New era for Sharks rugby

Brendan Venter (Gallo Images)
Brendan Venter (Gallo Images)
The recent appointment of John Smit as the new CEO of the Sharks and his subsequent appointment of Brendan Venter as the new Director of Rugby for the province has clearly provided the opportunity and impetus for the Sharks to enter a new era with a fresh approach from men who have a previous track record as strong leaders and who in partnership with relatively new President Graham Mckenzie (who is also noted for his leadership qualities) will be charged with huge responsibilities.  They urgently need to assess the current state of rugby at all levels of the game within the province, set ambitious yet challenging goals and more importantly develop a strategic plan that will finally turn one of the biggest names in world rugby (thanks mainly to the efforts of outgoing CEO Brian van Zyl) into a truly professional and successful provincial franchise, with a trophy cabinet providing the necessary evidence of a successful tenure.

The most successful rugby franchises in world rugby, (names that immediately come to mind are the Crusaders from NZ, Leinster from Ireland, and of course the Bulls from SA) all have one thing in common, a philosophy of rugby that permeates all their leagues and structures. It is a mind set that over time becomes engrained in every player from the schoolboy to the provincial player and also a style of playing that sets them apart from their counterparts.  A style that suits the mentality and expectations of the rugby public of KZN.  A philosophy that all can proudly feel part of and most importantly, when it comes to the business end of provincial rugby, produces success at all levels on a regular basis.

So what type of rugby can we expect from a John Smit and Brendan Venter led franchise?  Well the good news is that they are both winners and John Smit will most certainly have absorbed many influences during his successful playing career, in particular Jake White, paramount of which will be how to win!  Similiar to Brendan Venter at Saracens both are comfortable with a low risk, conservative game based on exerting continuous pressure on the opposition, set piece dominance, strong aggressive defence and good discipline, all well executed and technically efficient with no need for fancy stuff.   After all it didn’t take John Smit long to clip the wings of former Boks coach Peter de Villiers when he had big ideas of a new exciting, expansive Boks game plan, it just didn’t suit the strengths of SA rugby after all! But what about the Sharks?  It would be nice to see that conservative style developed further to include more exciting running and handling, counter attacking with ball in hand and a little risk taking on appropriate occasions, but don’t hold your breath!  At the end of the day if you ask any Sharks fan would they rather win conservatively or lose entertaining, there’s only one answer. 

Apart from developing a Sharks philosophy of rugby, (which clearly does not exist at present) there are many other tough decisions awaiting the new leadership brigade.  The most immediate is probably who will be the new head coach and his assistants after the Currie Cup?  Surely with Smit and Venter in place and providing oversight and guidance, there is no need for another expensive big name coach, maybe it is time to give some local talent the opportunity. 

Other decisions that should be occupying their minds at present are, the continued lack of silverware at U18, U19, U21 and Vodacom levels (which is contrary to developing a winning mentality and culture) and the vital role of the Sharks Academy.  Is the academy too big, sacrificing quality for quantity, and why do so many talented young players having spent years on junior contracts at the academy leave and excel at other provinces?

But let us not overlook perhaps the most important challenge of all, TRANSFORMATION, and in so doing review the complete failure of the Sharks own development programme in producing top quality young indigenous black players from within their structures that can be the Sharks of the future.

It will be interesting to see how the future unfolds for this new leadership group under the watchful eye of the Sharks board.  However, there is one certainty and that is, successful outcomes to the above challenges need to be delivered if this opportunity for an exciting new era is to be realised.
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