Christchurch - Sharks director of rugby Jake White says he is the first to admit the team’s attack needs to get going sooner rather than later, but he reiterated that drastic changes to their style of play could not be made overnight.
Although the Sharks remain top of the log, the Durban side have recorded the second-least number of tries in the competition (18), and they have only scored six times in their last seven matches.
It is no coincidence that all seven of those matches were played without key backline general Pat Lambie, who was directing the team’s attack with aplomb early in the season. And first-choice halfback partner Cobus Reinach has also been injured.
Taking into account the other injuries that have forced a backline reshuffle virtually every week since round four, it’s really no surprise that the Sharks have shifted back to their forward- and kicking-orientated strengths.
While this was initially enough to give the Sharks victories at home, albeit often ugly wins, the Sharks need to add more creativity and dynamism to their game if they are to succeed overseas.
“I know people are talking about our attack, and I realise that we’ve gone into our shells a bit,” White acknowledged.
“We’ve been trying to grind out wins, but perhaps that’s not the right way to do it when you’re away from home, where you don’t always get the same sort of rewards.
“We have to adapt, but it is such a fine balance, because do you risk having a go at changing it? It doesn’t happen overnight, you need to adjust things subtly, and it takes time.”
White said they also had to ensure they didn’t play into the Crusaders’ hands on Saturday by changing too much too soon. “You have to alter your mindset a little bit, but to risk playing a bit more against a side like the Crusaders could suit them because they are used to that style.
“I know some people may have a perception that I’m conservative as a coach, but it’s not that. It’s just about playing to the strengths you have as a group at a certain time.”
Yesterday, the Sharks had a “flush-out” training session in Christchurch, and White said he recognised the need to evolve their attack.
I’m fully aware that the way the style is going is not the way I’d like it to be. But at the same time, when you are still getting results and managing to get across the line, you can tend to get a bit seduced by that.”
With a lack of cohesion between new backline combinations, and the team having become accustomed to percentage-orientated play based on territorial and forward domination, the Sharks have seemingly lost their clinical edge in finishing off opportunities.
However, White emphasised that they were still capable of scoring tries.
“We must remember that we were applauded for scoring a number of tries in humid Durban during February and March, which hadn’t been done before, and so you can look at the glass as half full or half empty.
“I’d like our game to evolve, but it’s probably naive to think you can do that from week to week as drastically as may be needed when you are in your first six months with a group,” he said.