Pick players in position!
What sometimes irritates me about certain coaches is their tendency to select players out of their preferred positions.
This often happens due to an excessive injury list and the coach is then forced to play players out of their normal positions (in this case the change is for the sake of the team), while on other occasions the change is supposedly made in the best interest's of the player as the coach has deemed the player’s preferred position not to be his best.
There is still a third reason why coaches change players’ positions, namely, to try and lengthen the player’s career by moving him to a different position, for example a wing to centre or a flank to lock or a prop to hooker, etc. Many rugby players suffer this fate regularly: having to play out of position for the sake of the team, or because an epiphany experienced by their coach.
This phenomenon also rears its head when players tend to get on with age and lose interest or suffer a dip in performance. Scared of losing the player and in order to stimulate the player in question, the coach would move him to a different position in the team.
One of the favourite shifts in the backline is that from flyhalf to wing, especially when the flyhalf has decent speed and is a good tackler. The big value of having a flyhalf playing wing is the added kicking and fielding abilities (high ball) in support of the fullback. The ample supply of skills out wide and at the back leaves the coach with a variety of options both on attack and defence.
Legendary SARU coach and former Springbok Sevens manager, Millin Pietersen was also a firm believer in this shift. He did it with a number of skillful flyhalves during his long coaching career at the helm of Tygerberg and SARU rugby.
The reason I raise this point is the spate of recent experiments that have taken place (or still in progress), most notable those of JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, incumbent Springbok wings both being tried out at centre.
While Habana has been moved back to wing after two games in the midfield, Pietersen seems to have found a “new career” in the Sharks’ midfield.
According to Sharks coach John Plumtree, Pietersen has now found his true position after having started out at fullback in high school and then moved to wing since arriving at the Sharks.
Habana, who originally started out at scrumhalf and then later centre, was shifted to the wing during an era when black backline players could only gain selection to a representative side if they played wing. It needs to be said that Habana made his initial impact as a centre at the Golden Lions and arrived at the Bulls as a centre. It was there that Heyneke Meyer turned him into a wing.
I also recall Meyer’s silly notion of trying to turn the then 19-year-old Pierre Spies into South Africa’s version of Jonah Lomu. At the time Meyer ascribed to the belief that backline players will get bigger and bigger and the sooner we in South Africa find our own Lomu(s) the sooner we will improve our competitiveness in world rugby.
Spies, who played his whole high school career as an eighthman found it extremely hard to adjust on the wing and after just 18 months requested to return to his favourite No 8 position – with 18 months of his career wasted.
A similar fate befell Nick Koster who had the "misfortune" of being born with speed; after having been a forward for as long as he can remember his coach one day told him that he was actually a wing. This also didn’t work out for the youngster and today he is busy rebuilding his career at eighthman for the Stormers.
Both these extremely talented players wasted valuable time in a position they did not want to play, but were moved their by their respective coaches.
I am pleased to see that Patrick Lambie has been slotted in at flyhalf for the Sharks and I hope he’ll be allowed to make the position his own, both for the Sharks’ and South Africa’s sake.
In most cases players know where they’re most comfortable playing. Perhaps coaches should pay more serious attention to the players’ preference than compromising players’ careers and the fortunes of their teams because of some “light bulb moment” they experienced in the shower.
Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player and current Afrikaans rugby commentator on SuperSport.
Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.