DURBAN - Regardless of what it looks like on the field, with bodies mashed and mangled in mauls and rucks, rugby is a tactical game that calls for a lot of strategy and planning. The Sharks have made an adjustment to their battle plan this year, and are looking to strike to score.
It all begins at set pieces; they are seen as a platform from which to attack. However, even once the platform is set, there are still a number of steps before a team can barge over the whitewash.
This year though, the Sharks have admitted they want to try and cut out a few of the steps, aiming to “strike to score” from their set phases.
Many teams have seen set pieces as their foundation to build good phases to eventually reach the try-line, but it is first-phase firepower for the Sharks.
Lock Stephan Lewies, who plays a big part in setting both platforms, the scrum, and especially the line-out, describes the Sharks’ change in planning from the set phase.
“The big thing for us this season is we want to strike to score,” Lewies explained. “In previous seasons we have struck to set it up, to score later. This year we have changed that, we want to strike to score right off the line-out or scrum. We want to run with intent and not just set it up, but try and score straight off.”
Of course, this all relies on good execution of the forwards’ main roles, the scrum and the line-out, and while the Sharks’ line-out has shown its teeth against the Lions, they did stutter in the scrums.
But there is more to a forward's life than just pushing and jumping, they are also looking to get in on the action once the set piece is over.
“If we are good in execution,” Lewies continued, “and if the backs don’t score, they will at least get over the advantage line and make it better for the forwards coming around the corner. We get tired if we have to run backwards to go forwards again.
“We have exciting forwards and everyone has worked hard on their skills, so if we can get the ball in our hands we will see some smiles on our faces!”
We chatted to @lewies4 after practice about the preparations ahead of #OurSharks first home game.
Get down and #FilluptheTank this Saturday as we take on the Waratahs at 15h05.
Visit https://t.co/ZfYk916qw8 to get your ticket today! pic.twitter.com/qmr3d3Urzg
There is a long way to go before that though, before the Sharks can score off one phase at will. They have shone in half of their foundational play - the line-outs - but they need to shore up their scrum to really have a platform for their weaponised and sharp backs.
The Waratahs also creaked in their first showing at scrum time, and it may just be the confidence booster the Sharks need, for both backs and forwards - if the Sharks’ pack can be dominant.
Questions will remain about Thomas du Toit’s move to tighthead if the Sharks’ scrum continues to buckle. However, as stated by forwards coach Jaco Pienaar, more time in the saddle will do him good.
Even more so, a confident performance against a scrum that has shown vulnerabilities may have huge knock-on effects in terms of the youngster’s confidence.