A month into the 2013 Super Rugby competition, it is becoming clear that the more things change, the more they stay the same.Photo Steve Haag
A month into the 2013 Super Rugby competition, it is becoming clear that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
While the Australian franchises, particularly the rejuvenated ACT Brumbies, have led the way in terms of style and substance, the South African franchises – save for the Cheetahs – have contented themselves with a conservative approach.
And let’s not be fooled by yesterday’s romp against a Rebels side who are the weakest in the competition and who offered no opposition up front... this result changes nothing.
The Sharks, who were handed a brutal lesson in efficiency and execution by the
Brumbies in Durban last week, have arguably been the most underwhelming,
given the talent at their disposal.
“I’d have to say that they have probably been the
most disappointing, and they seem intent on playing
this direct, physical game that the Bulls used to play,
” former Bok wing Ray Mordt bemoaned this week.
Many in the stands at King’s Park have pointed
accusing fingers at the out-of-shape Frans Steyn,
suggesting that his direct approach at inside centre
has blunted the attacking instincts that marked the
Sharks’ run to last year’s final. Where they were
inventive and incisive with Tim Whitehead and
Paul Jordaan in midfield last year, they have
retreated back to the bashing routine this season.
Their lack of tries has not gone unnoticed.
“Look, they have some great runners in that team.
Paul Jordaan is a great little player, but how many
times has he touched the ball? The same can be said
of JP Pietersen out wide. You have to look to involve
that kind of player more, because they can change
games in an instant,” Mordt insisted.
“I’ve watched Frans Steyn since he was a youngster in
2007, when he was a brilliant, elusive runner.
But you look at him now, and he has become a thumper. He is clearly overweight, and he should have been told that he won’t play until he gets back in shape. This is a professional game,” Mordt maintained.
Former Sharks centre Pieter Muller, a regular observer at King’s Park, said it was a bit harsh to single out Steyn – who was benched for yesterday’s clash against the Rebels – for the Sharks’ deficiencies.
“I think that the whole team is just not attacking the line, and his strengths in that sense have been under-utilised. At the moment, the Sharks are playing a boring, predictable game, with slow ball which is forcing the backline to run from deep.”
Mordt believes that coaches in South Africa need to also take greater accountability for not developing smarter playing systems.
“I watched that game against the Sharks and Stormers a few weeks ago, and it was so boring. You have to ask the question, what are the coaches doing? The only South African team that is trying to play a modern brand of rugby is the Cheetahs.”
Mordt says that the Sharks have several natural runners in the team, but they are not being brought into the game enough.
“Ryan Kankowski is often criticised for not being physical enough, but that is not his game. He is a class player who can hurt teams if he is running on to off-loads and into open spaces. But he can’t do that when there is no one looking to pass to him in the tackle,” he added with exasperation.
Muller suggested that there was still an element of fear in South African rugby, which meant that players rather did the basics instead of looking to create opportunities.
“I think that our players are sometimes too s**t-scared of making a mistake, so they don’t try anything to keep the ball alive.”
Of course, the battering ram mentality spills over into the national team, which has also not set the world alight with their playing style in recent years.
“People say we are winning games, so it’s fine. We may get away with it because of our sheer physicality, but when the scales are even, we don’t have the game-breakers to get us over the line,” Mordt warned.
“You know, ex-players don’t criticise for the hell of it. We are just as passionate about improving our rugby, and we are tired of hearing that we have so much talent in this country, but we don’t see it used properly.
“With the athletes that we have, guys like Marcel Coetzee and Willem Alberts for example, we should be setting the standard in the world game. Alberts could be like Kieran Read in terms of impact, if he was encouraged to bring others into the game more.”
He says the same applies to Coetzee and Stormers’ man-mountain Eben Etzebeth, who both have a massive physical presence, but lack the subtle skills that their Antipodean counterparts display every week.
“I worry about Coetzee, be-cause as good a player as he is, he can’t keep taking those big hits every year. Why has another dimension not been added to his game? Rugby is a physical sport, but only when necessary. You have to be smart… keep the opponent guessing.
“At the moment, the opposition know that Coetzee will never pass, so they target him with three or four guys to either steal the ball, or at least slow it down. You look at a guy like Lappies Labuschagne at the Cheetahs, and he is the standout flanker in our rugby at the moment, because of what he creates for his team,” Mordt pointed out.
“Our approach needs to change, and I think that is all down to one thing,” he added. “Coaching.” - Sunday Tribune