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Ken Borland


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The John McFarland Column: The Springboks’ best performance under Allister Coetzee 0

Posted on June 22, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s self-evident that the Springboks really played well to beat France 37-15 in the second Test in Durban, but I would say it was the best performance of Allister Coetzee’s tenure as national coach by a long way.

It has been so pleasing to see the Springboks put together two quality wins, in which they have scored eight tries, and it is obvious they have found the right balance between attack and defence.

I must say that I am a little concerned by the silence from the Saru executive because after two excellent performances with Allister Coetzee under pressure, he clearly deserves the mandate going forward.

Nobody did to France in the Six Nations or the home series last year what the Springboks have done to them over the last fortnight and real credit must go to Allister for the team culture he has instilled and the way it is working – that was a sensational victory at Kings Park.

The defence has been the biggest thing that has changed and the Springboks all work incredibly hard off the ball; they sprint on the kick-chase and they get off the floor so quickly. These are the trademarks of a Brendan Venter-coached team – work-rate and physicality.

Siya Kolisi was obviously the standout player with his intercept try and his ability to win ball off the floor, but the whole team excelled.

When they were on their own line for 25 phases and kept repelling the French side, that showed the culture and relationships between the players; attitude and how players feel about the environment always come out in how a team defends, and that was the best defensive performance by a South African side this season.

In terms of attack, it was pleasing to see some very clever plays, guys running short lines off scrumhalf or off the inside backs. When Raymond Rhule broke through off a lineout, the Springboks were clearly targeting the inside defence. We kept finding props with our wingers or hard-running backs.

It is also clear that a tremendous amount of work has been done on the passing and timing of the runs from first receiver; to be able to do this in the face of a rush defence, for example when Pieter-Steph du Toit passed to Coenie Oosthuizen for a sublime try, shows that the attacking play has definitely gone a level up. So hats off to everybody for a great performance.

The SA A team was a bit of a concern though and their defence was not so good against a scratch French Barbarians side, and they allowed Freddie Michalak to roll back the years at flyhalf.

What’s worrying about the  SA A side is that they have so many players over the age of 30 in key positions. There should be a clear national pathway from the U20s to the A side and then on to the Springboks, but the current selection shows no real growth or development for the future. The SA A side must use guys who have come through from the U20 level, so we can see how they cope outside of their natural SuperRugby environment.

Guys who have impressed at SA U20 level should be chosen because we know what Lwazi Mvovo, Lionel Cronje, who is also going to Japan now, and Jano Vermaaak can do. They need guys like Ivan van Zyl, Curwin Bosch, Burger Odendaal and Louis Schreuder to play – 22 and 23 year-olds with big futures. The SA A team should be about future Springboks and not Springboks of old. They must give young players a go, guys who have big futures and they must be in their 20s. They’ve basically selected this team as a Springboks B side and they must show more foresight.

The SA A side should also give coaches experience and it was pleasing to see JP Ferreira involved with their defence.

The SA U20s finished well, but to lose to an England side shorn of six players and others with the senior side in the semi-final was unacceptable. Then New Zealand klapped England by a long way in the semi-final, which showed South African rugby still has a long way to go to make up the gap.

The SA U20s need more tours against national schoolboy sides, to experience different environments. They will probably have played all the Northern Hemisphere sides in South Africa, where the hosts should win. The boys need to experience different conditions and a crowd that is not behind you. They need to step up and improve and a tour somewhere in November/December would be good.

Finally, it was a great privilege for Kubota to be able to play in the Mauritius 10s last weekend. The Bulls and Cheetahs sent their full SuperRugby sides and it was brilliant for a Japanese side to be involved in that.

The Beachcomber World Club Tens as a format was an eye-opener and I really enjoyed seeing everyone again. I hope the excellent organisation of the tournament can now be brought to South Africa, in either pre or post season, that would be fantastic. Mauritius was really enjoyable for everyone who was involved

Well done to the Blue Bulls for winning the tournament, although it’s fair to say they do need a few cups.

 

 

 


John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland 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.

