Sharks in deep trouble

Mike Greenaway

The eventual promotion of Curwin Bosch to the Sharks’ No 10 jersey, followed by the (perhaps not co-incidental) victory over the Waratahs last week, is no indication that all is well in the Shark Tank. Something is deeply remiss.

Shakespeare put it this way in Hamlet: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark….” The stench became too much for many who have an affection for the Sharks when their team backed up a brilliant performance against the Lions at Ellis Park with two losses at Kings Park – a 50-point hiding by the Jaguares followed by a despairingly poor performance in losing to the Reds.

The tipping point was reached for fans that had been thrilled by the near perfect display against the Lions only to see the same players bereft of all guile and deception on attack against the Jaguares and the Reds. Just shapeless, unimaginative, one-off running  that was entirely predictable and so easy to defend.

In the channel which should have been the cradle of creativity — flyhalf — the spirit of invention had been snuffed out.

The whispers in the Kings Park stands became roars on social media as disaffected supporters voiced their disapproval not only of the macro problem of the rank inconsistency that has plagued the Sharks under Robert du Preez but also the micro issues such as perceived favouritism in selection that smacks of nepotism.

The press in Durban at last unholstered their pistols and suggested there had been too many whispers of discontent from the players (off the record) for there to be no truth to them, and that there indeed appeared to be different sets of rules for certain players when it comes to selection.

The unhappiness came to a head when recalcitrant Natal rugby legend Tony Watson had an open letter to the Board of the Sharks published in The Mercury.

Watson, the scorer of the most famous try in Sharks history — the winning score in the 1990 Currie Cup final at Loftus Versfeld — called on the Kings Park hierarchy to concede they had backed the wrong horse in the “unpopular” Du Preez and sack him, and reinstall Dick Muir (who parted ways with Du Preez on the Sharks coaching staff late last year because of “a conflict in coaching philosophies.” )

Muir would be supported by an interim staff that might include personable  former assistants in Grant Bashford (John Plumtree’s right-hand man) and Sean Everett (who after being displaced on the senior staff has gone on to spectacular success with the Sharks Under-19 side).

There has been criticism in some quarters of the relevancy of the comments made by a former player that retired in 1993 but the outspoken Watson clearly still has the ear of those in office at the Sharks.

This was reflected in the damning statement: “In a pre-season meeting attended by Gary Teichmann, Robert du Preez and Dick Muir to discuss the importance of a selection committee (because the coach had three sons in the squad), Robert made it very clear that he was in the fortunate position that his three sons picked themselves and therefore there would be no controversy.

“Instead, for two years we have been starved of the mercurial talent of Curwin Bosch and the team has had to endure a selection policy that must surely create nasty undercurrents.”

Watson is alluding to the zero opportunities given to Bosch at flyhalf since Rob du Preez arrived in Durban from Western Province in 2017. And what has made this fact all the more conspicuous is the dreadful form of a clearly fatigued Du Preez this season. He was relentlessly started all through Super Rugby last year and into the Currie Cup, then spent the SA off-season at Sale Sharks in England, arriving back in time to start Super Rugby 2019 … a spent force.

The flyhalf issue, though, is a microcosm of the deeper, underlying issues at the Sharks. One of those is the hot-and-cold effort from the players that is the chief reason for the inconsistency that dogs a team that (last year) could lose by 50 to the Rebels in Melbourne, put 75 past the Blues the next game and then return to Durban and have the Bulls put 40 on the Kings Park scoreboard.

How many times has coach Du Preez either praised his team’s effort or criticised them for a lack of it? We hear how “they never mentally pitched” or were “out-passioned” …

At half time in the Waratahs game last week, former Shark Butch James praised the team for their “improved effort.”

Why is the question of effort even being debated at the Sharks? Can you imagine Crusaders coach Scott Robertson ever raising effort, or lack thereof, in a post-match press conference…?

Effort from happy teams is a given. It does not come and go, ebb and flow … 

It appears that the Sharks are a reactive team that responds to external stimuli for top performances, such as a player reaching a special milestone (The Beast breaking the record for SA Super Rugby caps against the Lions) or collective embarrassment at horrific defeats to the Jaguares and Reds spurring a win in Sydney.)

The Sharks were in fact predicted by the Durban press to beat the Waratahs because this fitted in with a well-recognised pattern. And even if the Sharks make a decent fist against the champions on Friday it should not mask the fact that change is needed at the Shark Tank.

- Mike Greenaway

Let's chat

  • Herman Schroder?

