CRAIG LEWIS and WADE PRETORIUS debate whether the Sharks’ new style of play is a recipe for disaster or success.
If the game is about entertainment, then you have to sit back and admire what is being done by the Durban franchise. It’s been years since they have played with such freedom and intent – both with and without ball in hand. But you have to have the bulk and substance up front to win consistently and progress to the semi-finals.
If that isn’t the yardstick of success, then I’ll happily admit my mistakes and join the chorus of those cheering every try and looking away blindly to the fundamentals of the game that are not being fulfilled quite the way they should be.
The nice thing about stats is that you can dress them up anyway you want to paint the picture of your point. The Sharks’ lineout percentage is bottom of the pile in the competition … they are one of three teams in the competition with a scrum win percentage under 80 and sit 12th – or joint last – in ‘rucks won’.
All this makes running rugby even more difficult and despite their very impressive backline, the side has managed just 12 offloads; only three teams offer fewer opportunities in this attacking aspect.
Against the Hurricanes, a team they were tipped to beat, they conceded two tries after losing out contesting the high ball and another from a failed clearance from deep inside their 22m. To add insult to injury, the Canes scored a rolling-maul try – a move unpopular in New Zealand but always effective when getting the job done. This all against a side that had to travel to South Africa and Argentina before the outing.
Last week’s game provided the blueprint of what they need to concentrate on going forward without losing their flair and impetus. They missed nearly one-third of their tackles, they won under two-thirds of their lineouts and conceded 21 turnovers. Protect the ball, dominate at set pieces and tick the basics boxes … it’s not reinventing the wheel stuff.
This is not about bashing the Sharks for the sake of it or having an open dig at their fans, who are finding their voice with such an exciting gameplan in play. Winning rugby is still the name of the game and like it or not, the cliches about building a platform and having to win the tight-five battle ring true. New year, same philosophy if you will.
The franchise are doing so much right but this team is still a work in progress.They are short of a few players in key areas in the pack. In 12 months’ time, the strengths to this argument may very well be erased with another serious contender in line to bring the Vodacom Super Rugby trophy back to South Africa.
But, if the status quo remains, you can’t bank on the Sharks going further than the last eight.
This is the sort of debate that once again comes back to the question of style over substance. For so long, the Sharks have swung heavily towards the latter, and the results have been mixed at best.
With the number of changes that have taken place at the Sharks in terms of both playing personnel and coaching staff, it’s understandable that a new broom will sweep clean.
This new-look Sharks team has realised that their strengths now lie with a mobile pack and lethal backline, and are determined to ensure that the two are able to complement each other.
In Aphelele Fassi, the coastal side also has one of the most dangerous counter-attacking fullbacks in Super Rugby, while Curwin Bosch offers a booming boot from flyhalf.
Last weekend against the Hurricanes, the Sharks looked to embrace a positive brand of rugby, but were killed by an inordinate turnover rate and a malfunctioning set piece.
Mr Pretorius is quite right to suggest the Sharks need to clean up these fundamentals if they are to compete at the business end of this competition, but the Sharks’ willingness to be braver with ball in hand should be applauded.
The Sharks simply don’t have the pack power to bully opposition up front, but when at full strength, their backline is arguably the best in the competition, and I’d even advocate for talented young scrumhalf star Sanele Nohamba to receive a start sooner rather than later.
There is no reason for the Sharks to be deterred from their altered approach after last weekend’s misfire, but instead it’s just about ensuring they find the right balance to their play, while improving their execution and decision-making.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports/Hollywoodbets