Taking a look at the Super Rugby season for The Sharks thus far has been painful and regrettable, the uncertainty and anger of supporters as to “What just happened out there” or “Why? Who is to blame?” and naturally the first thing that is thrown around is “Dismiss the coaching staff!”.
The Sharks Super Rugby season fell flat from the start and why I say this has so many reasons, making it difficult to pin point as to why. One must also however take into account that as an outsider we are not privy to the underlying issues, so how much of what has been said or heard or read is true? How much of what is being said is true and is being swept under the carpet?
Reading most of the social media sites, the one thing that is very clear is that the majority of Sharks supporters seem angry and want change within the coaching structures.
The question one must ask however, is whether we as supporters are being fair, or whether they are justified in asking it? I have asked myself this question over and over as I sit after a match, angry at the loss, saying enough is enough and this cannot continue. Because of this I find myself sitting on the fence with two signs, one saying THERE MUST BE NEW COACHING STAFF and the other saying BUT WHAT OF ALL THE INJURIES AND PROBLEMS THAT THE COACHING STAFF HAVE HAD TO DEAL WITH.
But let us start by looking at the first problem and that is the rumours of alleged problems between some of the players. Again there is the old saying of “There is my side of the story, their side of the story and then there is the truth” and my feeling here is that the players should sort this problem out between them as adults, as it does not seem to involve the coaching staff, again if rumours are to be believed.
What does involve the coaching staff in the above matter however is the strange man-management of Ryan Kankowski. This problem seems to be a long way from being resolved as the Springbok 8th man was again left out of the squad the past weekend, without explanation. Ryan Kankowski said on Twitter that he has flu, yet the following day he was playing Club Rugby, which makes one doubt that reasoning.
This brings the question of how much of a rift / problem has this issue cause in the team dynamics? Surely the team spirit is most important in a TEAM game and if there are rumblings amongst personnel things will always go wrong. Which other problems there are, one can only assume as these rumours abound. The Ryan Kankowski situation is still unresolved.
With all the injury problems that have decimated The Sharks and not having Ryan Kankowski there to play when needed, has left a very sour taste in the mouths of many Sharks supporters. His form, although not brilliant, was no worse than that of his fellow players and surely his experience could have been vital on tour, yet coach John Plumtree opted to play loan players from the Lions in his place.
The second problem of course is the serious run of injuries to players in The Sharks squad in this year’s Super Rugby tournament. I cannot recall any other Super Rugby team ever having had this kind of injury, even last year when there were around 12 Sharks players out injured at the start of the 2012 campaign and everyone then thought it could not get worse… well it did! In 2012 there was still some respite, as most injuries were of a less serious nature and players were not out of the games for such a very long period.
This year has been very different as the injury toll started around 10 players and grew to where it was around 20, as every match played resulted in 2 or 3 more players getting injured, most of which were long term injuries to boot.
The argument goes around that all teams have injuries and that one can only play with the players available to you, they say. Others will tell you that you must have enough depth and that is where it is going wrong. I am therefore sitting on the fence regarding The Sharks coaching staff.
Yes I know the first problem lays at the hands of John Plumtree and his cohorts but one has to stay objective and be realistic. If you took away a mechanic’s tools and then moaned that he did not fix the car, is he really to blame? Or if you blame the bus driver for not doing his trip, but there is no fuel in the tank, is it still his fault?
The Sharks coaching staff have, for most of the season, sat with at least 16 players out injured for every match played. This is more than the starting 15 on any given match day. The past weekend The Sharks still had 16 players out, so I went and did a little exercise for myself as it is not only about the amount of players out injured, but who these players are and what they mean to the team dynamics.
Of course one MUST also look at the players in the correct context and whether they are indeed first choice players. Would they normally be in the match day 22 and which positions positions are most effected. Many people do not realize that with many injuries come new combinations for a team and when this happens every week, things go wrong. With constant new combinations there is no continuity within the team and new players are constantly trying to learn and adapt to the playing moves and calls, which take time to drill in.
In The Sharks injury crises, not only was it necessary for players to rise from the lower leagues at The Sharks, some were also loaned from the Lions, which mean they were not privvy to the regular Sharks structures and culture and did not know The Sharks calls or playing moves or game plan at all. Yet we as supporters expect miracles from our team coaching staff and we refuse to accept the effect all these injuries would have had on the team.
The injury list follows for the season so far and yes, some players have now returned after long term injuries, but that is only recently. In this time of a few players returning there has been renewed injuries to other players, which again breaks down any progress made by the team.\
- Bismark du Plessis, Springbok hooker
- Beast Mtawarira, Springbok prop
- Ryan Chadwick, backup Loose head prop
- Anton Bresler, First choice lock
- Willem Alberts, Springbok Flank
- Jean Deysel, Springbok Flank
- Jacques Botes, Flank
- Keegan Daniel, Springbok flank and team captain
- Allan Dell, Junior Springbok prop
- Craig Burden, Springbok hooker
- Francois Steyn, Springbok Center/Fullback
- Tim Whithead, center
- Kobus Reinach, Scrumhalf
- Louis Ludik, fullback
- JP Pietersen, Springbok wing
- Lwazi Mvovo, Springbok wing
- Butch James, Springbok flyhalf
- Paul Jordaan, Junior Springbok center/wing
- S’bura Sithole, Junior Springbok wing
- Andries Coetzee, Loan fullback / wing from the Lions
- Marius Joubert, Former Springbok center
Looking at this injury list, there are many critical positions hugely effected. Without using it as a total excuse or as the only reason why the team has underperformed, one also has to be realistic as to what these injuries have caused within a team’s dynamics.
Yes, players coming into the team now have a chance to show their class and show their worth, but again these things take time. Using Piet Lindeque as an example, in The Sharks vs Bulls match this past weekend, he gave his first fairly good performance in The Sharks jersey, this after already having played 5 matches for The Sharks.
Being a fringe player can and never will guarantee that the player will play at the same level as the player he has replaced. All one has to do is look at the performance in the scrums by Tendai “Beast” Mtwarira on the weekend (where he was superb). This was his first match in a few months and it was clear to see what a difference one first choice player makes for the team, so imagine what effect all the first choice team members who were out injured, would have made on the team as a whole.
Against the Bulls for example, 8 of the 9 currently on the injury list did not play and are still injured and of the 8 backs still out injured, 5 would probably have been in the starting 15, with another 2 on the bench.
Maybe another question that needs to be looked at, with that long injury list is whether the Sharks conditioning of the players are in order?
Is it not now the opportune time for John Plumtree to look more at youngsters to play Currie Cup later in the year? This might deepen the squad depth for the future and might give these players the opportunity to grow as players. We know a lot of senior squad members will be doing national duty with the Springboks or will still be on the injured list when the Currie Cup takes place.
The question is not IF there is a problem but HOW it will get resolved. No doubt there is a very daunting task awaiting incumbent CEO, John Smit, and the management staff and to just say that the coachingf staff need to be sacked, just to satisfy hysterical supporters, is not the way to go!