Settle Down

Written by Martin van Niekerk (vanmartin)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 29 May 2014 at 10:36
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I’ve been trying to get this article out since our loss to the Brumbies but circumstances have conspired against me. A fair amount of water has passed under the bridge since that game but it has in the process confirmed a few of my own suspicions regarding what the Sharks have been missing during their midseason malaise. It’s by no means the only contributing factor but I’d like to focus on this particular facet because it is so often overlooked.

Since our loss at Loftus the Sharks have managed to mostly keep winning games but in a fashion that some may describe as nothing more than being too stubborn to lose. While these victories were by no means convincing or the template for long-term success (the loss against the Highlanders being proof) they at least ensured the necessary points haul to remain at the top of the table.

After watching the Brumbies game there was a subtle shift taking place within the team though and that’s why I wouldn’t classify that particular loss as part of our ‘slump’ period. Admittedly we lost but I was surprised to see composure starting to creep into the team. It was subtle but it was there and I felt we came close to taking that game at times, the home-ground advantage probably giving the Brumbies the slight edge that allowed them to ultimately win.

The beautiful thing about composure is that it allows a down and out team to fight on more level terms. I can’t think of a better example of this than the Bulls and Crusaders teams. Regardless of how their season starts, disruptions in or lack of playing or coaching personnel, they somehow usually manage to pick themselves up and make the opposition feel very uneasy about facing them. Often this would lead to a scenario where they made you as opposition supporter feel that they’re turning your home ground advantage into their own. Horrible, horrible feeling that. And that’s probably why a lot of Crusaders fans still have a nasty taste left in the back of their throats. The Sharks are playing with increased composure week by week, since that Brumbies game.

What is it that has me harping on about this particular attribute? Encourage and nurture in your team for long enough and it allows all sorts of other dormant qualities to rise to the fore. That player brimming with x-factor in your backline suddenly starts delivering on his promise. The physical forward starts dominating opposition. The set-pieces start clicking and the kicker’s conversion rate goes up. Given enough time one would swear the whole coaching line-up and approach changed. We place attributes such as strength, speed, stamina and x-factor in high esteem in a rugby team and rightly so but the key to unlocking these and maximising their usefulness in winning is (all together now!), composure.

Playing arm-chair Sharks coach for a second I believe the following players contribute to that composure in the team and need to be accommodated going into the final rounds: Bismarck du Plessis has always been vital for his contributions in other facets of play but is growing in his captaincy role and is now one of the key cogs in this regard. Stephan Lewies, a player who’s shown a maturity way beyond his age and experience level. Willem Alberts, who always just quietly gets on with it in the background, his contributions often overlooked. Frans Steyn who never looks completely comfortable out of position and yet manages to get the job done anyway. Either one of S’bura Sithole or Paul Jordaan who both seem more than adequate at handling the defensive responsibilities at centre. And finally SP Marais who is not as flashy as Mvovo but just brings that calming presence into the back three. I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing him shifted to wing to allow Mvovo to play fullback simply because of the composure he brings into the team.

I’ve omitted a few injured and fringe players but I’ll leave that to be discussed below.

I’ll end this article with a final thought. Traditionally composure is considered a non-negotiable in any champion team’s halfback pair. Could a lot of our ‘underperformance’ in the mid-season be attributed to the loss of our go-to halfback pair during the Bulls game? If this is the case, have the Sharks managed to pull off something extraordinary by staying on top of the standings without a settled halfback pairing?


  • Very nice boet and think you’re spot on!!!

  • Comment 1, posted at 29.05.14 10:47:33 by JD Reply
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  • “the Sharks have managed to mostly keep winning games but in a fashion that some may describe as nothing more than being too stubborn to lose”

    Love it!

    Composure has noticeably improved, and I agree with the premium you place on it. I really believe that the sheer presence and unruffled demeanor of White and Smit alone helps instil that.

    I’m not sure how White would have managed last year’s injury blitz, but he certainly seems to have a more pragmatic approach and his plans never seem to be shifted too much by circumstance.

