Sharks captain Warren Britz looks at five facets of the Sharks game and rates how they’ve fared in each this season.
THE BACK THREE
Generally I think we were pretty effective in this area especially in the Super 14. We were able to play with similar combinations in that competition every week which helped a lot. We scored lots of tries out wide and our counterattacking was very good. In the Currie Cup we lacked in this department a little. We constantly had a different back three, which is not great for continuity and I think we suffered. But having said that, we gave lots of young players opportunities in these positions and the experience they gained playing there will benefit us in seasons to come.
I thought Ruan Pienaar and Butch James were spectacular as a combination in the early rounds of the Currie Cup. Butch’s call-up to the Bok side obviously came at a crucial time for us because they were just starting to click. They are both great ball players and their experience is crucial to a young backline, because they remain really composed under pressure.
Butch’s defensive game is outstanding. When he plays, teams generally don’t attack his channel and from a forward’s point of view that is great. If they break through that channel it’s a nightmare to cover, so his value is huge.
Francois Steyn is a very similar player and a bright prospect for the future. When he played he added the extra dimension of having a great boot. He is brilliant distributor and will be the real deal in a couple of years time.
These were two positions that changed constantly, so that makes it really difficult to assess. When Brad Barritt and Waylon Murray played, we had a really physical pair, with great defensive ability and linebreaking power on attack. But there were other players who done well when called upon. Grant Rees always added a physical impetus, while Andries Strauss and Adi Jacobs were good distributors and made sure the ball went wide to the wings.
THE BACK ROW
I think the loose trio was tremendous this year. It’s a testimony to the fact that you don’t always have to the best players in those positions, but rather the best combination. AJ Venter, Jacques Botes and myself worked really well in combination and threw different skills into the pot. I played on the ground a lot, while AJ and Jacques looked to run the ball up most of the time. Our strength I think was in our versatility – any of the three could swap roles and Jacques and AJ could try and dominate the breakdown and I could play looser. Keegan Daniel and Ryan Kankowski showed class beyond their years and provided solid back-up for senior players.
THE TIGHT FIVE
We were especially strong in this area in the Super 14, where we would often devastate teams up front. We lost some of that effectiveness in the Currie Cup and I don’t really know why. We lost a dimension in our forwards, but you have to remember that we have some young guys like Steven Sykes and Wouter Moore in the side and BJ Botha got called up to Bok duty. They are quality players and it’ll only be one or two seasons before they really start to dominate the opposition in the Super 14 and Currie Cup.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF THE 2006 SEASON
It has been a season of near misses for us. Had things gone our way we could’ve made the Super 14 semi-final as well as getting a home semi-final in the Currie Cup. We said at the start of the year that we didn’t want to have a season of “what ifs”. But unfortunately that is what has happened.
Dick Muir has been a revelation as the coach and he has the buy-in of the entire squad for his long term plan.
VISION 2007 AND BEYOND
We are pretty excited about next season and those to come after that. I chatted to the boys after the loss in Bloemfontein and told them to remember the lousy feeling of losing because it’ll spur them on to success in the upcoming years. Some key combinations were new and building continuity in those crucial positions will be key. Look at the Crusaders for example. They’ve been playing together for six or so years now and are a formidable unit. That’s our goal and we are well on track.
By Ryan Vrede