2012 Super Rugby Final, Chiefs versus Sharks – Tactics and Strategy

03 Aug 2012
2012 Super Rugby Final, Chiefs versus Sharks – Tactics and Strategy

The Chiefs and the Sharks bring different gameplan portfolios to the rugby field, and whoever gets their patterns rolling first should be able to win their maiden Super Rugby Championship.

The hosting Chiefs have the collective genius of Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith and Tom Coventry not merely instilling a new culture, but building what appears to be layer upon layer of a strategic arsenal.

Historically the Chiefs have had much venom out wide, but a lack of a championship winning pack at times stifled that potential, while the highly regarded Waikato rush defence has been a trademark of the sides throughout the years.

This season Smith’s influence is all over the Chiefs tackling systems, a patient defence that works on having players act as literally hitmen on the line, not moving forward with extreme pace like a more traditional rush, but marking and tracking as a defensive unit so well that they finished the season as the second best franchise in terms of tries conceded.

The Sharks, and for that matter Natal, are cut from the same traditional Springbok cloth that favours forward orientated rugby and aggressive play at the ruck, as their honour board – with over 80 Natal based players wearing the green jersey – showing the competitiveness of the side.

Yet the Bulls and the Stormers, and for that matter the Blue Bulls and Western Province, have the titles and conversion rate to have been a thorn in the Sharks side in chasing rugby supremacy in the Republic.

Here however the Sharks stand on the verge of not only potential the greatest ever Super Rugby title win, playing the three Conference champions in their own backyards, but an achievement that many in the KwaZulu-Natal province would rank as arguably their greatest rugby moment.

Their abrasiveness up front is typical of South African play, although the high levels of athleticism and intensity of the Sharks pack has often been a key factor in their victories this season.

Far from a one-trick pony, the Sharks have (unlike their vanquished rivals the Stormers some Cape Town fans might lament) a well-oiled attacking game, scoring the same number of tries during the regular season as the Chiefs.

The Sharks favour an up-tempo game, scoring seven four-try bonus points this season, second only to the Hurricanes.

In previous years the Sharks would have confidently based their game plan towards a frontal assault against the Chiefs, believing that their test laden pack would be able to shut the Waikato based franchise out of the contest.

This season though has seen the Chiefs pack emerge as one of the premier of the competition, resulting in three new All Blacks caps, while their aggressiveness has been matched by a strong mechanical display at the set piece – with the Chiefs scrum and lineout proving to be one of the best in the tournament.

If parity is achieved in what will be a battle royal up front, then the Chiefs will be wise not to expect their glamorous backline - led by the wonderful holy trinity of Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams – to be able to easily rule against a slick looking Sharks outside division.

While the absence of regular number twelve Tim Whitehead has been given much attention, it is easily countered by the fact that the Chiefs have operated without their most capped All Black in Richard Kahui for the backend of the season.

Fred Michalak and Pat Lambie have combined for much of the year to give the Sharks better offensive structure and potency than possibly any other South African franchise, but like their Chiefs opposites, have been adequately helped by rampant displays up front.


The back end.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie felt his team was one of the fittest in the competition, and certainly this was shown in their last match, shutting up shop with a compelling defensive display that had the Crusaders looking...dare we say it slightly clueless on attack against a Chiefs tackling operation that always seemed to be moving forwards.

Rennie, when speaking to SANZAR earlier this week, felt that if his team ran out to a healthy lead, the Sharks would not overrun them.

The Sharks looked on the ropes towards the back end of their match against the Stormers physically, and there was focus on how the Cape Town based side didn't have a fluent enough attack to take advantage of any potential gaps in the men from Durban's defence.

The Sharks have some excuse with their long travel schedule, but while it remains to be seen if they have the fitness to stay in touch, they do have the raw power to disrupt the Chiefs carefully laid plans.