The Sharks’ transitioning between attack and defence have had Sikhumbuzo Notshe return to his best in the opening rounds of the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season, writes DYLAN JACK.
Notshe took a gamble when he decided to swap the comforts of his home in Cape Town for a move to Durban last year. However, it is a decision which is paying off as he has been playing a starring role for the Sharks in the start of their Super Rugby campaign.
After a subdued debut in tough conditions against the Vodacom Bulls, he has excelled during the Sharks’ tour to New Zealand and Australia and it certainly seems that he has got his love of rugby back after a tough last couple of years at the Stormers.
Against the Highlanders, Notshe racked up six carries for 44 metres, beating six defenders while making two clean breaks and offloading twice. Similarly, in the loss to the Hurricanes, Notshe still managed to make 14 carries for 59m, beating four defenders and making four passes. Sean Everitt is clearly using Notshe’s mobility and ball skills to supplement the Sharks’ attack.
As colleague Jon Cardinelli pointed out in an analysis piece, the Sharks have changed their approach in 2020 to emphasise a quicker transition from defence to attack. This approach plays to Notshe’s strengths as he is allowed to roam into the centre channels and find space to exploit.
One such example was seen in Dunedin, where, after winning a turnover, Notshe immediately switched to the offensive and instead of taking the ball to ground and recycling possession, he runs into the space afforded to him and produces a wonderful offload to Madosh Tambwe who in turn sets up the red-hot Makazole Mapimpi for a try.
In the same game, Notshe got the ball just outside the Highlanders’ 22. Instead of carrying it into a defender, he runs into the space between two Highlanders, sucking them both in before freeing his hands to put Aphelele Fassi into space.
At the Stormers and Western Province, he found himself used in a utility role, playing across the back row and was expected to adapt to different roles almost weekly. That eventually appears to have resulted in him struggling to carve out an identity for himself on the field.
However, at the Sharks he has been allowed to settle into a more clearly defined role at No 8, where he has started in every game this season.
However, bigger tests lie in wait for Notshe, especially if he wants to prove himself a Springbok again.
There are still legitimate questions over whether he can play an enforcer-type role that is required from an eighthman when it comes to Test rugby. Upcoming games against the Jaguares, Chiefs and Stormers, who all boast strong defensive records, will be crucial to his development in this regard.
VS HIGHLANDERS (Sanzaar stats)
6 defenders beaten
2 clean breaks
VS HURRICANES (Sanzaar stats)
4 defenders beaten
1 clean break
VS Rebels (Sanzaar stats)
3 defenders beaten
2 clean breaks
1 try assist
Photo: Steve Haag Sports/Hollywoodbets