Many years ago I accompanied my aunt, uncle and cousins from Johannesburg on one of their holidays to the KZN South Coast. These holidays were always fun and we got up to the usual mischief kids get up to.
In previous years my uncle had always brought down his Land Cruiser bakkie. It was very uncomfortable. We kids had to sit in the back on small camping chairs, pillows or the floor if none of the former were available. The glutes took a good bashing thanks to the rather unsophisticated suspension and no-nonsense toughness that is inherent in all Land Cruisers (I am a big fan of that no-nonsense toughness, as you may know).
That year however I learned that he’d sold his Land Cruiser and bought a brand new sparkling double cab.
We set off for a day of jet-skiing on the river in the double-cab in moderate comfort; we had seats to sit on and everything. “Good job uncle” I thought as we thundered along to our destination a lot quicker than the Land Cruiser would ever have managed.
We had a great time zooming about on the jet-ski and lost track of time. Time was then brought back into sharp focus when we noticed the tide coming in and realised it was time to get the jet-ski out of the water, and so we encountered the first problem with the sparkly new double cab. For all its sparkliness, it simply couldn’t get the jet-ski and trailer out of the water. There was no traction.
Disaster was avoided thanks to an old Land Rover that appeared to live at the beach. It only had reverse gear, but still had 4×4 and front diff-lock. It pulled the double cab, trailer and jet-ski out of the water with little trouble.
The next time I saw that uncle he’d traded the double-cab in for another Land Cruiser.
This year Gary Gold joined the Sharks with much fanfare after the untimely and unexpected departure of Jake the Snake White. He and the Sharks publicity machine promised a new attacking team. He said the Sharks would focus on being entertaining and that they would score lots of tries!
So in the pre-season that is what they did. They tossed out all of the pragmatic no-nonsense toughness that Jake had tried to instil and instead went about developing a sparkly glittering attack that was supposed to score lots of tries, win games and ultimately win the tournament, making us all happy and content.
Only, like the fancy double-cab, the Sharks didn’t have the necessary tools in their squad to do that. For many years the Sharks method has been a simple one, uncompromising brutal defence, a solid set piece, solid kicking game and lethal counter-attack. The squad was, in effect, like a reliable old Land Cruiser, it might not get you there fast, but it will get you there and back.
Gary Gold and company then asked it to be a Corvette. Only problem was, all the underpinnings, the unsophisticated suspension and big solid chunk of a straight six engine remained. You can’t bolt a Corvette body onto a Land Cruiser and expect it to be a racing car all of a sudden. It will fail miserably, and that is what has happened to the Sharks. They haven’t scored all those tries that they promised, in fact they’ve looked even more one-dimensional, and their once vaunted uncompromisingly brutal defence seems to have been forgotten and they now have the structural rigidity of melted cheese.
They are a Land Cruiser trying to be a Corvette, and they’ve realised this simply cannot work, and so they’re now lost, with no idea what they’re actually supposed to be. I only hope that, like my uncle, they realise their mistake and learn their lessons well. Change is all well and good, but change needs to be planned, and managed. You cannot ignore what your strengths are and play to your weakness, which is just foolish.