Durban - The dust has now settled on the Sharks’ United Rugby Championship campaign which ended agonisingly in the quarter-finals at Loftus Versfeld and no doubt there has been a post-mortem underway at Hollywoodbets Kings Park.
The Sharks finished fifth out of the 16 teams to qualify for that quarter-final against the Bulls and whether or not this constitutes a failed campaign is up for debate but I am certain that the Sharks’ American backers would have wanted more, particularly when the team they first wanted to join forces with, the Stormers, ended up winning it, and they are the franchise with the least resources!
It is my suspicion that a scapegoat will be wanted and the easiest target in these situations is the coach, or in soccer, the manager.
On social media, after that 30-27 defeat to the Bulls, Sean Everitt was savaged by Sharks fans and the only thing I understood about their (lack) of reasoning is that it was kneejerk and emotions were running high.
I categorically disagree with the calls to sack Everitt, and I cast my mind back to the Sharks topping Super Rugby when the tournament was called off in mid-March of 2020. The day before, the Sharks had beaten John Dobson’s Stormers 24-14 in Durban; the week before they had well beaten the Jaguares and the month before that they had won three of four games in Australia and New Zealand, including excellent wins over the Highlanders, the Rebels and the Reds.
Perhaps more important than the results, the Sharks were playing a fantastic brand of rugby. In the off-season, Everitt had worked closely with CEO Ed Coetzee to recruit the players they wanted for the brand of counter-attack rugby they wanted to play.
Just one example was the purchase of an out-and-out openside flank in James Venter, from the Lions, who thrived in Everitt’s game plan and was in sensational form when lockdown came — he has not played much since.
Then came Covid-19 and a while later an American consortium bought a controlling share in the Sharks. Both the pandemic and the New Yorkers resulted in a significant change in the landscape at the Sharks.
The very tight ship under Coetzee and Everitt when they were rocking Super Rugby is no longer. I’m not saying that the American deal was wrong, not at all, SA franchises need equity partners, but I am saying that there has been a seismic change in how the Sharks operate, and if they did not immediately become world-beaters it is certainly not the fault of one man.
The buck cannot stop with Everitt, not when you have so many cooks contributing to the broth. The reality is that the Sharks are in a transitional phase under the Americans and all parties need to look back at what they could have done better and not send one man to the guillotine.
Just one area — but a massively important one —where I imagine Everitt is probably frustrated is recruitment. In nearly all major rugby unions, the coach is extremely hands-on with player recruitment for the obvious reason that he has to coach them! And they must fit into his playing strategy.
At the Sharks, I am under the impression that Everitt doesn’t always get the players he wants.
For example, the Americans understandably wanted poster boys for their new enterprise in Durban, and that is why Siya Kolisi and Bongi Monambi, relocated up the coast, but that happened for marketing and not necessarily rugby reasons, and because those players are with entertainment company Roc Nation, who are allied to the consortium.
When Everitt took over from Robert du Preez in mid-2019, it seemed that the plan was to bring through the brilliant talent that he had coached in the all-conquering Sharks Under-19 team of 2018. A number of them began coming through but some are either gone — Evan Roos (Stormers), Sanele Nohamba (Lions) — while others such as Dylan Richardson and Boeta Chamberlain are not in favour.
I am sure that there are also things Everitt himself knows he could have done better this year but as the URC’s champion coach John Dobson once told me: “Sean is a good man, a good coach, and right for the DNA of the region.
Finally, the Sharks have appointed Blitzboks guru Neil Powell in a newly created position of Director of Rugby, which he will assume after the Sevens World Cup in December. Surely it makes sense for Everitt to work for a season with Powell before a decision on his future is made...