Big Fish

The centre cannot hold

Written by (Big Fish)

Posted in :Cheetahs, Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 16 Apr 2013 at 11:41

Turning and turning in the widening gyre; The falcon cannot hear the falconer;Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

William Butler Yeats wrote the poem The Second Coming in 1919, capturing the melancholy and uncertainty of the post-WWI period in Europe. Coincidentally, the poem in many ways captures the essence of some Sharks fans right now, and certainly, one of the central issues leading to things falling apart in the last match, was the fact that the centre(s) cannot seem to hold – passes or tackles.


But it was not always so. Just last year, the Sharks for the first time in many a season seemed to have a veritable treasure trove of midfield talent. Meyer Bosman seemed to be finding his feet and making his tackles, Paul Jordaan was steadily improving and showed glimpses of the devastating pace and agility that made him such a treat to watch as junior, Tim Whitehead came in and made all the players around him look 40% better by his clever play, and of course, what seemed the coup of the decade, the Sharks managed to lure back the mercurial services of the phenomenally talented Francois Steyn.


And things did improve – at least for a while. The Sharks roared (or whatever sound sharks make) into life in the latter half of the SR season, and put in a string of huge performances in making the final, where, to no ones’ great surprise, a talented Chiefs team and severe jetlag managed to put paid to their title dreams. The rich vein of form continued into the Currie Cup, with the Sharks making it to the Final, where they sadly self-destructed in the face of some real fire and brimstone from an unfancied Stormers team.


Having turned their year around in 2012, and with all this backline and midfield talent waiting to be unleashed, 2013 had all the markings of a great year for Sharks rugby. And it certainly has not turned out to be a disaster. Yet.

The truth is that the Sharks haven’t looked completely at ease, despite what the points table has shown. The season is still young, and if the Sharks tour as well as they often have in the past, they could well end up in the pound seats pretty quickly. Certainly, putting the uncharacteristically buoyant Cheetahs away will help them get right back on the bike, and give them the vital momentum that so often defines a tour.

But none of that will happen without the renowned Sharks pack lifting their game to previous highs. Nowhere more so than in the front row, where the Beast and the Doctor are playing well beneath what they are capable of. The Beast is still generally scrumming well, but the thrilling runs and thumping tackles that used to lead to the familiar refrain are now faded memories. The loosies also seem to lack balance, and it is hoped that Jean Deysel will return soon to add the necessary steel to help the team compete better at the breakdown and in the loose.

Of course, the forwards’ performance is a problem that we are now quite familiar with – the centres are a problem that is rapidly snowballing. The Sharks sit with a very potent back 3 (who are sadly all under big injury clouds right now), as well as a halfback combination that boasts youth and talent in equal measure. Pat Lambie has certainly rounded his play by adding a very accurate kicking game to his already impressive repertoire, but on attack he has looked rather staid.


The temptation is to conclude that he is playing the game that the Bok coach wants, but while this may at least be partly true, I don’t think this quite explains the attacking impotence. To be fair to young Patrick, it just doesn’t seem that his centre partners are giving him much to work with on attack. The lineup on our ball is always the same, and while we have started to see some variation of depth in the attacking line, this variation usually comes from JP coming off his wing. If he doesn’t do that, and if slow ball has allowed the defence to form up and negate moving the ball wide, there isn’t much else that Patrick can do other than take the ball to the line or kick into space.


What one would hope to see is runners coming in on Lambie’s inside, or looping around him in the opposite direction. Perhaps we could have the speedy and elusive Jordaan take a short, flat ball off either Lambie or the big inside centre options we have in Bosman or Steyn and slide through a gap. This would see us score tries, either through the break, or by unleashing the attacking threats we have at loose forward and wing.


But none of that is happening in the midfield right now, and thus, despite a lot of endeavour against both Crusaders and Stormers, we haven’t seen any tries for a while. Certainly, the Sharks backline coaches must take some heat, but when it comes to catching, passing and making one-on-one tackles, your centres must take ownership for their failures in the basics of their play.


There is some hope though. Tim Whitehead is the one centre we have who chooses to run into space and looks to off-load in the tackle. Frans Steyn we know has a huge bag of tricks (although all he is showing right now is the good ole Maori sidestep), and Meyer Bosman showed in the latter half of last year that he is a smart off-loader with a beautiful pass. What we need is for these guys to go back to what worked before. Even if we end up playing a lighter loose trio than we would like to, with the likes of Daniel and Kankowski, we can make huge inroads on the scoreboard if we create space.


The fix needs to start with the forthcoming game though. The Cheetahs CAN attack and score tries, and their midfield, led by the magical Robert Ebersohn, has the potential to make our guys look like deer in the headlights. The time is perfect for the centre pairing to make a statement against a form centre combination. If they can dominate or at least negate their opposite numbers, they can help nullify the attacking threats of Raymond Rhule and Slick Willie le Roux. One does not want to dwell on what will happen if they fail to do so… Come on guys – we really want to believe that surely some revelation is at hand.


  • I always enjoy your articles !Well written ,once again.

    The problem for me in the midfield is we don’t have a player who straightens the line -or who can pick up a specific defense and change his alignment to offset this defense. The second problem is our centers aren’t holding their defenders ,maybe this is because opposition know we just shove the ball out wide as soon as we can or that we often play to deep behind the advantage line(probably because the forwards are always in the fh’s way).

  • Comment 1, posted at 16.04.13 11:55:06 by Talent Reply
  • This I can agree with.

    Just one thing, as far as I know, Timmy isn’t likely tom come back this season to come back this season. 🙁

    His break didn’t grow back properly and I think he had to go back into surgery to fix that. I am not 100% certain on this though.

