Sharks turn to Gold

2015-02-04 00:00

THE Sharks are looking to the fresh coaching approach of Gary Gold and Brendon Venter to provide the creative spark in an experienced and familiar squad in this year’s Super Rugby competition.

The Sharks open their campaign against the Cheetahs in Durban on February 14 and they will certainly enter the competition underdone with Thursday’s friendly against European champions Toulon their only serious pre-Super Rugby hit-out.

Young CEO John Smit is hoping that the 2015 mix of new coaches and generally settled squad will reverse the trends of last year when the Sharks failed both themselves and their King’s Park faithful. Finishing third in both the Super Rugby and Currie Cup competitions, they were emphatically beaten when they travelled away for the semi-finals, but it was the style of rugby they played, particularly under the celebrated Jake White, which was most galling.

White’s departure late last year was sudden but hardly surprising as he left behind a group of unhappy campers, players and assistant coaches, while the rugby public was disillusioned by his stodgy rugby and support dwindled.

Smit now has Gold in charge — the Sharks’ fifth coach in 18 months following John Plumtree, Brendan Venter, Jake White and Brad Macleod-Henderson — with Venter as his technical director.

“I’m delighted to have Gary on board. I had four years with him with the Springboks,” says Smit. “He is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and, above all, a thoroughly decent human being. He is not ego-driven and he is prepared to listen. He will transform the Sharks into a more balanced unit.”

Flying Doctor Venter, who somehow runs a medical practice in Somerset West and is also Saracens’ technical director, is respected internationally for his rugby nous and he played a pivotal role in the Sharks dumping Western Province in the 2013 Currie Cup final. If Gold provides the stability, Venter offers innovation and an ability to think outside the box.

In contrast to last season, when a confident White fuelled the early hype, the Sharks have stayed under the radar in the build-up to the season. Venter, who has been in charge of the Sharks’ pre-season preparations, is suspicious of the media and prefers to lay low and say little; Gold has been out of sight and mind, away coaching in Japan, and he only joined the squad last week.

Still, Gold has said the Sharks are committed to playing more attacking rugby this season. “We have to score tries and that will be a massive focus from our point of view. We want to work really hard on our attack structures. It’s why people come to watch rugby and why players want to play.”

Smit also wants the Sharks producing a more positive, stylish brand of rugby and late last year brought in New Zealander Brad Mooar, the director of rugby at Southland and an expert attack coach, to spend a fortnight with the squad.

But, of course, it is not simply a case of flicking a switch and transforming a solid defensive outfit into a slick attacking unit. It will require a change of mindset and a sharpening of skills, and a successful attacking game is only possible if the forwards consistently lay a solid platform.

The Sharks will also have to settle quickly on the right combinations and then hope they can dodge injury to key players. The Sharks’ attack suffered last year following the early injury to playmaker Pat Lambie and White’s revised tactical plan revolved around Frans Steyn and a kick-and-chase game. The Sharks won matches but lost friends.

The Sharks, on paper, are probably not as strong now as they were last year following the departure of five experienced players — Charl Macleod, Jean Deysel, Keegan Daniel, Anton Bresler and Wiehahn Herbst — and they will look to new signings Mouritz Botha, Renaldo Bothma, Paul Perez and Waylon Murray, and their emerging young talent, to make an impact.

They will have to. Rotation, in this World Cup year, will be a major factor in selection and the Sharks have 11 players (Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, the Du Plessis brothers, Beast Mtawarira, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marcell Coetzee and Willem Alberts) expected to make the Springbok squad. While they will form the nucleus of a strong Sharks team, they will have to be mollycoddled through a long and demanding campaign.

The challenge for Gold, Venter and their coaching staff is to produce an attractive style of rugby which will produce tries and bring the crowds back to King’s Park. But they will also have to maintain the right balance to produce victories and instant satisfaction. And, with Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer taking on the role of mother hen, these objectives will have to be achieved while nursing, resting, rotating their best players to keep them fresh and fit for the World Cup. It should be a doddle for the coaches … like pulling rabbits out of a hat.

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