Same issues, different game for the Sharks

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 18 Mar 2013 at 09:33
Tagged with : , , , , ,

“The worst 40 minutes I have ever seen the Sharks play.”

That is what I called it at the time, and there are not many that would disagree with me.

But just how the hell did it happen?  What forces conspired to have the Sharks dish up that rubbish?  A brilliant Brumbies side? Perhaps, they were pretty good – but they are not 4-tries-in-20-minutes good against what should be the best South African franchise.

Now before I start, what I am offering below are not answers, I don’t think one could ever find black and white answers to such a complex problem – but I am offering a probable cause, and it is been something I have been on about with the Sharks team for many years now.

Emotional maturity.  A topic which is often misunderstood not just by supporters, but more crucially, coaches and players themselves.

We have all heard coaches refer to team selections as trying to strike a balance between youth and experience and how crucial experience is in any team.  But too often, if not always, do we confuse experience (usually measured in a players age and amount of games he played at a certain level) with the maturity I am referring to.

I recently followed a debate on a similar subject and someone some of you will know quite well, Brand Coetzee, summed it up quite nicely when the subject of Pat Lambie came up.  Lambie he said, is a great example of a player who has the ability to control his own emotions which is why for a young player, he almost never seems flustered.  And as great as that is for any player it is not about controlling emotions, it is about managing your emotions.

Confused?  Let me try and expand on that a bit.

Controlling your emotions means you invest in yourself alone – in the case of Lambie that means 100% focus on his own game which is at a watershed moment of his career to be honest – managing your emotions on the other hand allows you to detach from the now, the me, and helps you to control the game and each situation in a team context and also allows you to manipulate the emotions of your own team mates, and that of the opposition – in other words, you are in control of the situation, not just yourself.  (There is a great example of another flyhalf who does just that, and it should be obvious who I am referring to)

Now Lambie was just used as an example, but this in my opinion can be easily attributed to the whole Sharks team (and most South African players for that matter).

Tell-tale signs to look for in the Sharks game and those 1st forty minutes was to note the frustration of the players with their team mates and the referee.  They lost complete focus walking from ruck to ruck, aggressively engaged the referee on issues, had zero intensity but most importantly, they had no player or leader on the park to help them regain that focus or fix the problem.

The Sharks came out in the second half almost a completely different team, and although most will look to the second half as an improved performance or a positive, my question is, why did it take outside intervention (half time and a coach’s talk) to get them to re-focus?  Why could they not do this, or be led to do this by ‘senior/experienced’ players in the moment?  And the simple answer is – they had none.

Managing emotions, or States as the learned folks will call it is the emotional maturity I refer to.  It is not a magic trick, it is not something some players have and others don’t or never will – it is something you are coached the same as you would be to pass a ball.

One last note.  No player takes the field or plays this game to lose or be as pathetic as the Sharks were in the first forty minutes – and you will only frustrate yourselves by trying to blame players and their talent and skill, the game plan or the coach.  I mentioned to Rob yesterday that sometimes, shit just go wrong… and thinking back to that one line, I could not have been more wrong.

Emotional maturity is reached in one of two ways – some players get that from experience and having been there and got the t-shirt and figure it out for themselves, but the easier way is to get someone in to coach you on how to achieve this, and manage it.


  • And we back to the lack of specialist coaches in the Sharks setup such as a mind coach / sports psychologist.

  • Comment 1, posted at 18.03.13 09:43:35 by Bokhoring Reply
  • If this is the tipe of rugby the Sharks are going to play,expect empty stadiums. This weekend against the Rebels they might win, and think all is well… I don’t think so!

  • Comment 2, posted at 18.03.13 09:48:13 by Rvw Reply

  • Exactly! :mrgreen:

  • Comment 3, posted at 18.03.13 09:49:28 by SteelShark Reply
    Competition WinnerCompetition WinnerCompetition Winner
  • Interesting article as usual Morne. However, I differ in some aspects.I agree fully that emotional maturity and mental conditioning are essential to success. Especially in the team context, its the difference between good individual contributors and those whose sphere of influence includes contributing through others.And for the Sharks, a major issue is that the scale of John Smit’s leadership created a void which hasn’t been filled. The Sharks have become too used to the idea of THE Leader, as opposed to a captain supported by other leaders. They would do well to rope Barney back in after he closes of his playing career. I think he could have a huge impact.That said, I think the lack of mental conditioning is part of a larger problem. That problem is that the Sharks do not have vision or science in the coaching anf leadership.This is not a team that evolves year-on-year, and its certainly not a team that is improving their game plan through experience. We have had a dominant scrum, some big ball carriers  and a pretty good defence for some years; but we never move beyond that to utilise other attacking resources or expand on the questions we pose to other teams.We have a flyhalf who can attack well, a potentially lethal centre combination and 2 of the deadliest wings in world rugby, but we only fall back on them when plan A has failed multiple times.The Brumbies executed a great 30 minutes of play because they were willing to attack, looked for the off-load, and trusted their team-mates to catch and carry the ball. That trust and adventurous mindset is absent at the Sharks, until desperation strikes.However, once our bruisers and confidence returns, we will win more than we lose. But for the potential in this team, that really isn’t good enough.

