Super Rugby

How the Sharks pack showed a star team CAN be a team of stars too

Sharks celebrate... (Gallo Images)
Sharks celebrate... (Gallo Images)
  • The Sharks class of 2020 have reminded all again that a star team can also be a team of stars.
  • The Sharks' forward pack, under the guidance of Brent Janse van Rensburg and Etienne Fynn, has in particular harnessed a diverse group of skills into a compelling product.
  • Importantly, every player and coach never seem to forget that, first and foremost, the team comes first.

Brent Janse van Rensburg is a disciple of instilling and maintaining the team ethos.

It's why he's adapted to life at King's Park - where inclusivity and equality reigns supreme with some inspiring on-field results to boot - so seamlessly.

"I've always believed that teams create success, not individuals on their own," the Sharks' assistant coach told Sport24.

"I'm grateful to be working with some really gifted people."

Cynics believe the time-honoured "team-comes-first" phrase has come a stale platitude, one that denies players recognition of their gifts and achievements.

The irony is that Janse van Rensburg (and by extension the Sharks) have ample ammunition to argue that a star team need not be shorn of star players.

Take a moment to think about it.

World Cup winners Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, S'bu Nkosi and Thomas du Toit naturally bring pizzazz and star quality to the Sharks' class of 2020.

Yet, especially in light of a shortened Super Rugby campaign that brought six wins out of seven starts, one has to ask: Did any one of those Springboks outshine the rest of their teammates? And, coversely, were they overshadowed by their teammates? 

The answer is surely an emphatic "no".

There is no better example of individual excellence dovetailing with team cohesion than the Sharks' group of forwards, Janse van Rensburg's "official" portfolio though he focuses on the lineouts, defence and kicking game.

The front row

It's understandable why the broader rugby fraternity consider a combination of Ox Nche, Kerron van Vuuren and Du Toit the jewel in the Sharks' forward crown.

Nche and Du Toit are both decorated Junior Springboks that have graduated to international rugby, while their hooker has been so bustling at senior level that he was actually called out by former national assistant Matt Proudfoot last year as an exciting prospect.

However, for all the national attention they command, 2020 actually represented the season where they needed to step up given that they are still relatively inexperienced yet saddled with senior roles.

They did so aplomb.

"I believe they, together with all our players have been outstanding," said Janse van Rensburg.

"I have found them to be very hardworking, professional, provide good input, and most importantly of sound character."

That's exemplified in how the trio accepted that modern front row forwards need to be versatile.

Scrum coach Etienne Fynn honed their scrumming prowess, while they tackled like demons, consistently reaching success rates of over 90%.

The locks

Given the vast amount of talent available to Bok coach Jacques Nienaber at international level in the position, Hyron Andrews and Ruben van Heerden tend to fly under the radar.

That billing suits them perfectly.

"Hyron and Ruben are incredibly hard working and great team men. They have been valuable to our cause. Their work rate has been outstanding and although they have played very well this season, they have also shown growth which is very rewarding to see," said Janse van Rensburg.

Andrews in particular has flourished in the past two seasons on the back of a notable increase in game-time, while Van Heerden - perhaps unfairly judged on an unhappy time at the Bulls under John Mitchell - boasts the pedigree of being a former Junior Bok star.

It's understood that both men have caught the attention of national director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, proving that bleeding for your team's cause doesn't mean you stay out of sight.

"At 24 and 22 respectively, they have a lot of rugby left in them, and I'm keen to see where they take their rugby to. It is in their hands," said Janse van Rensburg.

The loose forwards

The Durbanites' group of flankers represents the clearest example of how a seemingly overly diverse collection of skillsets can be combined into a potent weapon through role clarity, teamwork and sacrifice.

Sacrifice was prominently on show in the game against the Reds, where James Venter and Tyler Paul were rested and the replaced by the fringe duo of Dylan Richardson and Henco Venter.

Richardson scored a try, won three turnovers and completed an immense 22 tackes. 

His partner made all 11 of his tackles, won a turnover and carried with vigour.

The next week, they were relegated again with thanks, but their respective performances were enough to spur James and Paul to uphold their own standards.

The interesting thing about the Sharks' loose forwards - especially with Paul now on his way to Japan - is that they lack size, with all their heights hovering in the mid 1.8m range.

Yet not once this season have the hoary reservations about whether they're too small come up. 

"I believe intelligence, natural ability, feel for the game and athleticism have stood our looseforwards in very good stead. Yes, physicality is important in a contact sport and size in certain instances is beneficial, but so too is having those characteristics that I just mentioned. To only have physicality but none of the former, presents challenges," said Janse van Rensburg.

"Our loosies, though smaller in stature, don’t shy away from the physical exchanges and are prepared to throw their bodies into collisions with real intensity, which together with their skill set, results in a good balance to execute our game model with intensity, whilst under pressure and fatigue.

"They fit our game model well on defence and attack and provided we continue to use their skill sets appropriately, one can get past the age old 'size' discussion."

The revitalised Sikhumbuzo Notshe was a huge beneficiary of appropriate use, suddenly playing himself back into national contention.

The evidence is clear - teamwork really can bring the best out of everyone.

But you don't have to remind Janse van Rensburg of that...

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