Alistair Hargreaves

The Sharks' missing Frenchman

2011-06-09 08:03
Sport24 columnist Alistair Hargreaves (File)
Alistair Hargreaves

Half-time in Bloemfontein last Saturday saw us trailing 11-6. As the players shuffled into the changeroom for the half-time team talk, those watching around the country could be forgiven for pointing out an obviously under-par performance.

The message from the coach was simple, yet stern: Work harder, hold onto the ball, and most of all, be patient.

It’s tough to cram too much detail into the 10-minute half-time talk.

When you consider the amble from the field back to the changeroom, the players catching their breath, downing their self-prescribed concoctions of energy-enhancing drinks, and the wounded players liaising with the medical staff, it’s clear to see that it’s more of an opportunity to refocus than to reinvent the wheel.

Positional leaders need to have their say about what’s happening in their specific department, i.e. scrums and lineouts. And of course, the captain needs to add his overall assessment to the fray.

What the break does allow, however, is for a team to get back onto the same wavelength and reassess simple strategies that should be employed in the remaining 40 minutes.

An example of this on Saturday was to make sure we got the balance right between running the ball and kicking for territory. We felt although we had little of the possession, when we did have the ball, we didn’t use it intelligently enough.

Luckily the second half proved to be much better from our perspective and after walking away with four log points in Bloem, most will agree that it was a job well done.

We spent the evening as a team and took full advantage of the opportunity to celebrate the victory together.

A major point of discussion at the fines meeting post-match was the absence of a seventh player on the bench for the first 10 minutes of the game!

It was only when somebody turned to talk to our mercurial French import, Fred Michalak, that we realised he had been locked in the change room! Luckily, the security guard couldn’t understand him, because I’m sure the flurry of French directed at him was less than complimentary.

As a player, I believe it is always important to enjoy a win, because you never know when it may be your last.

Monday morning saw a very different attitude and one that was in direct contrast to the jubilant festivities of Saturday night.

After watching the game again and reviewing it critically, it was plain to see that we have yet to hit our straps as a team and I must admit that it was a huge disappointment to watch how ineffective some of our efforts on the field were.

Sometimes winning is not good enough, and to quote our straight-talking coach John Plumtree: “We're concerned that we are not playing well enough to do well in this competition.” It’s a statement that rings true.

Please don’t misunderstand concern for negativity, or self-criticism as a lack of belief. It is merely the fact that we expect more from our team that drives us to improve.

At the risk of sounding like your iPod on repeat, I still have to re-emphasise that we can most certainly play better rugby, and it is no secret that this season has been a rollercoaster ride in terms of performances.

To say we are merely happy with winning would be shortsighted. We need to be playing the type of rugby that will give us the opportunity to win playoff games.

We have therefore had a good, hard look at ourselves from a strategic point of view and have implemented some new ideas on the training ground this week.

Ideas that we hope will prove the first step in producing winning rugby that is good to watch and enjoyable to play.

Alistair Hargreaves was educated at Durban High School and captained the SA Schools side in 2004. Besides being a stalwart in the Sharks' second row, he's also played two Tests for the Springboks.

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