  • Comment 4, posted at 18.03.13 10:37:37 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 4) : Yip – we ain’t going to win any titles the way we are carrying on.

    What I would like to know is why we start every year right back at step 1? How can other teams just carry on where they left off last year.

  • Comment 5, posted at 18.03.13 10:41:53 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Big Fish (Comment 4) :

    What you touch on with the Brumbies is exactly what is missing in the Sharks and something I tried to highlight above.

    Willing to attack – mindset
    Looking for off-loads – focussed on team objectives, not individual
    Trusting team mates – Awareness of the situation, opposition and team mates (not self-centered)

    The Sharks have all, if not more strike power, skill and ‘experience’ but their focus is on individual effort and not team objectives.

    The Brumbies are managing states (external situations) as individuals, the Sharks on the other hand are managing their own individual emotions and objectives.

  • Comment 6, posted at 18.03.13 10:54:42 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 6) :


    Willing to attack – (team objective) mindset
    Looking for off-loads – focussed on team objectives, not individual
    Trusting team mates – Awareness of the situation, opposition and team mates (not self-centered), see my Lambie reference in the post.

  • Comment 7, posted at 18.03.13 10:57:57 by Morné Reply
  • Well written Morne.

    We have long suffered for lacking the emotional strength that was typical of championship winning teams. Even when we went undefeated for 8 games in a row, a couple of years back, we still only just won. We don’t go for the kill when we are in front. Similarly, we just don’t know how to turn things around when the chips are down.

  • Comment 8, posted at 18.03.13 11:08:23 by King Shark Reply
    King Shark
  • @Morné (Comment 7) : Aren’t you just describing a well drilled team aware of what to do in most situations on attack, vs. a group of individuals mascarading as a team?

    Even if one of our guys make the half break, there is often no-one to offload to. It just seems that the Sharks players have no awareness of each other on attack.

  • Comment 9, posted at 18.03.13 11:09:38 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 9) :

    Describing a team in control of the situation. Awareness, mental states, management – all of this is as complex and needs as much practice/coaching as any game plan and skills coaching in rugby.

    Think of it in your own personal context. When you are at your most focussed, you also feel you are in control. The trick, or area we need to coach ourselves in however, is to remain focussed when you are not in control so much.

    What we tend to do as humans is when things become a bit out of control, we try to manage ourselves, control our emotions and not ‘lose it’ or break down – where the best approach actually would be to detach yourself from the moment, the situation, and rather manipulate the situation to regain some control and focus.

    Might sound a bit confusing – but in essence YOU are never in control of something, but you can manipulate situations (individuals, actions, time, location, etc) to make any situation more manageable so you can exercise more control and dictate matters.

    Make sense?

  • Comment 10, posted at 18.03.13 11:22:22 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 7) :

    I hear and agree with what you are saying, but I think you need to look at it holistically.

    Focusing on individual mindset is appropriate when you have pockets or periods of excellence or underperformance. But when you have consistency of the issue, through prolonged periods and irrespective of personnel (as I believe is the case with the Sharks) then you need to look at culture.

    What good managers and coaches both try to do is create an environment and systems that promote the behaviour and outcomes they want. Looking at the Sharks, I see a major issue there, and in my opinion, that is part of an overall coaching issue.

    A quick example; Plumtree blames humidity for a monochrome gameplan and dearth of tries every year, despite experience in the conditions. The Brumbies rolled up and made a mockery of that. Even props caught up in a move felt the duty to catch and look for an off-load. Successfully.

    Is that simply individual skill and mindset or is that level-setting achieving the desired mark? I gave that one to Jake and his team.

