Pablo Dinero (Comment 38) : :mrgreen:

  • Comment 45, posted at 03.05.11 14:38:17 by rekinek Reply
    Competition WinnerCompetition Winner Author
  • @SharonvanWyk (Comment 43) : Depends how many you take. My biggest disappointment was that no one took advantage of me…

  • Comment 46, posted at 03.05.11 15:22:20 by Pablo Dinero Reply

    Pablo Dinero

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