Sharks to focus on defence

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 10 May 2012 at 08:30
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Sharks coach John Plumtree has hinted that since his side will emphasise results over all else over the coming weeks in Super Rugby, this need to win every game at all costs is likely to see the side emphasise defence more than attack.

Looking to the so-far successful pattern of teams like the Stormers and Chiefs, who have conceded just 9 and 12 tries respectively over the first 11 rounds, the coach is quick to point out that the sides that defend better, hence conceding fewer scores, are those which do better in Super Rugby. This, he says, is something the Sharks want to emulate going forward and will seek to build victories off a platform of strong defence, coupled with territorial dominance.

We saw this against the Highlanders and while ugly, one has to concede that it did, in fact, work in that game, although there were some quite alarming factors to come out of that victory. Strong defence is one thing, but if the Sharks are going to regularly be forced to make over 200 tackles each game – around 250% more than their opponents – then it isn’t going to be very long before the men getting through the bulk of that work, the Coetzees, Breslers and so on, start to break down. Again, while teams in possession tend to be penalised more and make more mistakes, surely conceding two thirds of possession to your opponents cannot be the blueprint on which base a winning game plan?

I concur fully in the need to play in the right parts of the field, but when you’re in those parts, you’re going to need to have an attacking plan too – one that involves holding the ball through the phases and ultimately creating scoring opportunities.

There was far too much aimless kicking from the Sharks at the weekend and my fervent hope is that the coaching staff will make the necessary tweaks to the approach to ensure that defence and pragmatism doesn’t replace “all-out attack from everywhere” as the only string to the bow. The Sharks have been crying out, for a number of years now, for a Plan B; the ability to think on their feet and change the approach within a game if the one they started with clearly isn’t working. My concern right now is that they’re simply switching to a different Plan A, which may yield short-term success but probably won’t take too long for the opposition to figure out.

Not trying to shoot anything down here, but the chances of the Sharks out-boring the Stormers in a few weeks’ time don’t strike me as particularly good. After all, the men from the Cape have been playing this style of defensive rugby for years and have one of the best defence coaches in the land as their mastermind. I doubt the Sharks will really be able to successfully replicate that within just a few weeks, especially given the paucity of specialist coaching options in the bunkers at Kings Park. Not, at least, without all other aspects of their game going to pot.

Still, as Plumtree was quick to point out during Tuesday’s press conference, the Sharks “don’t practice dropping the ball”, so I’m quite confident the attacking game will continue to receive as much emphasis in training as it always has…


  • We need to win, I agree, but against a team like the Force, we need to go out and score the four tries as well..

    We have the team able to do that, the only concern is how this team is being told to play..

  • Comment 1, posted at 10.05.12 08:34:47 by Richard Ferguson Reply
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    Richard Ferguson
  • I agree, we need those bonus points too.

  • Comment 2, posted at 10.05.12 08:49:53 by JarsonX Reply
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  • I hope this statement was made in the context that the Sharks have been topping the missed tackle stats for almost the whole season, and not as a shift in approach.

    All we asking for is a balanced approach. There are a number of tactics available to a team, and a good balanced team will make use of the most appropriate tactic for the situation. For example I think even the kick-and-chase has it merits – especially last week in the rain. However if it is overdone and not executed 100% every time, it can actually be very risky and leave you open to counter attack.

    The Sharks have made good progress in some areas – e.g. we are the top off-loading SA team. The point is to keep working on the weak areas such as retaining the ball in the opposition 22

    The point is not to overdo any tactic and become predictable. That is what I admire about the Crusaders – they are very adept at varying their tactics depending on the situation.

  • Comment 3, posted at 10.05.12 08:52:08 by Bokhoring Reply
  • ” the coach is quick to point out that the sides that defend better, hence conceding fewer scores, are those which do better in Super Rugby.”

    You reckon, Plum? 🙄

  • Comment 4, posted at 10.05.12 09:04:12 by Ben Reply
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  • Interesting thing is that the Sharks tops the stats on tackles made 1603 vs. the Stormers on 1357.

  • Comment 5, posted at 10.05.12 09:10:06 by Bokhoring Reply
  • We have the team to win these games. The question is do we have the brains behind the scenes to maximise the talent. I do think it is both the players and the coaches at fault for the poor skills.

  • Comment 6, posted at 10.05.12 09:12:55 by lostfish Reply
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  • @Bokhoring (Comment 5) :
    That’s the thing about focusing on individual aspects – things are generally systemic and you miss important points.

    You raise the question of the impact of the Sharks kicking game and lack of respect for possession – the volume of tackles we have to make and the number of defensive rucks we have to attend is linked to that.

    So is the number of injuries, missed tackles and ruck penalties.

  • Comment 7, posted at 10.05.12 09:37:15 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Ben (Comment 4) : Hahaha. That was exactly my thought as well. Defense wins games? Like DUH dude!! 😆

  • Comment 8, posted at 10.05.12 09:57:35 by rhineshark Reply
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  • I’m not sure about that statement “the coach is quick to point out that the sides that defend better, hence conceding fewer scores, are those which do better in Super Rugby.” because the Stormers have the best defensive system in place but have yet to win ANYTHING (titlewise): Currie Cup let alone a Super rugby title. The Bulls won it several times recently – but had an attacking plan as well as a good defensive plan. The 2 go hand in hand – I suspect we should relook at our coaching staff (or some of them) at season’s end. And a captain who can instil discipline…

  • Comment 9, posted at 10.05.12 10:05:58 by Caratacus Reply

  • @Big Fish (Comment 7) : It just shows that making lots of tackles does not necessarily result in a better defensive effort as far as tries conceded.