  • Comment 11, posted at 18.03.13 11:25:26 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • On emotional control versus management: we know that some players have always struggled with self-mastery: Frans Steyn being a prime example. He tends to either withdraw into himself, almost like a petulant child, or he tends to go at it alone. Neither attribute inspires team mates. (Sorry Frans, I don’t mean to pick on you, just building an argument).

    John Smit had a way to talk to the guys and make them believe. He influenced his team mates, the ref, the opposition, and even the crowd. Richie McCaw and Martin Johnson were similar leaders.

    To get another player that can perform that function, we need someone that can master his own emotions first. A couple of names stand out but almost all of them have one or two negatives:

    Jacques Botes is a supreme example of self-mastery, never-can-die attitude and hard work. The biggest problem there is that he seems a little shy, he is not always on the field, and he is too old to go through all the learning required to become the ultimate captain.

    Jannie and Bismark are very similar to me in the sense that neither of them are shy, they constantly talk in the huddles, and they lead from the front. Jannie might be getting a bit old to be assigned leadership but Bismark may very well still perform that duty for a while. Their biggest downside is that they are perceived as players that are ill-disciplined, although it is a legacy of their younger days.

    Keegs still have a couple of years in him and he has done a remarkable job at changing his own approach to the game, as well as to lead the team. Being able to change his own approach and being able to excel amongst the forwards when he weighs a good 15kg lighter than the average, indicates that he has strong inner control. He was done a disservice by being rushed back though.

    I have often wondered if Kanko shouldn’t be entrusted with more responsibility. He is a clever enough bloke to make the right calls and he seemed to thrive when Plum asked more of him. He is clearly also able to adapt his own game, which indicates that he is able to change the way he thinks, able to control his emotions and his performance.

    Amongst the backs there is only one player that I feel should be entrusted with captaincy. Super Pat has lead the teams he played for at school, he was headboy and he is the coolest customer in the current squad. If entrusted with the responsibility, provided the senior players accept his leadership, he may very well become our next Smittie.

    Frans was an obvious choice under the conventional thinking of years of experience = leadership but as mentioned earlier, you need a player that is able to master himself. JPP strikes me as a player that remains pretty much unfased, no matter what the conditions. That is his biggest downfall, however. The captain cannot accept losing, he must battle to turn the tide.

  • Comment 12, posted at 18.03.13 11:26:27 by King Shark Reply
    King Shark
  • @Big Fish (Comment 11) : Yeah, Jake White makes a huge difference. But he has great staff that surrounds him – Larkham etc. It is not a one (or three) man job.

  • Comment 13, posted at 18.03.13 11:31:12 by King Shark Reply
    King Shark
  • @Big Fish (Comment 11) :

    You know my feelings around Plum. Great coach, not a great head coach.

  • Comment 14, posted at 18.03.13 11:32:03 by Morné Reply
  • @Big Fish (Comment 11) :

    I think Plum’s feelings on the subject matter above is also very clear.

  • Comment 15, posted at 18.03.13 11:33:16 by Morné Reply
  • @Big Fish (Comment 11) :

    What good managers and coaches both try to do is create an environment and systems that promote the behaviour and outcomes they want. Looking at the Sharks, I see a major issue there, and in my opinion, that is part of an overall coaching issue.

    What was it John Smit said recently when he commentated in Super Sport studio?

    “You cannot expect a team to go out one day and just play attacking rugby and make great off-loads, if it is not practiced on the paddock inbetween games, it is not going to happen in games”

    Same goes for the above you said. I am using players as examples of the eventual product failing, but it is almost always a case of never being given the opportunity to correct it by proper coaching.

    It applies very much here.

  • Comment 16, posted at 18.03.13 11:37:48 by Morné Reply
  • @Big Fish (Comment 11) :
    Pat for me is an example of am emotionally mature and self-aware player. However, he hasn’t been all that good. I think a lot of that has to do with the balance the coaches put on risk versus reward, as well as how comfortable he is trusting his outside backs to handle pressure. I don’t see a player who is comfortable taking too many risks (until we were chasing g the game). Part of that is individual development but a lot is to do with a team culture that is conservative.

    By contrast, I still don’t think the coaches have managed to harness Frans yet. He is still a phenomenally talented individual first and foremost. There was one run late in the second half where he took of on a mad charge from fullback straight into contact and was turned over. That wasn’t about advancing the team cause. That was all frustration and anger.

