Killing Michalak’s magic

Frederic Michalak’s impact has been blunted by Sharks coach Dick Muir’s penchant for rotation.

When the French superstar touched down in Durban the Sharks told everyone who would listen about his attributes: his unpredictability, his vision, his distribution skill, his grossly underrated defensive ability, how good he smells – even after a three hour training session and how his hairless body will help him slip through holes in the Lions’ defensive line.

Yet they’ve opted to rotate him with Frans Steyn, who has failed to impress in the pivot berth. Muir has always been a firm believer in rotation and with his side still unbeaten it seems absurd to question his approach to team selection. However, a lack of consistent game time has clearly had an adverse effect on Michalak.

He was distinctly average against the Hurricanes on Saturday, and when glancing at his performances to date, only his showing against the Bulls at Loftus rates worthy of a mention. He was rotated against the Lions and Reds then brought back for the Wellington clash, which never helped his cause to adapt to the unique physical and tactical challenges of Super Rugby. The pack’s potency has waned since last year, which mitigates Michalak’s form to a certain extent, but he certainly hasn’t fired in the way he has been expected to.

He needs to be given a regular run at flyhalf if the Sharks hope to extract maximum value from him. Frans Steyn has not been nearly as effective as Muir would have hoped, and he could be best served getting a regular run at fullback, where the extra time and space afforded to him suits his strengths.

The Sharks’ philosophy is to multi-skill their backline players, with the aim of them being able to adapt to the every match situation, rather than be shackled by the number on their back. In this line of thinking, Waylon Murray or JP Pietersen, for example, should have the distribution skills, vision and sharp decision-making ability of a flyhalf (should they find themselves at first receiver). Michalak and Steyn, by the same token, should be able to fill the outside centre and wing berths.

In theory it sounds brilliant and if in two years Murray and Pietersen are kicking, passing and running like a flyhalf they would have given those who questioned the Sharks’ approach in this regard a massive up yours. However, until we start seeing the obvious benefits of utility-backs over specialists, it is well within reason to question the value of the former.

Steyn is a prodigious talent but just because he can play in a number of different positions doesn’t mean he should. Last year Muir accommodated him on the wing, explaining that: “I just couldn’t leave him out. He’s the type of player you have to have in your side, even if you play him out of position.”

That’s ludicrous. Nothing gives Steyn or any other player of his ability the right to be included ahead of a specialist. The Sharks and Springboks need to settle on his best position because the youngster is starting to look rudderless as a result of having a different number on his back every week.

There’s never been a question about Michalak’s best position. He just needs to be given a consistent run in the Sharks’ remaining matches if they hope to sustain their charge for a home semi-final.

By Ryan Vrede