    The kind of thing that builds investor confidence. 😉

  • Comment 2, posted at 29.05.14 10:49:46 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • Nice article. I think you’ve hit a nail on the head with regards to Reinach and Lambie. Halfback pairing is one of the most important combos in rugby.

  • Comment 3, posted at 29.05.14 11:00:16 by JarsonX Reply
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  • Good article and spot on,composure is the hallmark of all great players and teams

  • Comment 4, posted at 29.05.14 11:07:42 by benji Reply
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  • Based on the way the season is playing out and how much confidence and mental steel the team has developed it’s even more mind boggling to understand how SARU let Jake White go.

    Don’t get me wrong I love the Boks but to be honest when I was an aspiring player hoping to play professional rugby the dream of playing for the Sharks meant more to me than the dream of playing for the Boks and that’s why I’m kind of glad SARU shafted Jake because I truly think he’s the best rugby coach South Africa has produced in a very long time and to have him as the Sharks coach is incredible.

  • Comment 5, posted at 29.05.14 11:09:09 by Jacques Venter Reply

  • @Jacques Venter (Comment 5) : could not agree more

  • Comment 6, posted at 29.05.14 11:13:35 by benji Reply
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  • First time poster here. I agree wholeheartedly with the theme of this article. Its a part of our game that has been missing for quite a while. When I think back to 2006 it looked as though the team started gaining real belief in themselves as the season went on and that final league game where we needed to smash the chiefs to qualify for the playoffs and actually achieved the “impossible” (lets add some extra incentive to beat the stormers this weekend as I’ll never forgive them for capitulating against the bulls the next day to crush our dreams!) was a big turning point for the team that went on to top the log the following year. 2008 was perhaps a year to forget, but that winning feeling helped us win a lot of close early games before we eventually derailed and perhaps grew a bit of a chokers mentality that was evidident in future years.

    Lets hope that this time arround we can finish the job and get that monkey off our back so that we can begin the era of dominace a la the bulls and crusaders that we all know this squad is capable of!

  • Comment 7, posted at 29.05.14 11:25:02 by Vancouver Shark Reply

  • @Vancouver Shark (Comment 7) : Couldn’t agree more,to be completely honest I reckon its a crying shame that the Sharks have not dominated this competition for the last 7 years,we have probably one of the most talented squads in South Africa and when someone gets injured we normally have more than capable cover!I mean,how many other teams would have coped with losing Lambie,Zeilinga,Reinach,Sithole,Bressler,Jordaan,Ndungane and Pieter-Steph,all at a crucial time!I believe this will be a defining season for the Sharks,even after our own mini exodus last year! Come on boys,be too stubborn to lose untill we lift that cup!

  • Comment 8, posted at 29.05.14 11:36:34 by BarendL Reply
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  • Very well writen article,you have put my thoughts into words.
    I think the most significant contribution to this development is Bismark’s growth as a captain from game to game.He has galvanised those players into a unit not seen since Gary Teich’s days.
    Consider all the disruptions to key play makers,Lambie, Zeilinger,at 10 , then PSDT leading the line outs ,Bressler going soon after and then loosing Marcel and Deysel in quick succession.
    We could have rolled over belly up like the Stormers but we didn’t and each set back made this team stronger,Lewies,OOsthiuzen, Sithole and Mtembu had no choice but to make it from the first whistle.
    I personally would have liked an older head like Louis Ludik at the back,since Odwa started to age ,but hey the kids have come through.

  • Comment 9, posted at 29.05.14 12:04:48 by The hound Reply
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    The hound
  • Thanks for the feedback folks. Relief to know I’m not the only one noticing this. Something I didn’t touch on in the article but it’s been in the back of my mind. How much would a mind coach contribute to composure? Is it even something that can be coached or is a result of experience and the culture being fostered at a union? There has most certainly been a huge culture shift at the Sharks since John Smit has taken over.

    @The hound (Comment 9) : SP Marais reminds me of Louis Ludik. Same calm head on his shoulders.

