The playmaker vs an Englishman

2010-04-15 00:00

THE opposing flyhalves, the Sharks’ Andy Goode and the Lions’ Carlos Spencer — if he is not dumped by coach Dick Muir when he names his team today — will provide a contrast in playing styles in Saturday evening’s Super 14 game at Ellis Park.

Goode, a steady if unspectacular former England Test flyhalf, was a rushed signing by the Sharks when they lost first Juan Hernandez and then Steve Meyer on the eve of the Super 14. Spencer, the unorthodox ex-All Black playmaker, was the Lions’ lucrative signing for the 2010 season.

While Goode has shown some improvement in recent weeks as the Sharks have found the winning trail, the 36-year-old Spencer has struggled in a limited Lions outfit, and there have been loud calls for him to be dropped.

Muir did move him to fullback for the final quarter against the Queensland Reds last Saturday, playing former Shark Herkie Kruger at flyhalf, which delivered a marked improvement.

If Muir opts to retain Spencer at flyhalf, the battle between the solid tactical game of Goode and the flamboyant, unpredictable Spencer will be an intriguing one.

Head coach John Plumtree says he is happy with the progress made by Goode since he joined the Sharks on their tour of the Antipodes.

“It wasn’t easy for him, coming from Brive in France at the last minute. When he joined us he was just recovering from illness and he did battle to adjust to the speed of the game here.

“Just playing regularly at this level has been a change for him, but he has fitted in really well and has enjoyed playing behind our pack.”

Plumtree said the Englishman was gaining in confidence, in controlling the speed of the game and organising the forwards.

“That’s what we are after at flyhalf and it is what every pack wants. They want a flyhalf barking at them, organising them, and he is doing that now.

“He’s starting to understand the game that we play and where our strengths and weaknesses are, and I hope that over the next five rounds we will see him getting better and better.”

Goode’s tactical kicking, Plumtree said, was taking the Sharks into areas of the field where they could bring their big, driving forwards into the game.

“We’ve given him an opportunity and we have seen steady progress.”

The same cannot be said of Spencer and the Lions. The New Zealander, with his best years behind him, has failed to consistently spark the Lions, either on attack or defence. Still, he is capable of that occasional moment of brilliance, and the Sharks will be wary of him.

The Lions, who have conceded 354 points and 43 tries in eight defeats this season, belatedly appointed a defence coach yesterday.

Muir announced that former Springbok wing and backline coach Ray Mordt will join his squad as a defence consul­tant for the remaining five games of the Super 14.

Mordt, who has already joined the squad, told reporters that the Lions’ problem was that they lack a culture of defending.

“All great sides have a good defence. Defending is all about technique and speed off the line. But, most importantly, it’s about attitude and communication.

“And these two aspects must come to the fore when the team is under pressure, because it’s in pressure situations when things go haywire.”

Plumtree says that he is unhappy with the Sharks’ defence and the number of line-breaks they have leaked because of missed one-on-one tackles.

The Sharks coach, aware of the danger that the Lions pose as attackers, said that his players had concentrated on that area of their game in their preparations this week.

The Sharks and Lions teams will be named today. The players, coaches and supporters will be relieved that leading South African referee South African Mark Lawrence is handling the game, with Marius Jonker and Phillip Bosch as assistants.

The match kicks off at 5.05 pm on Saturday.

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