• Sharks address defence

    Assistant coach Omar Mouneimne says the Sharks have overhauled their defensive and kicking game ahead of the Super Rugby season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

    The Sharks’ defensive woes were well documented last season, with the Durban-based side conceding 43 tries on their way to a disappointing 11th-place finish, while their tactical kicking left a lot to be desired.

    Even more revealingly, according to the Vodacom Stats App, the Sharks missed a whopping 368 tackles during the tournament, the second-worst ranking of any team, and kicked as many as 417 times out of hand.

    Yet while the Sharks may have neglected the attention to defensive detail during last year’s pre-season training, it’s clear that they are determined to ensure there is no such oversight this time around.

    Mouneimne, a highly-regarded defensive guru who did wonders for the Kings during their Super Rugby debut in 2013, has been brought in to add specialist coaching to this integral area of the game.

    ‘Last season we really had our struggles in terms of successful tackle completion, so we’ve obviously had to look very closely at what we needed to rectify,’ he told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘It’s vital that we deny the opposition quick ball and that we are very accurate in terms of our work at the breakdown on defence. Then it’s also vital that we make our first-time hits accurately and effectively. When you fail to do those two things, and allow the opposition to gain momentum on attack, it compromises your defensive system.’

    At a Sharks training session in mid-December, an extremely vocal Mouneimne led one of his notoriously high-intensity defensive training drills, driving the players to push themselves to the limit and to keep working hard for the teammate next to them.

    He explained the approach that had been adopted: ‘It’s important to be able to handle the pace and intensity of Super Rugby, and so we’ve done our best to mirror the speed of a game as much as possible in training. We’ve looked at the players’ conditioning, and with the fitness team here, we have done a lot of work on that. We’ve also looked to take the players out of their comfort zone at training a bit, and I must say their response and attitude has been fantastic.’

    Mouneimne has also been working on the team’s kicking game, which he explained went ‘hand-in-hand’ with defence. As a point of interest and to put matters further into perspective, Mouneimne also pointed out that last year's Super Rugby finalists, the Highlanders and Hurricanes, kicked 18,000 and 16,000m respectively last season, which stands in stark contrast to the Sharks' mere 8,000m.

    ‘Last season, if you look at the examples of when the Sharks played the Crusaders and Highlanders and were really hurt on defence, their kicking game and exit play wasn’t accurate enough. The team was also unable to deal with the kicking pressure applied by the opposition, which is a hallmark of the New Zealand game when they put accurate or contestable kicks into the right areas of the field at the right time, and then look to regain possession. So we’ve had to look at how to deal with that pressure, and to also ensure the power, accuracy and decision-making is much improved when we put boot to ball.’

    The Sharks will kick off their Super Rugby campaign against the Kings on 27 February, and during the course of a lengthy season, Mouneimne said it was vital that the team trusted in the system.

    ‘There has been a real focus on the technical detail and the mindset required to consistently enforce the system we are looking to put in place. All the world-class teams will enforce a similar system, but it’s about being able to consistently and accurately execute the plan we have been working on.’

    Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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    Craig Lewis