  • Comment 17, posted at 18.03.13 11:40:50 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @King Shark (Comment 13) : Jake does not seem to be scared to surround himself with strong characters. He had Eddie Jones as his perfect foil before the WC, and now he seems to work very well with Larkham and Fischer. We know the Ozzie players are not the easiest to manage. I recall many player revolts at especially the Brumbies

  • Comment 18, posted at 18.03.13 11:45:35 by Bokhoring Reply
  • One cannot keep blaming the coaches, at some point the players need to take responsibility. The Sharks have largely a settled squad and have played in 4 CC finals in 5 years and been in Super Rugby play-offs 4 of the past 6 years so there is no real excuse for the players.

  • Comment 19, posted at 18.03.13 11:46:58 by Baylion Reply

  • @Morné (Comment 16) : I don’t like to blame the players for the on-field fiasco we saw. Sure – players could show better commitment.

    I lay the blame for the rubbish the Sharks served up this season so far mostly at the feet of the coaching team. They are responsible for this team not showing any improvement in the areas that they have been mostly lacking for many seasons now – support play, poor ball retention, no concept of attacking play lately.

    Our coaching team is just not up to the task at this level. We need specialist coaches – a mind coach and especially a decent attack coach.

  • Comment 20, posted at 18.03.13 11:51:55 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 20) :

    And now you will read Plum reading the riot act, and make team changes to try and change fortunes.

  • Comment 21, posted at 18.03.13 11:58:01 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 21) : I don’t think team changes will help – these are the best players we have. I would like some specialist coaches to come in and work with the current players.

  • Comment 22, posted at 18.03.13 11:59:36 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 21) :
    Clearly you can read the future as you are no doubt right.

    Now share the Lotto numbers! 😆

  • Comment 23, posted at 18.03.13 12:01:22 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • It seems I chose a good game to miss. It was a lot more fun celebrating Culling Song’s birthday! 😀

  • Comment 24, posted at 18.03.13 12:04:10 by Pokkel Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Author
  • @Big Fish (Comment 23) :

    Haha, I followed this script since 2008 now – it is like watching a really bad movie on repeat!

  • Comment 25, posted at 18.03.13 12:05:07 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 25) : I am not sure that we are disagreeing on anything here, but perhaps I am not understanding what you are saying. I seem to understand that you are saying this requires some different (?) coaching of the players to resolve this problem.

    How can we fix this? I would like much better for this Sharks team

  • Comment 26, posted at 18.03.13 12:10:36 by Bokhoring Reply
  • The sharks were woeful yes… They reminded me of our currie cup final losses against the lions and wp… They just didnt pitch… That said, they are looking very unimaginative right now, are missing a power loose forward and bismarck… I have no answers, and a serious concern about frans. Reckon he needs to join louis ludik at fluxmotion for a few weeks to get the explosiveness going..

  • Comment 27, posted at 18.03.13 12:15:57 by The Quirk Reply
    The Quirk
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 26) :

    Will repeat what I said on Twitter for you which might make more sense.

    Any successful team will cite or mention a successful culture.

    What Tom from Sporting Mind corrected me on and I agree, is that a culture is created BY the team, not FOR the team.

    Best example I can use is Gary Kirsten and what he did for India, and now for the Proteas. Proteas won’t win them all, as has been the case, but they will win more consistently (which is also the case).

    Gary allows the players freedom (responsibility) to create their own culture where he simply sits back and manages the key areas.

    But if you are going to do this as a coach, you need to create the environment that will induce it, and the tools to support it.

    If you believe this is some airy-fairy bullshit and rugby players are rough and tough and things are bliksemed into players, you get what we see from most teams in SA.

  • Comment 28, posted at 18.03.13 12:16:22 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 28) : Would you agree that one of Jake’s skills is just that – enabling a team culture while also focusing on the little details that matter and getting help in areas where he needs it?

    It seems you can substitute the current Brumbies team for Proteas in your example – even though they have not won anything yet, this is a much improved team even from last year’s Brumbies

  • Comment 29, posted at 18.03.13 12:22:07 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 29) :

    I certainly would. During his time in the Boks Jake took Percy and Os out of retirement, had Gerricke as a mental coach, introduced Doc Calder for eye/vision training and of course Eddie Jones during the RWC (who has been there before with Oz).

    Jake believes in two things as a coach – one, team and individual fitness is non-negotiable as is a sound defence structure and two, empowering players in areas not seen as ‘traditional’ areas of coaching by getting in experts to help shape that culture – the rest comes naturally (over time).

