Player management pivotal

Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Our win over the Highlanders this past weekend was testament to the players’ character, commitment and courage. They now enjoy a well-earned bye in Round 14. 

After a heavy defeat to the Waratahs - where we hit a wall and went into shutdown mode owing to mental and physical fatigue - as a management team we realised the need to implement short, sharp sessions to counteract this. The players responded superbly and freshening up made an enormous difference.

While my mind is always on the oval game, this bye week is crucial for the players to enjoy a complete switch-off from rugby. As a management team, we reassemble on Thursday to begin planning for the Cheetahs, while the players only return on Friday.

The players are the lifeblood of any team and as such need to be managed optimally. Take for example, the retiring Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably the greatest manager of all time. He understood the importance of handling each player differently owing to unique personality types. He revealed that he only gave certain players the infamous hairdryer treatment.

I believe that in order to get the best out of each and every player you have to create an environment in which the individual and collective can realise their potential. As a manager, you also have to take into account that some players are more sensitive than others and as such you have to individualise your approach.

In any sport, particularly rugby, it’s crucial not to get too carried away in victory or defeat. Every situation is unique and as a manager each response is dependent upon your knowledge of your players and team as a whole.

The Sharks and Stormers are two sides currently not performing to their full potential. They are both big franchises and their fans have certainly become accustomed to success.

Both of the coastal sides have come in for criticism this season for lacking an attacking edge to their game.

I know that the Sharks wanted to tighten up their defence to a point and perhaps the balance has swung in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, the Stormers have always been a defensively-orientated side and when they get into tight games they appear to go back to what they know best.

However, against the Waratahs I felt they adopted the appropriate game strategy. Their intention was to strangle their hosts by playing for territory and kicking for goal. In the end, they were slightly unlucky to lose.

The Sharks and Stormers face their final tour games against opposition they should and quite frankly need to beat. While I’m loathe to write off either team’s chances - as a run of home games are approaching - a playoff spot will be a distant dream if they fail to beat the Force and Rebels respectively.

If the Sharks are mentally in the right frame of mind and play sensibly with structure, there is no reason to suggest they won’t arrest their five-match losing streak.

Meanwhile, the Stormers possess a great defence and neat kicking game and I think they will strangle the life out of the Rebels. Both sides should have too much firepower for the Australian adversaries.

The Bulls return from their bye this Saturday and as we saw with the Cheetahs it can disrupt a side’s rhythm.

However, I believe the Bulls will trample Highlanders at Loftus. The Highlanders possess experienced campaigners in their pack, but their lineout is rather iffy and they will therefore struggle to contain the mauling game the men from Pretoria employ.

The Bulls are quality side and are structured and systematic in approach. They are now prepared to counter-attack more often than before and have certainly been more expansive this season, without neglecting any of their systems.

Backline coach Pieter Rossouw has certainly made an impact. Even as a player, when I coached him in the Cape, I found him to be a deep thinker of the game. I always felt that he would go on to coach professionally.

The Cheetahs face an ever-dangerous Reds side this Saturday.

Against the Hurricanes, I felt they allowed the game to unfold in a way that suited their visitors. When tackling teams with real attacking intent, the Cheetahs need to employ a more structured strategy built on pressure.

If the Cheetahs aim to edge this encounter, they have to disrupt their visitors at the first phases and limit supply to the Reds’ potent 9/10 axis.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

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