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Ken Borland


Former Springbok defence coach John McFarland on the Brisbane disappointment

Posted on September 13, 2016 by Ken

 

I must say I find it quite disturbing sitting here in Japan and reading about the Springboks being in chaos … and that’s coming from a lot of people who have never coached a game of rugby in their lives!

I thought the Springboks gave it a full go in Brisbane against the Wallabies and there was far more intensity than there was in Argentina. People must remember that we lost by only six points, it was not a 49-0 result after all!

The Springboks were right in it until the last minute, so it was a similar story to the last few years when it comes to matches against the Wallabies – the Springboks built a lead and then Australia clawed it back.

I thought the Springboks finished strongly, but there were too many mistakes in the attacking red zone: too many knock-ons, fumbles and the carriers would lose the ball on their way down to the ground just when we had built up some momentum.

To those who are suggesting the team is not being coached, this is plainly unfair. I know Allister Coezee and Johann van Graan well and from working with Johann  for four years I know they would have looked at Australia in detail.

Game planning is now a collaborative exercise between the players and coaches. As attack coach, Johann would meet with the senior players and the key decision-makers, show them clips which he felt were relevant and then they would agree on the way forward after bouncing ideas around. Johann meets with small groups like the breakdown, attack leaders and lineout groups and the different units within the team to discuss with them what they need to do. To say there is no planning in place and chaos in the team is far from the truth.

So it’s always clear what the plan is for the forwards competing and the attack or the kicking game or whatever, and certainly for the defence when I was there. The plan is always clear on attack and defence, but clearly you then have to execute. I don’t know how Mzwandile Stick and Chean Roux work, but I imagine it would be the same.

And then there’s a 45-minute meeting with all the players and leadership group where feedback is given on different areas, so the game plan is always clear to everyone who is involved.

So the game plan will be a collaboration and it’s always a very busy week for the players and coaches because not only do they have all their on-field training, but they also do a helluva lot of video work and planning.

An international coach only has 12 games per year, but it’s like playing 12 finals because for every game he has to prepare like he would for a final.

I think there certainly was an improvement by the Springboks in Brisbane. The defence was better but there were still far too many cardinal errors.

They should have set the blindside defence from the breakdown better after the lineout maul and you could see from Bryan Habana’s reaction that he got sucked in because we clearly didn’t have enough numbers there on the blindside.

On the second try, the defenders overtracked on Foley. You should be coming forward and be square that close to the line, otherwise you will be stepped.

But the defence did set much better and it was more organised, but that was predicted because Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel are better communicators and more vocal.

It was also really obvious though that the Springboks should have been kicking more on to Quade Cooper when he was on the wing. It’s hard to do it from the left side because Elton Jantjies is a left-footer, but it would have been easy for him to swap around with Johan Goosen.

They should have managed that better, they were just set up all the time for the maul and box-kick. It was also disappointing that they then allowed Australia to play from there, they should not really be able to attack from there because the chase should be much wider and into position quicker. The Wallabies have had to run back to get behind the catcher, so it’s really just a question of work-rate when it comes to the Springbok chase.

You generally have a plan beforehand, but Test rugby is so high-paced and frantic that it’s very difficult to change things during the game. You have to have clear plans before the game and you have to have practised it if you’re going to make a change. By putting Johan Goosen at flyhalf on the left-hand side they would have opened up the middle of the field and allowed the Springboks to kick away from Israel Folau. If you kick long and then they kick it back, you must reply with a short running bomb, which is always fielded by scrumhalf Will Genia, and surely we can win aerial battles with him!

The Springboks are also generally not generating broken-field ball with their kicks, which is strange because we do have right-footed and left-footed combinations.

The Lions have won in New Zealand this year, so I hope the things that served them well will come in. I think it could be quite close against the All Blacks in Christchurch, I don’t think the Springboks are going to get beaten by 40 or 50 points.

In the last four years our away games against the All Blacks have been relatively close. In Dunedin in 2012, the Springboks missed a lot of penalties – we only kicked at 33% – and lost 21-11, while 2013 in Auckland was when referee Roman Poite reduced us to 14 men for most of the game when he yellow-carded and then red-carded Bismarck du Plessis, which was subsequently proven to be unfair. Then in 2014 in Wellington they won 14-10 thanks to Kieran Read batting back a crosskick to Richie McCaw to score, and that game became very close at the end. Last year the Springboks lost 20-18 in London in the World Cup semifinal.

It’s essentially a very similar group playing again this weekend and it’s always the biggest clash of the year for both teams, the Boks certainly approach it like that and, as All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster has alluded to this week, they view the Springboks as their greatest competitors and rivals so I fully expect it to be a much closer game than some of our fortune-tellers in the media have predicted.

I know this group of players will always stand up and be counted and it’s always the same with the Springboks: when you back them into a hole they perform at their best, they need that extreme pressure, under that their real character is shown and this group does have character.

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.

 

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