Gold’s getting it right

John Smit's belief in Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold has been vindicated, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

A year ago I dismissed Gary Gold’s credentials as a Super Rugby coach. I felt he was naive in his approach, was caught between the romance of how the game should be played and how it needed to be played professionally to be successful.

Sharks CEO and former Sharks and Springbok captain John Smit suggested otherwise. He told me Gold would come good when he started building his squad. He said Gold was an investment and not an easy fall guy.

Gold and I exchanged text messages. It was brutal.

My view was his team needed to win if column inches were to read favourably.

A year on, and Smit was right and I was premature in my dismissiveness. Gold has a future as a Super Rugby coach. He’s hardened quickly and it’s been aided by the rebuilding of a younger squad who have also embraced his position and not dismissed it as secondary to any player seniority.

The Sharks are three from three in this year’s Super Rugby competition and six from six when the final month of last year’s tournament is combined with this season’s.

Kudos to Gold. Kudos to Smit. Kudos to a winning Sharks outfit.

Gold’s pragmatism this season has replaced the romantic talk of spectator-friendly rugby, of all-out attack, of scoring tries and of his team being entertainers.

Instead, he’s started to mould a bunch of winners and a rugby team playing to its strengths, regardless of how it measures for entertainment. Any winning team is an entertaining team and there’s a toughness about this year’s Sharks that simply wasn’t there a year ago.

Gold invested in one of the best defensive coaches in the business, Omar Mouneimne, and accepted that professional rugby is firstly about defence and then attack, and these attributes were in abundance in the victory at Newlands against the Stormers.

It was, in my view, Gold’s most impressive result in the past 18 months at the Sharks. It was vindication of Smit and also a credit to Gold’s maturity as a professional coach.

The Sharks don’t play with the freedom or flair of the Lions. They don’t play like the Hurricanes or Brumbies. They currently are playing like a group inspired by their individual respective strengths but are honest about their limitations.

The diversity of styles between the Sharks and, as an example, the Lions is not a bad thing. The attack of the Sharks will improve and in time the playing squad will also include as much skill as there is heart and muscle.

For now, though, there is intelligence in the way the Sharks play and that’s the greatest compliment of Gold’s evolution in the past 12 months.

South African rugby needs the Sharks to be strong, just like the game needed a Lions revival that made a trip to Ellis Park among the more intimidating and daunting.

The Sharks were outstanding in winning in Cape Town because they wore down the Stormers' physicality, silenced the home support and had the edge for the duration of the second half.

The Stormers have limitations among their backs and that was evident in that they were incapable of chasing a five-pointer to win the game. The Sharks, when the moment required individual brilliance to break the stalemate, got it from one of their senior statesman in JP Pietersen.

But the evolution of the Sharks, as a team, came in their ability to so comfortably defend a Stormers lineout maul 5m out and with just a minute to play. It takes skill to defend a maul against the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Schalk Burger. The Sharks did it with accuracy and with conviction.

It was massive in terms of the growth of this Sharks outfit. It was a massive moment for Gold as coach. It was also a personal triumph for Smit’s belief in Gold.

It was a good moment for South African rugby, just like Robbie Fleck’s introduction as Stormers Super Rugby coach has screamed with positives.

The Stormers will win more than they lose this season. So too the Sharks and Lions. It doesn’t mean they will win the competition but there’s light when a month ago heavy mist masked any view of South Africa’s Super Rugby challenge.

The Lions will recover from the beating in Dunedin. They’re better than the drubbing they took, but perhaps not quite as good as the win in Hamilton against the Chiefs suggested.

There’s grunt to our Super Rugby challenge when a month ago there was just gloom and there’s evidence of Sharks gold as well.

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images