Mastering the positional shuffle

Written by Martin van Niekerk (vanmartin)

Posted in :Lions, Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 14 Apr 2014 at 11:24
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Sharks fans in general balk at the idea of positional player switches and from a historical point of view, with good reason. It’s driven players from the union and resulted in talent being underutilized. It’s prevented players from settling in a position and in some cases even closed the door on promising youngsters close to making the step up to the senior squad. It would of course be remiss not to acknowledge scenarios where players are experienced or competent in playing more than one position or the coach’s hand is forced, injury and lack of squad depth being the usual suspects in these cases.

Taking all of the above into consideration Jake White seems, for the moment at least, to be getting more right than wrong in this department. This piece could be considered premature at this stage of the Super Rugby season but it should be viewed as the acknowledgement of a trend rather than the final word on the matter.

There was a game-changing moment in Saturday evening’s match against the Lions that was decisive in shifting momentum to the Sharks. This was of course Lwazi Mvovo’s try late in the second half. Up to that point, although the Sharks were in the lead, the game was without a doubt still up for grabs. What is interesting to note is that the two players instrumental in that try were both rookies in their respective positions with S’bura Sithole playing his fourth Super Rugby game in the 13 jersey and Lwazi Mvovo making only his second appearance at fullback. Sbu’s leg-tackle and subsequent rip on Alwyn Hollenbach opened up a rare gap in the Lion’s defence and a deft chip and collect from Mvovo ensured a dot down behind the posts. One could argue that this was simply a fortunate or opportunistic score but what makes it so interesting were the particular skills on display.

S’bura’s defence at outside centre was (rightfully) an area of concern but it was his defence that ensured that a man who is no slouch at 12 was brought down. To then have the presence of mind to follow up with a steal starts to give the impression that Jake probably didn’t get lucky on a selection gamble. Moving on to Lwazi, we see a fullback joining the fray at the right time and not simply relying on only his blistering pace but instead making good use of his boot in getting his try. Smart plays from players in positions that require good awareness and quick thinking. Their contributions weren’t limited to this one period and were evident throughout the the game but this play especially highlighted what Jake sees in these two.

On the flip-side of the coin we do of course have the continued selection of Alberts at lock. There are good arguments for this being either a savvy selection or a mistake and could thus be used to further enforce the above or alternatively use it as counter-point. At the very least it provides a good departure point for debate in the comments.

As mentioned earlier, we’ll be able to more accurately judge certain decisions with more conviction towards the end of the season but it is important to give credit where it’s due and to try and gain some insight into the way Jake approaches his selections.


  • Thanx! Sport, and particularly rugby, is a sport of fortune and opportunity. If you use yours it you win the game, if not you loose or, (even worse,) draw. Few games are won on just the game plan alone. There is always a moment (ref) or two which favours a team.
    The quick try you score because you followed up on a kick or in the process of going for a tackle ranks right up there! It has a lot to do about the bounce of the ball and individual skill.
    That is why love this game!!

  • Comment 1, posted at 14.04.14 11:44:46 by KILLER SHARK Reply
    Valued Sharksworld Supporter
  • Must say Alberts line out work surprised me. Seeing the injury to Fred I think you could add Frans to the list of players playing “out of position”.

  • Comment 2, posted at 14.04.14 12:17:17 by JD Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Administrator
  • @JD (Comment 2) : That would be more of an injury-enforced selection though. I’m specifically focusing on the shifting of players into positions where they have little to no experience.

  • Comment 3, posted at 14.04.14 12:25:09 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • The logical move would probably be to shift Frans to 10 and bring in Heimar to 12, with Swiel on the bench. However, should Frans (heaven forbid) pick up an injury, we may find ourselves all of the sudden in sh!t street, with no proper 10 as back up. Perhaps JW decide to leave Frans at 12 and give Swiel a proper run at 10? Against a below par Cheetahs team, why not? The guy is talented, that we have seen in the Vodacom cup, but is he ready to make the step-up to Super Rugby? 😕

  • Comment 4, posted at 14.04.14 12:31:28 by HoneyBadger Reply

    Another Nick
  • Would like to see Swiel at 10 as he has been in great form in vodacom cup. Not many players forced to play 70mins in their first game at 10 for the sharks against a wounded bulls team at loftus will come out on top. Then again i am also very interrested in seeing what Jordaan can offer at 12. Williams has been very sollid. Given that the Cheetahs are in a bad spot at the moment i would really think of playing Swiel. And maybe resting Jannie ( to sort out his attitude ) exciting times ahead as sharks fans!!!