  • Comment 10, posted at 10.05.12 10:34:42 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Caratacus (Comment 9) : We won the Currie Cup in 2010, because of momentum carried through after an extended, albeit belated, winning streak in the S14 of that year.

    And we did it by keeping the ball for long periods, starving opponents of possession and forcing them to defend most of the game. Then we capitalised on their errors when they start running from everywhere, because they were too scared of kicking and handing us back the ball.

    Where did THAT game plan go??? It seems as if we are now playing exactly as we forced our opponents to do then.

  • Comment 11, posted at 10.05.12 12:57:28 by rhineshark Reply
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  • @rhineshark (Comment 11) : That was pretty rugby that!

  • Comment 12, posted at 10.05.12 13:49:51 by Ice Reply
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  • I am missing something here. Rugby at its most basic is a game of defending and attacking, whether by running or kicking.

    You have to be very fit and committed to do these two things well.

    A top coach in both aspects could be very helpful too! 😯

  • Comment 13, posted at 10.05.12 14:14:22 by Silver Fox Reply

    Silver Fox
  • @Ice (Comment 12) : Not only pretty, but winning rugby as well. 😎

  • Comment 14, posted at 10.05.12 14:38:15 by rhineshark Reply
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  • plumtree can fool many here and talk about a “focus” on defence than on attack?

    what ATTACK? 😆

  • Comment 15, posted at 10.05.12 14:52:11 by Megatron Reply

  • I’m depressed to admit that for once, I agree with Megatroll. 🙁

  • Comment 16, posted at 10.05.12 14:59:59 by klempie Reply

  • @Megatron (Comment 15) : 😥 🙂

  • Comment 17, posted at 10.05.12 15:04:01 by Ben Reply
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  • @Megatron (Comment 15) : What does that say about the Stormers attack then – 6 tries fewer than the non-existent Sharks attack

  • Comment 18, posted at 10.05.12 15:27:16 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @rhineshark (Comment 11) : your absolutely right – but we had both defence and attack there – somehow there doesnt seem to be any gameplan this year apart from dropping the ball at crucial times, or turning it over. (or clapping somebody in full view of the ref!!!!!!)

  • Comment 19, posted at 10.05.12 16:07:58 by Caratacus Reply

  • @Bokhoring (Comment 18) : stormers DON’T play an attacking form of rugby, if you read nick koster’s blog on after their 1st game on tour you would know that one of the players – de kock steenkamp i think – got into trouble because he fell asleep in one of Fleckie’s “ATTACK SESSIONS”.

    that story confirmed exactly what i’d been saying, robbie fleck is not an attack/backline coach’s bum!

    ditto regards bashford & reece-edwards.

    look at what wayne smith has done with the chiefs, he’s SHORED up their defence without compromising their try-scoring ability!

  • Comment 20, posted at 10.05.12 16:14:23 by Megatron Reply

  • @Megatron (Comment 20) : I won’t argue with you on that point

  • Comment 21, posted at 10.05.12 16:18:23 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Megatron (Comment 20) : How do you rate Carlos Spencer as a backline coach?

  • Comment 22, posted at 10.05.12 16:19:09 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 22) : between him & mitch they did well with the ragtag team at the lions, but let us not forget king carlos was there in 2010 in the role of player/coach with dick muir.

  • Comment 23, posted at 10.05.12 16:38:46 by Megatron Reply

  • @Megatron (Comment 20) :

    Agree, South African teams in general do NOT attack well, it has been a major flaw in our game for a very, very long time.

    @Bokhoring (Comment 22) :

    I think he has done well considering. If they had more of a lineout I think we might have seen a bit more of their backline, but that said I still think they lack the skill and invention to break down a defence regularly.

    But I have seen encouraging elements in their play; a few examples I list below
    * Jantjies vs Chiefs taking the ball flat off a ruck and fairly close to the touchline with three runners outside, and as the defence all commit, putting through a grubber which Coetzee hacked ahead and nearly scored off. Good ploy that NZ teams do a great deal, Hurricanes and Crusaders do it a lot – and Crusaders practice it before a game and in training.
    * The move in last year’s CC final when Bondesio feigned as if he would loop around and then they gave the ball to Killian (i think) ended in a Taute’s try. Killed us Sharkies but you have to applaud it! Saw Leinster do a very similar move against Clermont in the Heineken Cup semifinal – no coincidence they have Joe Schmidt (another Kiwi) as coach probably one of best backline coaches in world.
    * THey used a nice blindside move against WP in the CC semi- and pool games. Basically there was a ruck near the touchline and 2-3 Lions players were lined up outside. WP fronted up with enough numbers but Taute came from very deep, he was obscured by the ruck so WP defenders didnt manage to correct their defence in time, came into the line and passed a skip ball to Van Rensburg who then made a break and passed it back – scored another try.

  • Comment 24, posted at 10.05.12 17:50:52 by Pat Reply

  • @Pat (Comment 24) : 😯 😯 😯 Not sure if you’re married, but you’re never, ever, ever going to be allowed to forget birthdays and/or anniversaries with a memory like that…

  • Comment 25, posted at 11.05.12 07:26:46 by Culling Song Reply
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