Backing Barritt

Sharks centre Brad Barritt’s true value will only be realised in his absence.

Despite being pencilled in to face the Waratahs on Saturday, reports suggest that Barritt is unlikely to pass a late fitness test. His critics view this as a blessing in disguise.

Those detractors, in their rhetoric, have tried to convince themselves and others that Barritt is an average player and is surplus to requirements at the Sharks.

They base their views on the fact that one very seldom sees his impact in the same way you would see positive contributions from Frans Steyn, Ryan Kankowski or Keegan Daniel, for example. These are men who are always at the forefront whatever is visibly good about a Sharks performance, whether that be with scything linebreaks, superb ball carries or colossal work at the breakdown.

The flaw in the Barritt argument, however, is that a team of Steyn, Kankowski, or Daniel clones would be one who would lose far more than they’d win given the inconsistent nature of most prodigies. We are quick to praise the visible, but often fail to acknowledge those who make invaluable contributions that are unseen.

In a recent interview with former Bulls head coach Heyneke Meyer, asked about the value of a player like Barritt.

“Those sorts of players are absolutely crucial to any team,” Meyer said. “Barritt has never set the world alight but he is their heartbeat and just never has a bad game.

“I suppose if you’re looking for a player to do something really special for you in matches he won’t be where your thoughts go to first. That said, it’s imperative that you have players that you know will never let you down, the type of guys who are composed no matter how much pressure you are under, and Barritt’s like that.

“I really respect his ability and the role he plays for the Sharks. They build their backline play around him and you’ll notice his absence immediately if he is not there.”

Barritt was substituted in the 52nd minute of the match against the Brumbies. His loss had a patent effect, with the Sharks conceding 17 of the 27 points they did, and losing much of the attacking and defensive structure that made the first 40 minutes arguably the best they’ve had in the tournament.

For the last two seasons Barritt has made all the defensive and attacking calls in the backline. Even when Springbok flyhalf Butch James was with the Sharks, Barritt called the shots, and James was happy to defer, accepting that Barritt has one of the best rugby brains in South Africa and superb vision to complement that intelligence.

“He is absolutely crucial to our cause, losing him would be a massive blow,” Sharks backline coach Grant Bashford said. This explains why they continue to hold onto the hope that he’ll recover in time for the Waratahs.

“From an organisational and structural point of view he is irreplaceable. Brad has come in for a lot of criticism but I think that shows a poor understanding of the game by those critics. All the best teams in world sport have or had players who’ve operated in the shadows, which allow those around them to shine. For us that’s Brad.”

As South Africans our fascination with prodigies is perplexing. We want a 15 Steyns or Ruan Pienaars and look down at those players who don’t possess the game-breaking ability of those players and their ilk. Out of sight equals average for those critics.

Effective combinations, elite coaches will tell you, is crucial to the success of any side. Flyhalf Frederic Michalak excelled in the first half of the Canberra clash and praise for the Frenchman was widespread. Yet nobody acknowledged Barritt’s role in performance. Michalak disappeared in the second half. No coincidence here that Barritt was on the sideline for the vast majority of that time.

With players like Michalak, Ruan Pienaar, Waylon Murray, JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane, the Sharks have a plethora of players more that home in the limelight than they are running things backstage. Barritt is the yin to their yang.

Manchester United football legend Sir Bobby Charlton once said: “Great players are those you do the basics right all of the time , not those who do great things some of the time.”

That’s Barritt summed up for you.

By Ryan Vrede