Injuries play havoc with SA's ambitions

16 February 2016 - 02:10 By Brendan Venter

Every year there is a sense of excitement in the air as to which South African side will prove the strongest in Super rugby. It will be incredibly interesting to observe which South African team comes to the fore this season because there are going to be a plethora of curve balls during the competition - injuries, bad refereeing decisions, etc.A team always commences with plenty of hope, but because it's such a gruelling series, there will certainly be setbacks. And often setbacks determine the outcome.Considering the Sharks lost Pat Lambie to a shoulder injury during pre-season, they have fared very well without him.However, he is one of the Sharks' key men. He is not only their captain and first-choice flyhalf, but is central to the spine of the side.You naturally have a back-up pivot to select - Garth April has performed well - but said back-up cannot be a seasoned international as you can't afford two international No10s. Flyhalves are normally the most expensive players in your team.The Bulls have been beset by injury prior to kickoff. Coach Nollis Marais must be tearing his hair out having already lost Deon Stegmann, Lappies Labuschagne and Handré Pollard to injury.Losing the latter for the entire Super rugby season is just a disaster. Pollard's absence will prove a massive blow to the Bulls and is a pity for South African rugby. However, along with Lambie's layoff, it could really open the door for Elton Jantjies.In professional sport, sometimes you need an element of luck to stake your claim for selection. Jantjies will be hopeful that 2016 is the year opportunity meets preparation.From a coaching perspective, Super rugby is one of the toughest classrooms in which to learn. However, I'm a strong believer in trying things out. Not all of my plans work, but by trying things and failing, I learn. And in the process, I get wiser.In my book, Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold will be wiser for last season's struggles.The Durban side's defence was a huge problem last year. However, it has proved a notable strength in pre-season. In last week's game against Toulouse the Sharks looked comfortable when their French opponents enjoyed ball possession.While the appointment of defence coach Omar Mouneimne, who worked with Nick Mallett, was definitely a smart move by the franchise, Gold is now getting to work his magic by influencing the culture. And, for me, defence is largely culture driven.Meanwhile, there is plenty of talk coming out of Cape Town regarding a bold new attacking strategy from the Stormers.Robbie Fleck's charges are apparently looking at playing a bit more like Toulouse.When we create a big enough carrot, coaches will start spending more time on attack.In our country, this has not yet happened. However, it's a positive step that teams now have to score three tries more than their opponents in order to secure the bonus point.In the past, teams would have stopped playing once they had scored the four-try bonus, but now they will continue to play, which keeps the contest intriguing. And in the process of more ball-in-hand rugby, we develop our players.While winning is the object of the game, ball-in-hand play must be rewarded. Willie le Roux is a perfect case in point. His biggest strength is his ability to make great decisions with the ball in hand.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.