Pick players in position!

2012-03-14 12:18

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.

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.


  • Hanjo - 2012-03-14 12:29

    Gary, some players are just versatile by nature and have the capability to play in different positions, why limit them to one position? Take Lambie for instance, he made his first few appearances at Fullback for the Sharks, played a couple of games at inside centre before being "played out of position" as a fly half, now people are claiming John Plumtree is playing him out of position by moving him to either FB or IC, but if ti wasn't for Plumtree's willingness to shift Lambie around, he wouldn't have been a FH option today. If one looks at the Aussie players, guys like James O'Connor, Adam Ashley-Cooper or Kurtley Beale can basically play any position in the backline(other than SH) well. they have been shifted around at SR level each season, and it is this versatility that makes them such an asset to their respective SR franchises. - I disagree with this article, I'd prefer we stray away from unnecessary conservativeness

  • hendrik.pienaar - 2012-03-14 13:01

    One of the most uninformed and ignorant articles I've yet seen. Pierre Spies was not a failure on the wing. He scored tons of tries - even scoring 4 in one game for the Baby Boks, but was moved back when Heyneke decided he needed a number-8. He may have requested it also, but to call him a failure on the wing is just stupid. If anything, he was built to be a winger because he hasn't got much power in his legs. Compare that to most forward (or Rene Ranger) whose calves are built like tree trunks. Onto Nick Koster... it was a choice of playing on the wing, or not playing at all. He was never going to be made a full-time winger, as Rassie told us. It was simply a case of him filling in at a position where they needed someone, and them realizing it's better for him to be on the field playing whatever position, then to sit in the stands. As for the jibe about black players only making it as wingers. Habana played centre for the Golden Lions U-21 and later senior team. There are reasons he was moved to the wing, a move which initially worked very well... so for you to suggest there were racial reasons for it is pathetic.

      Champ - 2012-03-14 13:30

      Well said Hendrik! I agree 100%.

      Stephen - 2012-03-14 14:21

      Spies does not have the natural aggression to be a forward. He was good as a wing and could have become great. He would have made more impact at a national level as a wing and we could have added another loose forward with some mongrel, someone like Vermeulen. I haven't been reading News24 rugby for that long, but this is your third article I've read and disagreed with. Not a good effort so far.

  • Jason - 2012-03-14 13:06

    an article full of contradictions!

  • John - 2012-03-14 13:09

    The names you mention have been fortunate as they are still around. Others careers have been destroyed. 2 that come to mind are the Pocket Rocket and Ruan Pienaar. Smit was a perfect example -he did not make it as a prop so had to move back to hooker and in so doing the best hooker in the world sat on the bench. Probably cost us the WC. The sooner they get JP back to where he belongs the better. He is a great wing but will be found out at test level if Meyer plays him at 13. Not that Meyer will.

      Gert - 2012-03-14 14:48

      Pienaar and Russel are two very talented, but limited players. Pienaar lacked BMT and Russel lacked size. Thats why they both didn't have the long international careers they could have had. Pienaar was never going to top Du Preez or even Hougard as a scrumhalf, and he didn't have the BMT to cope with the demands of being a test flyhalf. Not only in his kicking at goal, but also in general play. Russel was fast and very skillful, but he was small. I remember him being instrumental for the Boks at fullback against the Wallabies and the being totally useless in the following match against the All Blacks, simply because he lacked that element of surprise. He was played constantly at wing and fullback for the Sharks and never really made the impact he made when he burst onto the scene. With these two, the players are much more to blame for not making it than their coaches.

  • Bulldozer - 2012-03-14 13:39

    Meyer's trick with Habana worked, didn't it. Knucklehead.

      Stephen - 2012-03-14 14:26

      I agree Dozey. Article clearly wasn't written with a lot of thought, just used to fill up space. More examples of successful switches than unsuccessful ones e.g.: Pitersen - FB to wing Wikus - Flank to lock Burden - Wing/centre to hooker Pienaar - all over the show and still a contender for any Bok team Jaque Fourie - Fullback to centre Jean De Villiers - Wing for Boks to centre Lambie - Fullback to Flyhalf Those are just off the top of my head.

  • Dewald - 2012-03-14 13:48

    Gary, ek sem nie saam nie. Jy kan twee keer meer voorbeelde uithaal waar dit wel suksesvol was. As jy kan rugby speel behoort jy amper oral aangewend te kan word. Soos by die agterspellers, O Conner, Houghaard, Fraans Steyn, Fourie, Aplon, en baie meer. Party is senter-wing, ander is wing-fullback, ander begaafde spelers soos Fraans en O Conner kan oral in die "backline" speel. Die afrigter is daar om die beste vir die spellers te doen. Kyk na Houghaard. Hy het nie tyd gemors op "wing" nie. Hy het tot vir die Bokke daar gespeel, en waardevolle bloodstelling gekry.

  • Dewald - 2012-03-14 13:53

    Anyway, I think they should move Habana out to waterboy!

  • Gert - 2012-03-14 14:35

    I don't think Gary had anything to say this week so he just went for a good Heyneke bashing, throwing a racial comment in there for good measure. Players being played out of position can be a problem, but it's hardly the epidemic that Gary is trying to convince us it is. It happened this year with two former world class wing who lost their pace but can still add something to the squad playing for teams suddenly struck with a shortage of centres. Nick Kosters failure to make an impact wasn't because he played wing for a while. He had a long injury layoff and he plays in a position that this country has a wealth of talent in. Pierre Spies is a Springbok and while he was on form he was a great one. No harm done there. Habana, as a wing, is the top try scorer in SA's history. No failure there as well. Brent Russel's fault was his size. He managed make a huge impact in his first matches against new opposition, then he was found out in the next game. But he still had a fairly successful career. Both for the Boks and in provincial and club rugby.

  • Sarge - 2012-03-14 14:54

    Another Gary "bitter about everything" Boshoff article. How can the still allow this guy to write or commentate about rugby. P.S, JP Petersen is fitting in great at centre, he's fast, big and strong enough for the job.

  • Lorenzo - 2012-03-14 15:21

    Shame, nobody must say anything negative about Lord Heyneke Meyer and the earth will stand still in Blue Bull country.

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