  • Comment 10, posted at 29.05.14 12:16:57 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 10) :
    I think that S.P is light years behind Ludik ,but he will get there.
    The other ingredient evident this year is passion,when you watch Jannie literally trembling in anticpation of a win on the bench in the dying minutes of a game,that wasn’t there last year.
    This team is not playing for money ,they are playing to win.

  • Comment 11, posted at 29.05.14 12:24:24 by The hound Reply
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    The hound
  • @The hound (Comment 11) : I wouldn’t go as far as using light years but SP has a few things to work on, A more accurate kicking game would definitely aid the Sharks gameplan.

    I remember the scene with Jannie you mention. Looked very similar to my two-year old waiting for me to finish opening a packet of sweets :mrgreen:

  • Comment 12, posted at 29.05.14 13:03:14 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 12) :
    More like my Rotty watching me eating biltong.

  • Comment 13, posted at 29.05.14 13:09:26 by The hound Reply
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    The hound
  • Great article Martin!

  • Comment 14, posted at 29.05.14 14:30:07 by gregkaos Reply
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  • Mr Martin Van Niekerk, your articles never seizes to amaze with its brilliance. awesome stuff man. Half way through reading it I was thinking man this could make a great lesson to teach my youngsters during our next practice session. I am loving it. keep up the good work da guy, no wonder Sharksworld made you the VIP on this site. Best article of the month. Okay enough praising from my side. 😆

  • Comment 15, posted at 29.05.14 14:44:25 by Stiko85 Reply

  • @The hound (Comment 13) : Brilliant :mrgreen:

    @gregkaos (Comment 14) : Thanks Greg!

    @Stiko85 (Comment 15) : High praise indeed, thank you, I’m glad you found it useful. Regarding the VIP status – just go donate at the top right of the screen and you’ll get the tag too. Helps Rob out with the website hosting costs.

  • Comment 16, posted at 29.05.14 15:27:09 by vanmartin Reply
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  • Excellent article; such wonderful clarity of thought! Do you want to come and work for me? :mrgreen:

  • Comment 17, posted at 29.05.14 15:28:03 by Culling Song Reply
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    Culling Song
  • Good call Martin. There is a calmness in their desperation. (sounds silly) but they have complete trust on those inside and outside of where they are standing and they just ” do what has to be done”. No pretty all the time but hey, look at the log. From what is being said the team is tight and JW seems to have brought the best out in so many of the players. When Frans Steyn visited us last year down in CT he was nowhere, What I call ”naafi”. This year we have the guy walking on water, fantastic to watch. I also hope we can just get the next three done and dusted. Not going to enjoy the break of three weeks.

  • Comment 18, posted at 29.05.14 15:36:23 by DaveB Reply

  • @Culling Song (Comment 17) : Yes please

  • Comment 19, posted at 29.05.14 15:40:25 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 19) : I should probably elaborate on that. I wrote this on the Gautrain because that seems to be the only time I’m not working these days.

    @DaveB (Comment 18) : Not silly, I completely get it.

  • Comment 20, posted at 29.05.14 15:48:27 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 19) : Great! One can never have enough minions in the salt mines, and good canon fodder is so hard to come by…

  • Comment 21, posted at 29.05.14 15:52:14 by Culling Song Reply
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    Culling Song
  • @Culling Song (Comment 21) : You know what they say, a different salt mine is as good as a holiday

  • Comment 22, posted at 29.05.14 15:55:23 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 10) : Louis Ludik was the most UNDER RATED player out there!! How a player with that much courage, commitment, consistency and as you pointed out COMPOSURE did not make the bok team is astounding!! He wasn’t an exceptional athlete perhaps but he made up for that in game smarts, which is why I literally cannot recall him ever having a shocker. – uhm Kirchner???