  • Comment 5, posted at 14.04.14 12:53:54 by willemv10 Reply

  • Nice on van.

    We all knew Sithole would bring blistering pace and physicality to 13, but we are also seeing him bring some clever Sevens influence as well. The tackle and steal is an old Treu focus area, while the interplay with JP reminds me of many Blitzbokke tries.

    Mvovo is showing just how silly we were to bench him for much of the last 2 seasons. Thanks Plum.

  • Comment 6, posted at 14.04.14 13:05:27 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 6) : John Plumtree is probably wondering who this new superstar is that the Sharks have at 13 and when he was contracted 🙂

  • Comment 7, posted at 14.04.14 13:07:26 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • @robdylan (Comment 7) : hahahaha ag sies man laat slapende honde le. Sithole is really proving a point with his play at 13, ,just shows what a little backing from coach can do for a player.

  • Comment 8, posted at 14.04.14 13:14:52 by JD Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Administrator
  • @robdylan (Comment 7) :
    I’m with you Rob. Nobody wants to forget the good that Plumtree did, but he found it hard to identify and back young players.

    Poor Sbura couldn’t catch a ball until this season. Has he suddenly learnt in 3 months what he couldn’t in several years, or are we seeing the effect of a coach who understands the value of giving a player belief by backing him?

    Last year young Sean Robinson made a left field, once off entrance ahead of Sbura, just to disappear again. What did that do for the morale of both players?

    Let’s appreciate the work being done with the players today.

  • Comment 9, posted at 14.04.14 13:17:11 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 6) : I hope Jake starts doing more drills where players run support lines off Sbu’s shoulder (this is where Mvovo at fullback should join the line more often). Once we get that right we’ll be in the money.

    Sbu made great breaks but the ball shouldn’t go to ground once he’s finally tackled. It seemed as though his breaks caught those around him napping at times.

  • Comment 10, posted at 14.04.14 13:42:40 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • @Big Fish (Comment 9) : Plumtree is proving right now with Ireland, like he did when he was assistant to Dick Muir, that he is a great technical man in rugby…

    Being head coach is more strategic and interpersonal!!! He certainly found that hard to master more often than not

  • Comment 11, posted at 14.04.14 13:45:47 by pienaar111 Reply

  • @pienaar111 (Comment 11) :
    That’s my view too. He would have been great for us had he stayed as Forwards coach.

    @vanmartin (Comment 10) :
    That will come. Especially once defences start to focus on him more – an inevitable change in SR.

  • Comment 12, posted at 14.04.14 13:53:43 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @willemv10 (Comment 5) : Am I mad or does Jordaan not have the worst hands in the sharks team?
    Personally I was calling for him to be dropped before the injury.
    I would rather have Jannie at inside centre.
    Although as Steyn will skip pass him 95% of the time it might be too much of a liability.

  • Comment 13, posted at 15.04.14 06:36:12 by garyxxl Reply

  • @garyxxl (Comment 13) : I suspect it’s simply perception as a result of his poor handling in previous seasons. It would be good to look at the handling error stats though to confirm. If I have time I’ll try and do some digging.

  • Comment 14, posted at 15.04.14 10:02:12 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • @vanmartin (Comment 14) : the one huge aspect for me that PJ brings to the backline at the moment is that he does run straight lines,he straightens the attack and attacks the gain line,big plus

  • Comment 15, posted at 15.04.14 10:19:55 by benji Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • @vanmartin (Comment 14) : Thanks. Would be good to see. So much running talent but doesn’t help if dropping and passing forward.

  • Comment 16, posted at 15.04.14 13:13:50 by garyxxl Reply


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