    The only surprising thing is how long it’s taken for the critics to finally call this guy and the Sharkette Union to account. This has been going on for years now and the bosses have been fast asleep at the wheel. Maybe it’s time to give these untested coaches one year contracts ( lol ) because it’s obvious they can’t afford to get rid of RDP.

    Three sons in the squad was always going to be a problem which could only have been avoided if the team was consistently performing well and bringing in a trophy or two. It’s a no brainer what the Sharkettes need to do, replace him now but that wont happen I suppose. They are all sitting with too much egg on their faces and all hoping for a miracle in Christchurch no doubt. Cheers.

  • boyo

    Mike thank you for having the guts to criticize Du Preez not many in the press stand up to him hence the 1 minute pressers.

    Does anyone know how long this guy has left on his contract? He has to go ASAP.

    I dont mind the rest of the coaching structure because as you say when we mentally right we can produce so a new head coach from one of the support coaches could work and would be cheap.

    • Barry

      Thanks Mike good to hear it layout in simple terms!

      The annoying point is that he has done his son a great disservice, by not resting him and giving him the opportunity to come back Fresh!

      They are currently at the top of the SA log – imagine what could have been achieved without the background drama!

  • Vossie

    On paper the Sharks are in the same class as the Crusaders/Hurricanes. So what is the excuse for their inconsistent performances? Robert Du Preez!

    His stubbornness and the fact that he believes that he is the law, sure Dan and JL are world class players but for Dick Muir to say screw this i cant work with this guy, says something about the difficulties there are within the couching setup headed up by Robert. You just cant justify the Sharks being spectacular one week and completely the opposite the other for the past 2 seasons. We need Silverware and the Sharks should have been our best bet in all honesty.

  • John

    I have no idea why but the Sharks have a history losing coaches for one reason or another and it’s not like they have not had top coaches. I can think of a few. Brendan Venter, Jake White, Gary Gold, John Plumtree who all have no prior connection to the union. Then we have the ones appointed based on cronyism and they include Muir, McLeod-Henderson, Reece-Edwards, Putt, Robert Du Preez. The most successful have been Ian Mac and Plumtree. I also think Muir got them to the SR final. Du Preez in the interest of his sons should never have employed them all at the same time regardless of how good they are (and all 3 are outstanding players). It was always going to come to this.

    • Barry

      John, the Sharks have always had a family type ethos, with coaching and leadership coming from within! This is no different to Province where you have Smal, Fleck, Coetzee and so on coming into Management as ex players!

      The list of Coaches go way, way back so nothing out of The ordinary really. Province have also had some short term appointments – in fact I think they hold the record- Jones was there for, what was it, two weeks?

      Plumtree was a great coach for the Sharks, but you have to give tribute to the guy that could see potential in him and gave him a chance against all odds, chap by the name of Muir! A very good time for the Sharks, with another very capable coach in their Academy, known as Swys De Bruin!

    • Jay

      Just FYI, John Plumtree is a former Sharks player.

      • John

        Yep you are correct. Thanks

  • boyo

    Old Du Preez now calling critics cockroaches and journalists who criticize the team uninformed. Maybe we would be informed if he actually took press conferences seriously?

    Also imagine he won more games that he lost? What would he be calling us then!

  • John

    Not the cleverest thing Du Preez has ever said. It will come back and bite him. The good thing to come out of this is there is a good chance Bosch will be donning the blue & white hoops next season?

    • Barry

      John, Province couldn’t guarantee he would be paid, so it’s off the table lol!

    • Vossie

      There’s been rumors his moving to WP but nothing concrete, hopefully he will get more game time and start in one position, not a lot of depth at flyhalf in Cape Town.

  • Wesley

    What are the players match fees like, and is it so high that RdP padding his sons’ paychecks each month in desperation to get them to play? He has done his oldest such a disservice this season not allowing him to come back fresh. He had an aura about him in that even if he was kept sidelined a bit after his Sale stint and brought back fresh and slowly, he would have possibly been considered for Bok colours behind incumbents, possibly surpassing Elton in the pecking order into 2nd behind Pollard. Now? Can’t even consider him, and the prevailing one dimensional play from the other brothers in the greater scheme of the team are also not helping their prospects. Is he so short-sighted? He has their careers in his hands, most of what any father has ever had in professional rugby, over all 3 of them to boot, and he is wasting it away. Such a shame.

  • Kendal

    Most of the Sharks are bought from other provinces. How do you create Gees with bought players. There are very few Shark players that grew up in Natal. How do you expect to build a culture?