 

The John McFarland Column: A special win for the Springboks 0

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Ken

 

It was really a quite special win for the Springboks over France at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, against a side that definitely turned up, were hard to break down and were the best French side available on that Saturday.

The match was brutal on the gain-line, there were double-hits, they smashed the Springboks and the Springboks smashed them, so it was a great Test for the home side to come through, especially with five debutants in the 23-man squad. It’s a great start to their 2017 season.

The match was in the balance at 16-14 and then came the penalty try. Given how quickly the officials made up their minds, it must have been a clearcut decision.

The Springbok attack was definitely based around getting to the middle of the field and there were a lot of tip-on passes from the forward pods, which creates indecision in the defence, one-on-one tackles and lightning-quick ball. It’s quite an effective tactic against a rush defence.

From middle rucks, sometimes the outside back-row forward would come hard off the scrumhalf, who would either play him or go behind his back to Elton Jantjies, which makes the defence sit a bit and creates space.

There was a lot of quality passing from the Springboks, which was not in evidence last year, and there was definitely more attacking understanding and ball-in-hand play.

It was great that Jantjies looked so composed, and he and Ross Cronje, who gave very slick service and was a threat around the edges, directed play well; they always had a couple of options and it created indecision in the French defence. Because Elton is the only specialist flyhalf in the squad, he’s not looking over his shoulder and he feels he has Allister Coetzee’s total backing, he can run the show. It’s the sort of thing a key decision-maker wants.

Andries Coetzee, in his first Test, showed real pace, especially in the outside channels, he showed one or two lovely touches and was willing to run the ball back from deep, he really had a go.

The ball-carries of Malcolm Marx were exceptional and the Springboks made a lot of blindside probes, guys like Marx running a hard line close to the ruck, and he bounced off defenders at will, also creating more space. When was the last time we saw such a physically dominant performance by a South African hooker?

The scrum was very compact, it looked in good shape and form and was used as a good platform. The Springboks had two very experienced props, plus with their locks and loose forwards, there was no shortage of beef behind them.

The lineout also functioned really well, Eben Etzebeth was really good, and the Springboks won most of their pressure throws. There were not many easy balls at number two in the lineout, and it’s very difficult to attack from the front of the lineout. So they were very adventurous with their lineout tactics and Marx’s throwing was spot-on.

It was also a superbly-executed try off a throw to the back, a move which was very difficult to defend against. It’s very special to score those sort of tries at Test level, so credit to the coaches, it takes some doing.

In terms of the kicking game, South Africa cleared their lines very well and were never under pressure from kickoffs, it was just one hit up and then back to Jantjies, who kicked it to halfway. In the middle areas of the field, they would drive to suck in forwards and then Cronje would kick, and there was excellent execution of that too.

It was also a very much improved defensive display from the Springboks, credit to Brendan Venter for the best defensive performance by a South African team this year. There was brutality on the gain-line, great field-coverage and, at the end of the game, their willingness to put their bodies on the line and keep the French out was tremendous.

The defence looked organised and in the French faces for the whole game, and it will only get better as the players settle into the system. What was most impressive was how disciplined they were, so France only had one penalty shot at goal.

A small area of improvement that is needed was that they became a little compressed from wide rucks and were caught a little short on numbers in the outside channels. They came off the line quite hard and if France were able to get the ball behind their first line of attackers then they did find space.

The Springboks also closed very early at fullback, Coetzee came very early into the line, which means you then rely a lot on the scrumhalf for cover. Everyone does it these days, but sometimes perhaps the fullback should not be so quick to come up.

But it was a good start for the first Test and you can see the team is much more bonded, the leadership has set the right tone. Warren Whiteley is so selfless and empathetic, as alluded to in this column when he got the Springbok captain’s job, so he is in tune with his team.

France will obviously be a different animal in Durban, especially because they have just been physically dominated. But the whole Springbok side worked so hard, to keep a Test side pointless in the last 25 minutes at altitude is an amazing effort and it speaks to South Africa having a really strong bench.

