BRENDAN VENTER discusses the Sharks’ success and asks: When are we going to see consequences for shocking refereeing performances?
While New Zealand franchises have traditionally proved Super Rugby powerhouses – most recently evidenced by the Chiefs winning back-to-back titles – the leaders of the opposing conferences are staking a strong claim this season.
If we examine the mechanics of the Sharks’ and Waratahs’ makeup, to my mind it appears that both have found an ideal balance in terms of ball-carriers, distributors, mobility and a solid set-piece.
Granted, all Super Rugby coaches are aware of the value that carriers, cleaners and distributors offer. However, what currently separates the above sides from the chasing pack, and the Durban-based side from their South African counterparts, is principally their players’ ability to multi-task and fulfil more than their expected role within the side.
For example, normally a scrumhalf is only ever seen as a distributor. However, the teams currently occupying first and second spot on the overall log have turned the conventional role of a No 9 on its head. While Cobus Reinach and Nick Phipps are more than able distributors, the pair offer an added outlet on attack owing to their abrasive ball-carrying and game-breaking ability.
In terms of ball-carrying threats, from one to fifteen the Sharks boast an embarrassment of riches. And as far as their backline is concerned, I believe they possess the perfect 9-10-12 axis. Their scrumhalf and flyhalf, while ball-carrying threats, can play for territory. Meanwhile, at inside centre they possess a player who is both a devastating ball-runner and an equally accomplished distributor.
At this point, however, I would like to stress that being an effective ball-carrier is sometimes less about bulk and speed and more about timing and knowing instinctively when to run a particular line.
With the exception of the Sharks, it’s not necessarily just the ball-carrier concept but rather a ball-in-hand threat which South African sides are primarily lacking at present.
While the Bulls must be credited for scoring their first four-try bonus point of this season against the Blues, along with the Stormers, the general perception remains that both sides remain one-dimensional and largely toothless on attack.
When examining the Cape side, for instance, I don’t draw the conclusion that their attacking shape is poor but rather that the same attack pattern is run by a number of teams. Thus, we can see that an air of predictability and a lack of variation on offence can undermine a side’s attacking endeavour.
To offer a practical example, a couple years back I conducted a study for Saracens whereby I compared and contrasted the attacks of the All Blacks, Leinster, Harlequins and Clermont Auvergne. Subsequently, I analysed the tries scored in an attempt to discover a common denominator.
In terms of tactics, there were various points of reference from which I drew. For instance, I noted whether the sides were playing more off nine or ten on offence, whether they employed inside ball or outside ball and the quickness thereof. I also examined whether the teams were attacking from the middle or side of the field and if players were offloading prior to contact.
In terms of conclusion reached, while there were a few commonalities, what most struck me from the study was that all four sides adopted different styles of attacking play.
There’s no question that it’s become ever more challenging to attack effectively in the modern game – the dice is now heavily loaded in the defensive side’s favour.
As a result, more tries are scored owing to moments of individual brilliance and an opponent’s unforced errors – as evidenced in the Sharks-Lions match – than well-worked training ground moves.
In closing, my rugby rant of the week is aimed at Rohan Hoffmann and his assistant referees who oversaw the Crusaders-Stormers clash. I find it shocking that so much negative and illegal off-the-ball play was allowed.
And with reference to the final play of the game, the Crusaders created a turnover; Colin Slade kicked the ball one yard from his own dead-ball line, the whole team moved forward and were subsequently all offside… It was indisputably a stonewall penalty for the Stormers.
When are we going to see consequences for shocking refereeing performances?