    • Jay

      I remember at one point during the England tour, something like ten of the fifteen starting the game for the Springboks were born in the Western Cape but most did not play for the Stormers.

      As Barry has stated, it is the nature of a professional sport.

      That said, I did not know Ross Cronje was from the Sharks. Would prefer if the Saints would send Reinach back instead though.

    • Barry

      That’s the position with most every other professional rugby team in the world, so why take a swipe at the Sharks?

      Perhaps the Lions can send back Whitley, Combrink, and Ross Cronje, and maybe the Stormers could send back PSDT!

      • Dean

        Barry, they always pointing fingers at the Sharks for this. Stormers born or played schools rugby in Cape Town hmmm, not PS du Toit, Kolisi, Sergeal Petersen, Ntubeni, Jaco Coetzee, Cobus Wiese, Corne Fourie, Mbonambi, Senatla, JJ Engelbrecht and Jano Vermaak. The Sharks probably have a similar amount of players so it’s pretty unwarranted.

  • Dean Bright

    It’s obvious that du Preez’s dictatorship has brought the fall of Teichmann, Muir and Sean Everett. It’s no good if a coach can’t listen to fresh ideas from other people. He should have been booted out. Even Jake brought in Eddie Jones before the World Cup because the team needed to be invigorated. He also brought in Skinstad to provide experience from someone who had been there before.

    • Barry

      Agreed Dean, would also add Ryan Strudwich to the list. The forwards coach, who along with Everette were the first casualties.

      It is a double blow because these guys have all been replaced by buddies and yes men – not a happy story!

      To be fair, there is another side to the coin, that dark and lonely place that most coaches are familiar with, when uncontrollable circumstances land at your door and the supporters can only see the bad. For this reason any decent coach needs to have thick skin, be overly self confident if not a tad arrogant, but there is a fine line between that and being dictatorial.

      Teichmann needs to give him some guidance as to where that fine line begins and ends!

  • Dean

    Agreed. The Sharks board needed to put him in his place before things spiralled out of control. Now they looking at another season that could have been so much better. The Stormers and the Sharks have two of the best squads in the entire competition and they should be consistently among the top 4 or 5. I think all the players of our franchises need to look at themselves and shoulder blame too. Why should any coach have to motivate them to be up for a game? They should be playing for pride and in a World Cup year, there’s even more at stake. I can’t understand how professional rugby players, if you can call them that, put out those kind of performances every second week. The amount of knock ons and poor decision making. Questions need to be asked and SA rugby players should be held accountable. We’ve seen Quade Cooper, as a prime example being dropped for a whole season because of inconsistency. Then he comes back a much better player. I don’t see the same happening in SA.

  • Wesley

    Wow again the Sharks show they can vs CRU, but choose not to on some days…

    If you win consistently or lose consistently you could identify the problems fairly easily, but with the Sharks, oi what a dumbfounding case they are…

    Could we now expect a 50 point loss against the Chiefs next week? Doubtful, but geez you never know hey…

  • Francois

    What a bunch of whiners! Last time I checked the Sharks are leading the South African conference despite all of the negative press coming their way.

    Yes the Sharks lost games they should have won at home. Through players not catching balls, dropping balls, and knocking on balls in crucial moment – something that you cannot blame the coach for. Those are basic skills that players at this level should have mastered a long time ago.

    Even when the Sharks win, there is a multitude of negative press and voices. Grow the f**** up!

    I was watching the Sharks-Crusaders game this morning. No one has pushed the Crusaders as hard as this all season. The Sharks are the South African table topper and the Crusaders ar the table leaders. Yet Supersport, sponsors of this tournament, did not even bother to have a panel for this game.

    The Sharks have been the invisible team as far as the press is concerned, and the punching bag when negative things happen.

    Because choosing your son in a position is more damning than the corruption of the admin staff at the Bulls or the cynical plundering of the coffers at the Western province. Kudos for inflating a selection issue above that.

  • Wesley

    Its not whining when obvious wrongs and short sighted nature of the coach pushing his own son above others more deserving as well as to the detriment of his own son is being highlighted. Curwin had another blinder at flyhalf, are we to believe his benching in the first few games was because he wasnt up to it? Robert had another nerving intro into the game today. He is tired. Let him recover.

    Never had the woes at WP and the Bulls been swep under the carpet, WP has been highlighted in the press for months and its only the start for the Bulls now with their troubles being in the spotlight. Its not a “but they are doing worse so we are the better” scenario.

    And SS never puts up a panel for Friday morning games, local or not, so get your head out of your ass.

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