It was a really positive start and we hope for more over the next two weeks.

And good luck too to the South African U20s for their Junior World Cup semi-final. It’s going to be a really big challenge against the England U20s, but I hope they can come through.

 

Springboks overcome tough times to get back on right track 0

Posted on June 10, 2017 by Ken

 

France gave them a tough time, but in the end the Springboks started their 2017 campaign with a highly satisfactory 37-14 win at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday night.

There were enough positive signs to suggest coach Allister Coetzee and his team have the Springboks back on the right track after hitting rock bottom in 2016.

The Springboks were put on the front foot by a superb effort from their pack, which was clearly dominant. Enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the home team were not always direct enough on attack, sometimes becoming too lateral, so the scoreboard did not always reflect how in charge they seemed to be.

The French were able to create space out wide too easily at times and some moments of defensive frailty from the Springboks meant the visitors were very much in the game until the final quarter.

With the clock on the hour mark, the match was on an even keel with the Springboks leading 16-14 when the turning point came.

The quick-thinking of scrumhalf Ross Cronje and the clever boot of flyhalf Elton Jantjies saw the ball bouncing over the French line with Courtnall Skosan in hot pursuit down the left wing. He had the pace to get there first but, as he was reaching up for the ball, he was played by French fullback Brice Dulin and the ball went astray.

The Springboks called for the early tackle and the TMO, Englishman Rowan Kitt, and referee Glen Jackson made the ruling that the contact had been a split-second too early. It was a marginal call either way and it was desperately tough on the French to concede a penalty try and for Dulin to be yellow-carded.

The Springboks scored two more tries in the 10 minutes he was off the field and the contest was over with the lead 37-14 with 12 minutes to play.

The first try came from the training ground with a slick lineout move. Captain and eighthman Warren Whiteley shifted backwards to take a deep lineout throw and then, having barely held on to the ball, immediately passed it into the gap for Cronje to come roaring through and score a memorable try on debut.

Seven minutes later, turnover ball allowed replacement scrumhalf Francois Hougaard to go on a sniping run, before fullback Andries Coetzee hit the afterburners and stormed into the open spaces before sending centre Jan Serfontein on a diagonal road to the tryline.

The road to victory was bumpy at first for the Springboks as the French driving maul earned them an early penalty, but flyhalf Jules Plisson missed.

With half-an-hour gone, South Africa only had two Jantjies penalties to their name. The first came after a lovely interchange of passes between hooker Malcolm Marx and wing Raymond Rhule led to the French being offsides. The visitors were up quickly in defence and combative in the tackle, but it was an area referee Jackson did police well.

The other Jantjies penalty came from a rolling maul, an area of the game in which the Springboks also showed pleasing work.

Marx produced a phenomenal first-half display, charging around the field like some intergalactic giant beast, and he provided the scoring pass for outside centre Jesse Kriel to go racing over for the first try in the 31st minute, after Coetzee, the other star up till then, had fought hard in the tackle and then burst clear.

The Springboks were 13-0 up with Jantjies’ conversion, but then the French began pulling back on the scoreboard.

The ease with which they were able to create space out wide is one of the aspects of play the Springboks will have to improve and, in the 36th minute, right wing Yoann Huget had acres of space and then chipped ahead, Coetzee totally missing the bouncing ball on the goal-line, allowing centre Henry Chavancy to dot down.

Jantjies, who did everything that could have been asked of him at flyhalf in a busy, courageous performance, scored the final points of the first half with a penalty to make it 16-7. The kicking of the Lions pivot was an obvious high point of his game as he succeeded with all six of his shots at goal.

The French scored the first points of the second half to keep the minds of the Springboks focused as Chavancy ran straight over Kriel in midfield, the Bulls player having to leave the field with concussion, and, from the next ruck, replacement scrumhalf Baptiste Serin dummied and went over the line.

Plisson’s second conversion narrowed the lead of the South Africans to just two points (16-14), but the final quarter belonged to the home side.

