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Ken Borland

The John McFarland Column – the Rugby Coaching Indaba 0

Posted on October 18, 2016 by Ken


The Rugby Coaching Indaba this week will not make any difference in the short-term, but that does not mean it’s a bad thing for Springbok rugby.

Brendan Venter is a superb facilitator, he will ask questions and get the involvement of all the coaches, while Pieter Kruger is highly professional and used to dealing with these sort of gatherings. So I’m sure they will get to where they want to, I’m confident they will go in the right direction.

There will be discussions about a national philosophy of playing, the way Allister Coetzee envisages the Springboks should play and the skill set that needs to be developed to go with it.

Skill sets are what I feel should be discussed most. It’s what we as the Springbok coaching group between 2012 and 2015 felt was lacking at national level – things like high-ball work, box-kicking, lineout throwing, goalkicking etc.

We desperately need an individual skills programme for elite performance and high-quality skills coaches. Maybe we need a director of rugby, but without the right contractual model he can’t prescribe to the franchises, he can only influence the contracted Springboks. And Allister Coetzee did not get the job until mid-April, so what went on between last year’s World Cup and then?

I know Johann van Graan, who is the one assistant coach who remained in place, did go to the SuperRugby franchises to see what was going on there, but how New Zealand rugby works is that the national coaches even work with the franchises regularly.

In Heyneke Meyer’s time we had a good relationship with all the SuperRugby unions and we would pay two two-day visits to each franchise every year. So there was a lot of contact and from my point of view I knew all the defence coaches, how they coached, their strategies and how individuals defended, how they folded, their line-speed etc.

We would share information and how we saw the Springboks going forward, on where we were at that moment, and it was a two-way engagement so we would touch base about individual players and we would hear from them how they felt about certain players. Everyone was very honest about what needed to be worked on.

In 2013 I spent two weeks at the Sharks helping them with their kicking structures and I twice went and helped the Cheetahs, who changed a few things and made the playoffs for the first time.

So there was a good exchange of information and it worked out really well.

But it’s difficult to prescribe set things to the franchises because different teams have different strengths and abilities. If a team doesn’t have a good box-kicker at scrumhalf then they’re not going to spend a lot of time with the wings helping them to compete on the high ball. But every team needs to feel safe under the high ball.

Every coach has his own style and has to do whatever is right for his team. For example, at the Kubota Spears we have a close relationship with the Hurricanes and they play slightly differently to the Highlanders or Crusaders.

What’s really interesting about the Hurricanes is the amount of work done with the individual player and his skill set. New Zealand’s skills are highly developed because the players are helped with their skills, the resources are there for individuals around the country.

But skills work needs to be driven by the coach, he needs to be on top of the players’ individual skills. In 2012, I can remember Malcolm Marx didn’t make the SA U20s and Dawie Theron said to me that his lineout throwing was the major problem. So Malcolm would come through every week with Robbie Coetzee and work with me on that. What work has been done individually with him since then? I don’t know.

For four years we’ve had the High-Performance Mobi Unit in place, but what work has been done on Elton Jantjies’ right foot? He has a tremendous left foot, but it would be great if he could be two-footed like Jonny Wilkinson, it would mean he would not be under nearly as much pressure. Can Rohan Janse van Rensburg or Jesse Kriel kick? What is being done about that?

Dave Alred helped us in 2015 with the fielding of high balls, we put that structure in place.

The major problem is that the SuperRugby teams all play differently and the core of the Springbok team is no longer in South Africa, in the current 30-man squad, not many of them are locally-based all year round. The core values need to be kept the same so that a young player can seamlessly move through the system and be coached in the same fashion. We have to find the right balance in terms of game plan, there’s no point in the SA U20s playing a certain way and defending a certain way that is different to the senior side. Likewise if the SA U20s play a passing game with width and the Springboks are playing kicking and territory.

The coach can have a say in the Springboks and the SA U20s because they are contracted sides, and the higher the stakes, the more pressure there is on those games.

The All Blacks are on a different level to everybody at the moment and the Springboks are ranked fourth, but if we weren’t upset by their performance in Durban, if we just accept that, then there is something wrong with our rugby.

New Zealand played well, and as usual ran away with the game in the last 20 minutes, but what the match really underlined was the Springboks’ lack of ambition. They just relied on their set-piece and Morne Steyn kicking penalties and drop goals. Seeing as the All Blacks average 38 points per game, Morne would have had to break the world record for penalties and drop goals for the Springboks to have won!

But most Springbok coaches have been through something similar, because the expectation is so high for excellence. Hopefully the indaba will result in more excellence in our rugby going forward.

Of course, the disappointment of the Springboks’ performance has been put into perspective this week by the shock passing of Munster coach and former Ireland loose forward star Anthony Foley, and I would like to pass my condolences to his family and loved ones.

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.



Bulls prove their composure to pip WP 0

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken


Vodacom Blue Bulls coach Nollis Marais promised that his team were a different side from the one that lost at the same stage, against the same opponents, in last year’s Currie Cup, and they eventually proved that as they pipped DHL Western Province 36-30 in their thrilling semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

The Bulls were probably worthy winners as they played most of the rugby, but whenever they looked like putting the squeeze on Western Province, they would make mistakes and the visitors were brilliant at scavenging opportunities and using them to the full.

