A time for perspective
After strong seasons last year, the Sharks and Stormers are battling to replicate the form which saw them reach the playoffs in 2012.
Both sides have come in for a great deal of criticism from their highly demanding support bases.
I don’t believe that either team has regressed to such an extent that they can be disregarded. Losing more games than they have won this season has made their passage into the playoffs perilous but still neither side can be written off just yet.
The crux of the matter is that the coastal sides are failing to score tries. If we examine both backlines, the Sharks’ attack is fundamentally ‘unstructured’ while the Stormers’ attack is said to be ‘structured’ yet neither are flourishing on attack.
Supporters in Cape Town continue to beat their drums about a so-called overly structured attack which is stunting the Stormers’ development. I genuinely don’t understand why there has been so much talk of this – in my view it’s a misguided argument.
Take for example the Bulls and Brumbies who are both incredibly structured sides yet still manage to score some great tries. They are both well-organised units and the only major difference between them and the Stormers is that they are scoring tries within a structured setting.
Does this then make them more creative? Do they therefore favour a more expansive approach? Not necessarily. One must understand that structure and expansiveness are not direct opposites. Fundamentally, I don’t believe that structure should ever be credited or blamed for the number of tries teams score.
Therefore, I believe that the Sharks’ and Stormers’ current woes owe more to personnel than structure. A team flourishes most when its flyhalf is on fire.
The Stormers, in particular, have had a difficult time in the ten channel owing to injury and poor form. Neither Elton Jantjies nor Gary van Aswegen has been able to spark the Stormers’ backline. The same can be said of the Sharks’ Pat Lambie – I don’t believe he has got the best out of his back division in 2013.
In rugby the 9/10 axis is critical. Whether you attack off nine or ten defines a side’s attacking endeavour. In my view, the Stormers’ most potent halfback pairing would be Louis Schreuder at scrumhalf and Elton Jantjies at flyhalf.
Theoretically Schreuder offers the greatest threat with ball in hand and the same can be said for Jantjies.
While I concur that Jantjies has endured a trying time in the Stormers jersey thus far, theoretically he is everything you want of a player in the No 10 jumper. He gets really wide on attack, passes the ball beautifully and has the ability to relieve pressure off his left boot.
The broader rugby public are far too quick to write off players in this country. I believe that Jantjies deserves some slack. Imagine losing your father and mentor a few weeks before the start of the season. I feel that the young man has coped admirably with his loss and needs to be afforded time to showcase his true talent.
Similarly, I’m of the view that it’s far too soon to suggest that Allister Coetzee and his coaching staff should be dispensed of. I believe this line of thinking is absolutely absurd as continuity is key.
Fans are quick to forget that Coetzee was the man who delivered the Cape union’s maiden Currie Cup title since 2001. Coetzee has a fine winning record with the Stormers and I believe he is the man capable of guiding them to more trophies.
If we take for example the Manchester United era under Sir Alex Ferguson, the exceptional trademark is that over a long period of time his side won and lost matches but the board stuck by the Scot and their loyalty was richly rewarded.
With regards to the Sharks, rumours of infighting always emerge when a team is on a run of losses. I know Keegan Daniel as a person and I can tell you with certainty that he doesn’t hold any prejudice.
My understanding is that the Afrikaans and English-speaking players are a cohesive unit. I think it’s purely a case of mischief-making in certain quarters of the media.
Back to the field, I expect the Sharks and Stormers to reign supreme this Friday. Granted the Force and Rebels have improved but I believe the coastal franchises will outmuscle and squeeze the life out of their Australian opponents.
The Bulls, meanwhile, will trample the visiting Highlanders and the Cheetahs will come off second best against the Reds.