SBW gives Sharks the shakes
18 Apr 2012
The Sharks have made no secret of the fact that they think nullifying Sonny Bill Williams will be central to any potential success against the Chiefs this weekend.
Williams has been a standout player for the Hamilton franchise this season and his form has been key in driving them to the top of the combined log. Williams has exhibited his trademark tackle offload regularly, but his game has developed beyond that and the Chiefs have used him intelligently and effectively thus far, often only introducing him into their play after the third phase, after they have engineered mismatches for him to exploit.
Williams features prominently in the statistics for the key performance areas on attack for a No 12. He is fourth for most metres run, joint third for linebreaks, joint fourth for linebreak assists. He also leads the tournament for most successful tackle offloads.
Sharks coach John Plumtree was under no illusions about the task of blunting Williams’ threat. He did, however, intimate that success in this regard would significantly dilute the Chiefs’ potency.
‘They base a lot of their play around Sonny Bill, and a lot of the launch is done around him,’ said Plumtree. ‘He’s playing very direct rugby, he a big guy, a big big guy, as big as a forward, and he’s in really good form and obviously enjoying his role. So we are going to have to look after him and watch him particularly closely. The Chiefs have a lot of X-factor in their team, but teams have a catalyst that they use to get them across the advantage line, and he provides that with his power.’
The Sharks’ forwards have failed to string consistently dominant performances together, which is what is required to achieve their stated objective of nullifying Williams. But Plumtree will be acutely aware that the Chiefs’ threat extends beyond the midfielder. Outside of Williams they have five players in top 20 for linebreaks and five more in linebreaks assists, as well as the tournament’s leading try scorer, Sona Taumalolo. They have also been defensively excellent (none of their players feature in the top 20 for missed tackles while the Sharks have four) conceding just eight tries in seven matches.
Under the tutelage of Wayne Smith the Chiefs have added a pragmatic edge to their arsenal and very rarely succumb to the temptation to play in the cavalier fashion they had developed a reputation for. Plumtree lauded their growth.
‘This is not a Chiefs team like the Chiefs teams of the past, that is for sure,’ he said. ‘We know we will have to play really well to beat them, they’re a really good side. They are playing certain combinations all the time now, like No 10, No 12 and No 13, and their locks are consistent, and two out of their three loosies play all the time. They rotate their hooker every now and then, but generally their props are fixtures that don’t change.
‘The back three plays together more often than not, and I think this consistency in selection has contributed to the confidence with which they are playing. In the past the Chiefs used to leak tries and were considered a team with defensive weakness, but this year they have given away fewer tries than any other team in the competition. That’s been unheard of in the Chiefs teams of the past – they always scored a lot of tries but also conceded a lot.’
Plumtree was honest in his appraisal of his team and called for a high quality showing at Kings Park on Saturday.
‘We’ve only strung together two good performances in a row once, so clearly we haven’t established any type of consistency in terms of results and that’s reflecting in our onfield play in terms of our defence and attack,’ he said. ‘We haven’t been happy with all areas of our game consistently after each performance, either our set piece has let down when we defended well, or it’s been the other way around.
‘We’re still looking for that complete performance where can go away and say we had a good day out. Our lineouts have been good, then poor. On defence, we haven’t found enough consistency with our tackle percentages for where they need to be at Super Rugby level. There’s a fair bit of work to do and we’ll keep working hard.’
By Ryan Vrede