  • Comment 30, posted at 18.03.13 12:26:49 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 30) : One thing that really frustrates me about SA rugby culture is that some very talented players seems to stagnate once they reach a certain point. It seems no one works with these guys to iron out specific deficiencies in their game (e.g. unable to pass properly to both sides, incorrect technique at the breakdown, etc.). It frustrates me no end to see players making the same basic mistakes year after year.

    I guess it comes from our almost prepaid phone culture as far as rugby players are concerned. If the current one fails, we just grab the next best thing from the production line.

  • Comment 31, posted at 18.03.13 12:35:23 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 31) :

    A big part of the problem is that we coach our players from a very young age to focus on the result, and not the skills component of the game.

  • Comment 32, posted at 18.03.13 12:38:26 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 28) :
    Agree 100% with this. Maybe I wasn’t understanding you well.

    I feel that the Sharks are not coached/ allowed to play what’s in front of them.

    If they can’t impose their plan and style on the opposition, they cannot adapt and struggle.

  • Comment 33, posted at 18.03.13 12:39:59 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 4) : I have some good news for you. According to John Robbie, Barney has confirmed to him in person that he’s coming back to the Sharks once his Saracens stint is done in some sort of player representative role.

  • Comment 34, posted at 18.03.13 15:05:53 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • @vanmartin (Comment 34) : Do you have a link?

  • Comment 35, posted at 18.03.13 15:11:15 by war1 Reply
  • @war1 (Comment 35) : Nope, it was mentioned on-air by John Robbie when David ‘o Sullivan phoned him on his way back from Rio where he had attended the Laureus awards. That’s where he ran into John Smit.

  • Comment 36, posted at 18.03.13 15:17:41 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • @vanmartin (Comment 34) : Would love John Smit in some coaching role, but obviously after doing the hard yards in coaching

  • Comment 37, posted at 18.03.13 15:31:27 by Bokhoring Reply
  • The Sharks’ poor performances culminating in a “crushing” defeat at home normally provides the motivation required to get their behinds in gear.

    Still points to the guys being mentally weak and lacking motivation. PSdT, Cooper and Herbst were somehow able to play their hearts out.

    The Sharks require mental conditioning. Maybe someday, somehow somebody will wake up to this fact and actually employ the right someone for the job!

  • Comment 38, posted at 18.03.13 16:14:09 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @vanmartin (Comment 34) :

  • Comment 39, posted at 18.03.13 16:38:31 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • I guess one can specifically coach the players to improve their mental maturity, but one can also instil it indirectly as part of the team culture.
    The head-coach can communicate his vision and strategy clearly to the players and continuously coach with those in mind, such that the players become comfortable with knowing what they MUST, and their team mates WILL do in any situation.

    Managing the situation to suite you becomes much easier if you already know how you want it to be.

    The problem is, it seems, that John Plumtree just does not have a vision and strategy of his own. He goes with the agenda of others. When the Bok coach declared Pienaar a 10, Plumtree followed suite. When this experiment did not work at the Boks anymore, he moved him back to 9. Similarly, he has been moving Lambie between 10 and 15, based on cues from the Bok coach. John Smit’s conversions between hooker and prop is another case.

    One must also note that the turn around in the Sharks team last year, happened after the June Test break. When the senior players returned from the Bok set-up, they suddenly played with a common purpose.

  • Comment 40, posted at 18.03.13 17:44:32 by fyndraai Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • Any idea how long before Timo is back 😡 , at the moment I won’t care if Plum play Bosman 😯 ahead of Steyn he has been poor at best ( Om eerlik te wees hy was maar [email protected]) 👿

  • Comment 41, posted at 18.03.13 18:43:41 by BR Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • I agree with a lot of points raised by various posters here. We need someone who can coach the team to always want to be the best and then still better.

    I tend to agree that Lambie is the best for captain, but that it will not be easy in the Sharks setup to promote it past some of the more senior players. It could end up damaging to both Lambie and the team. Yet an equally young James O Conner is leading the Rebels.

    What is certain though is that for the last couple of years the Sharks struggle to achieve and then maintain a comfortable mental space.

  • Comment 42, posted at 18.03.13 19:22:40 by Silver Fox Reply

    Silver Fox
  • @Morné (Comment 21) : Plum is REACTIVE, he hasn’t made the step up from assistant coach to head coach and to be honest I doubt he ever will. If he’s liked so much at the Sharks, get specialist with proven track records to assist him. I like Plum but the man is an average Superugby coach, what has he perfected at this level? Without Bissie and Alberts he becomes really clueless.

  • Comment 43, posted at 18.03.13 22:03:35 by GreatSharksays Reply


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