    Certainly agree with your halfback remark. The ‘centres/halfbacks/midfielders’ (choose your sport) are always the most important because they control the game!! Given that we haven’t had 1st choice options for a while we have done exceptionally well!!! (although not convinced by the calibre of our #9’s – potential at best)

    I have yet to be convinced by Bissie as of the tour matches specifically he was losing his temper and threw a punch which was missed and it had to be Keegan to calm the boys!!!! Lewies looks like an experienced camper and Alberts gets on with his donkey work!!

    I have voiced my opinions about Frans Steyn (and I know Im alone on this but I stand by what I said). But his goal kicking has been vital!!

    As you put it – no team wins without composure and we do look like we have that, even when our tactics look dodgy. We have only been blown away once all season…

    What I would add to composure is intelligence in decision making!!! if we can get that then we will have 1 hand on the trophy!!!!

  • Comment 23, posted at 29.05.14 15:56:24 by pienaar111 Reply

  • And sorry for the long post guys. I know they get annoying!!!

  • Comment 24, posted at 29.05.14 15:57:18 by pienaar111 Reply

  • @vanmartin (Comment 22) : Well then, all you need to do is write a brief treatise (no more than say 1000 pages) on why organized religion should be replaced with mandatory ownership of the two most recent Swans albums, and the job is yours!

  • Comment 25, posted at 29.05.14 16:03:19 by Culling Song Reply
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    Culling Song
  • @pienaar111 (Comment 23) : Thanks for the input, was looking forward to reading your opinion on this. Look, Frans Steyn is not a flyhalf, I think we’re agreed on that. I don’t think he’ll set the world alight at 10 but he has started to look more and more settled there. Now a flyhalf that only offers up composure is not ideal, you want that intelligence in decision making you mentioned too. But the fact that he’s settled has helped the rest of the team look more settled too, especially our somewhat erratic scrumhalves. Bissy is a work in progress and that why I don’t want him captaining the Boks right now. I’ll be interested to reflect back on his captaincy a year from now though.

    @Culling Song (Comment 25) : Jeez, when does the bass drop on a Swans song?? 😈

  • Comment 26, posted at 29.05.14 16:22:41 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 26) : No problem!!!

    1 More pet peeve for me at the moment is playing Alberts at 8 and Tera at blindside??? Surely there is no logic in that decision?? Alberts doesn’t sweep at all?? He doesn’t link with the backs off the scrum,etc. HE IS A BLINDSIDE!!! Tera is a skilful player so utilise him at #8?? Or at 6 with Kanko at 8 and Alberts at 7??

    I cannot understand that selection…

    And ja it will be interesting to see how Bissie has fared as skipper a year from now. Although I rate Lambie is our best long term prospect as captain!!! Calm, composed, smart and has the authority to boss his forwards around!!!

  • Comment 27, posted at 29.05.14 16:50:30 by pienaar111 Reply

  • @pienaar111 (Comment 23) :
    @pienaar111 (Comment 27) :
    I think youve used up the entire quota of exclamation marks for SW this month.

  • Comment 28, posted at 29.05.14 17:23:06 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 28) : question marks too 🙂

  • Comment 29, posted at 29.05.14 17:25:11 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • @vanmartin (Comment 26) : I am reliably informed that it will happen on the next album. Apparently that will also serve as a signal to God to unleash the four horsemen of the apocalypse and pull down the curtain on man’s brief existence on this plane. Good times!

  • Comment 30, posted at 29.05.14 18:12:41 by Culling Song Reply
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    Culling Song
  • @robdylan (Comment 29) : @Big Fish (Comment 28) : 😆 😆 😆

  • Comment 31, posted at 29.05.14 18:19:21 by sharks_lover Reply
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  • @Culling Song (Comment 30) : As long as the launch isn’t planned prior to the Super Rugby final I’d be cool with that.

  • Comment 32, posted at 29.05.14 18:36:04 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @Big Fish (Comment 28) : That is what modern day texting and so on does for your punctuation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment 33, posted at 30.05.14 01:11:45 by pienaar111 Reply

  • @pienaar111 (Comment 33) : don’t forget the spelling and grammar (not that I’m any good at either)!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment 34, posted at 30.05.14 18:29:22 by JD Reply
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