  • Comment 2, posted at 16.04.13 11:58:58 by Letgo Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • We are missing Tim big time. The best inside centres are the ones that make the players around them look amazing and they often go unappreciated.

  • Comment 3, posted at 16.04.13 12:04:42 by Pokkel Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Author
  • Awesome read Fish.

    Whitehead is a concern, but we should see him come the second half of the tour, but definitely by the time they return from Australia.

  • Comment 4, posted at 16.04.13 12:16:00 by Richard Ferguson Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Administrator
    Richard Ferguson
  • Thanks guys. One tries one’s humble best. 😉

  • Comment 5, posted at 16.04.13 12:19:22 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • Good read Fish!

    Pity about the average poetry!! 😈

  • Comment 6, posted at 16.04.13 12:56:02 by wpw Reply
  • @wpw (Comment 6) : sies! Don’t you insult my homeboy WBY

  • Comment 7, posted at 16.04.13 13:11:01 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • I really feel Carlos Spencer should have been used for more than a kicking consultant. The Sharks have 2 back line coaches (not sure about their respective roles), but it looks more like zero IMHO.

    The players should take responsibility for their basic skills and commitment, although I also feel specialized skill coaching can help in that regard. But this team needs a proper attack coach that can help all the units gel into a successful attack.

    Lambie needs more options to work with – not just the centres, but also forwards from phase play.

  • Comment 8, posted at 16.04.13 13:26:02 by Bokhoring Reply
  • You’re quoting Yeats now? Are you busy turning into Thabo Mbeki?

  • Comment 9, posted at 16.04.13 13:55:33 by Culling Song Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
    Culling Song
  • Two things…

    Firstly, most of you will remember how I lamented the loss of Tim Whitehead more than that of Sadie (who?) and Engelbrecht a couple of seasons ago as WP’s biggest loss by far. How he is missed by the Sharks now…

    Secondly, Fish, nice stuff bud! You touched on a very important aspect – and this is one of those old basics of the game – if the forwards do not dominate, the backline does not stand a chance in hell.

    I have seen Lambie been called a clone of Morne Steyn, Jordaan out of place in this league and your other backline players pathetic.

    Fact is lads and ladies, if you have even just 1 meter of space taken away from you, or 2 seconds on the ball, you are in for a hiding. Pat is given zero time on the ball to have any impact, and this problem only compounds as you move down the backline where even more time and space is lost by every single SR team nowadays employing an umbrella defensive system.

    When you are under pressure on the ball you tend to try too hard to make ‘magic’ happen and quite frankly, this is what is happening to Pat and for that matter, Jordaan.

    You force plays and your movements and actions becomes static and stiff. There is no momentum created on the ball and plays and the guys simply cannot get into any rythm.

    You guys rightly highlight Beast and Jannie as two main culprits as senior boys – but the Doc has never been known as a ball carrier, Beast carries the load of players like Deysel and Alberts missing from the pack you while Marcel tackles himself to a stand-still Keegan and whoever packs down on any given game-day in the loose-trio next to them has to contend with a lock pairing who are still trying to find themselves let alone each other’s games to compliment.

    Now don’t think for one second I am saying you are missing the crash and bash boys, but the fact remain folks you are missing players like Bismarck, Deysel, Alberts who wins the colisions on attack AND defence more often than not and those plays allows you to build momentum.

    There is a difference between winning collisions and playing stampkar rugby. Rugby is a physical sport where players get smashed, no matter how fancy you are.

    The Sharks’ main problem currently, is they lack the mongrel in the pack to let their loosies play an effective linking game and the backs to do some magic.

  • Comment 10, posted at 16.04.13 14:16:03 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 10) :

    Always the voice of reason.

    What’s your thoughts on Reinach who has been criticized here by some? Is he also being affected by the lack of grunt from the forwards?

  • Comment 11, posted at 16.04.13 14:32:29 by Pokkel Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Author
  • @Pokkel (Comment 11) :

    I like his speed to the ball (tackled areas) but think his speed in clearing the ball could improve (but this comes down to how well its presented and the post about forwards above).

    He is a huge threat around the fringes with his speed and I don’t think he uses it enough, but that is probably down to his inexperience and wanting to play within himself to try and establish himself.

    He is a fine prospect, currently, the best 9 in SA.

  • Comment 12, posted at 16.04.13 14:35:59 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 12) :


    How the twins doing?

  • Comment 13, posted at 16.04.13 14:38:53 by Pokkel Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Author
  • @Pokkel (Comment 13) :

    All good thanks man

  • Comment 14, posted at 16.04.13 15:46:04 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 14) : You have to write a post about that one day as I simply can’t comprehend how one manages two babies at once. My daughter is awesome – very calm and well-behaved for a kid her age and she’s still keeps us surprisingly busy :mrgreen:

  • Comment 15, posted at 16.04.13 15:52:36 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • @Morné (Comment 10) :

    Always enjoy your point of view Morne.

    And I totally agree!

  • Comment 16, posted at 16.04.13 16:14:42 by Letgo Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • It really doesnt matter – Sharks problems stem from the pack. Without a dominating pack you could have Henri Honiball and Cabous van der Westhuizen in the backline and it wouldnt matter.

  • Comment 17, posted at 16.04.13 17:01:55 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • @vanmartin (Comment 15) :

    Haha! Just like managing a rugby team bud!

    @Letgo (Comment 16) :

    Pleasure lady.

  • Comment 18, posted at 16.04.13 19:18:27 by Morné Reply

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