It looked like the Bulls would falter at the same hurdle when Western Province went ahead 27-22 in the 58th minute and then again, 30-29, with just seven minutes remaining.

But the 2016 Blue Bulls showed their development in terms of composure and mental strength as they played pragmatic rugby in the closing stages to eventually edge home thanks to replacement scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl’s try with just 90 seconds remaining.

Full report –

Springboks suffering due to lack of solid structure below them 4

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken


The Springboks’ humiliating defeat in Durban last weekend was a painful reminder of the gulf in quality that exists between the administration and structure of the game in New Zealand and back here in South Africa, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen making sure to mention the decision-makers in their rugby when he was asked for the reasons behind their world record equalling run of 17 successive wins.

A solid structure from schoolboys to the Springboks is what is needed for our rugby to remain amongst the best in the world, not yet another overhaul of the national team and their coaches; that’s just treating the symptom, shuffling people around, and does not address the root cause of our problems.

And, as great as next week’s Rugby Indaba sounds – except for the unfortunate two coaches who have their preparations for the Currie Cup final disrupted (another example of Saru’s awful treatment of their flagship competition) – it’s not going to address our real problems either. There might be some good ideas about game plans and what-not, but the coaches and the franchise CEOs do not have the power to change the structural failings in rugby, that lies with the South African Rugby Union and their turkeys who will steadfastly not vote for Christmas.

Below the national sides, there should just be six teams playing fully professional rugby based in the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. And those six unions should have the power in South African rugby, not the eight lesser unions, largely amateurish and as relevant as dinosaurs, which are currently the tail that wags the dog.

Below that, all 14 unions can have semi-professional teams, but the amount of money that can be saved by only having six fully professional teams and by eight economically unviable organisations no longer drawing over R20 million a year in Saru grants could go a long way towards keeping our players in the country.

Just like in New Zealand, talented rugby players must fight for a limited number of professional contracts through their performances at club level, that lead to them playing for their provinces and then being chosen for a Super Rugby deal.

The vast majority of schoolboy players in New Zealand don’t become professional rugby players when they finish their education. They go to university and play rugby there, or play for their local club side while working, which is why so many All Blacks have had interesting occupations like lumberjack, piano mover or, as in the case of Aaron Smith, apprentice hairdresser.

It’s a system that builds character and ensures only the fittest and hungriest players survive to reach the top.

Good schoolboy players in South Africa should be lauded in their school hall and with selection for provincial and national schoolboy teams; not with professional contracts and way too much exposure on television.

There is far too great an emphasis on schoolboy rugby in South Africa and that just creates entitled, spoilt players, wastes a lot of late-developing talent, kills our clubs and also gets in the way of transformation in many cases.

This is not to say that our current Springboks and their management are beyond blame. The All Blacks have a relentless drive to improve on and off the field every day, they see every challenge as a means of getting better.

Do our Springboks and their coaching staff have that same hunger? The same desire to do whatever it takes? Because it will also come down to that if they are going to close the gap with the All Blacks.

Any top professional sportsman worth his salt would turn a record 57-15 hammering at home into motivation to lift their conditioning and skills to new levels.

The South African cricket team has just completed an historic 5-0 series whitewash of world champions Australia, with captain Faf du Plessis saying a culture camp they held before the start of the summer has ensured that they are now playing as a team again and, most importantly, are really challenging each other to be better.

Now that’s the sort of indaba that could be useful for our rugby players and coaches, but the administrators still need to make the major, unselfish changes that will really benefit the game in this country.


Bulls are more mature & more confident – flyhalf Schoeman 0

Posted on October 14, 2016 by Ken


Blue Bulls flyhalf Tian Schoeman says he is going into Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against Western Province way more confident than last year, especially since he has a more mature pack in front of him now.

Last year the young Bulls side were beaten 23-18 by underdogs Western Province, who used a more experienced pack to exert pressure in the set-pieces and forward exchanges and won the territory battle, but this weekend the home side are a more accomplished side with a big pack that has excelled in the scrums and lineouts in recent matches.

“I’ve got two Currie Cups behind me now and a bit of Super Rugby, so I’m more confident. I was quite stressed out this time last year and we didn’t know what to expect, especially in a semi-final. So I’m definitely a bit calmer now although there are of course still some nerves,” Schoeman told The Citizen on Wednesday.

“I’m also a lot more relaxed because it’s lekker to play with a dominant pack in front of you. Our forwards have really stepped up and in the last few games the set-pieces have been very good. We’ve been getting a lot of results from the scrums with pushover tries and the lineouts have been very good as well. That’s going to be very important for the semi-final because you need the set-piece to attack from.”

The Bulls scored four more tries than Western Province during the league phase of the competition and have focused on a more ball-in-hand, high-intensity approach than in previous years. Nobody is more important than the flyhalf in driving the game plan and Schoeman said they will stick to what has served them well in the competition thus far.

“We’ve decided not to change anything, we’re going to stick to what we’ve been trying to do. It’s a bit more running rugby and maybe a bit more risky, but we don’t want to give Western Province the opportunity to play. So we’re only going to kick when in trouble, but those exits need to be accurate because you don’t want to give the other team opportunities,” Schoeman said.


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