The physical effort of the Springboks never flagged, thanks to the impact off the bench of players like Jean-Luc du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen and Bongi Mbonambi, and the outstanding scrum was the other highlight of the performance.

It was just the sort of encouraging performance the Springboks needed to start their year.

Points scorers

South AfricaTry – Jesse Kriel, penalty try (7pts), Ross Cronje, Jan Serfontein. Conversion – Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties – Jantjies (3).

FranceTries – Henry Chavancy, Baptiste Serin. Conversions – Jules Plisson (2).

The John McFarland Column: Lions’ efforts deserve Test selection 0

Posted on June 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks are back in camp and it will be interesting to see the team for the French Tests, two of which will be played at altitude, so it will definitely be an advantage to pick players that are full of confidence and successful on the Highveld.

There’s only one team that has been playing with real conviction and confidence, though, and that is the Lions, so I expect a few debutants from them over the course of the series. It will be a well-deserved honour and credit to their coaches, Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.

The Lions’ 54-10 win over the Southern Kings showed that the difference in strength is vast between them and the other South African teams and they now have a great run-in towards the SuperRugby playoffs. They deserve it after winning three games overseas and they are reaping the rewards in confidence and the way they are playing.

It’s sad for SuperRugby that the playoff places are mostly already sorted out, especially in South Africa. It always used to go down to the last weekend and a very exciting final day of round-robin play. Anyway, it’s a huge advantage to finish first on the log and the Crusaders are three points clear of the Lions as our pacesetters go into the international break.

The Crusaders have some tough New Zealand derbies coming up though, including having to travel to the Hurricanes.

So I believe Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions CEO, can’t wait to pencil in 3pm playoff games on the Highveld. If you speak to the Highlanders players they will tell you that their legs felt like jelly during their semi-final at Ellis Park last year, they just could not get going, and that’s a side packed with All Blacks that lost 30-42.

The Lions will definitely have earned that advantage via their performances, especially their tremendous run of 15 unbeaten games against South African opposition.

Most of the Lions players have been let go by other franchises or picked up from other unions, so you have to credit their hard work and improvement. Guys like Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan were playing for Tuks in 2012/13, while Franco Mostert was also part of that side and nobody has worked harder for their Springbok opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.

A guy like Ross Cronje has worked really hard on his game, he’s been the second-choice at the Lions a lot of the time, but he kept his belief and keeps producing the goods, so his selection is also fully deserved.

It was really pleasing to see Warren Whiteley appointed as the new Springbok captain, he’s a really honest player and always totally committed on the field. You can never accuse Warren of shirking anything, whether that be in terms of workload or skill.

He was with the Sharks as a junior and was a very explosive, impact player who could really cause damage in the wide channels in the last 20 minutes. He has become a dominant captain who epitomises all that his Lions team stands for in terms of culture.

Warren is a superb lineout option and also has safe hands at the back, which is important because it’s vital these days for eighthmen to be able to counter-attack. He brings his Sevens skills to bear.

His journey to the Springbok captaincy has not been easy, he has worked so hard to get there and thoroughly deserves the honour.

The Springboks are heading into a phase of more inclusive leadership, Warren will take notice of the opinions around him and has great empathy. But he showed when he first came into the Springbok group in 2014 that he is strong enough to have his own ideas, he knows the path forward and will not just follow the party line, he will make sure he drives his own opinions. He’s also a great communicator, with the coaches and the playing group.

I wish him all the success he deserves and wouldn’t it be nice for him to have the Rugby Championship trophy in his hands in October?

And Duane Vermeulen playing at seven will definitely work, in terms of their defensive system, they want a blindside flank who can do a lot more when it comes to work-rate. I think the eighthman will stay at a lot of the set-pieces and save his energy for attack and ball-in-hand play.

Duane of course will be in France for the Top 14 final with Toulon and will only have a couple of days training with the Springboks after flying back to South Africa, which is why Jean-Luc du Preez has been called up.

The Sharks v Stormers game showed the difference in strength between the two conferences. The Stormers just could not get that final pass or offload away, which, given their style of play, is essential for them.

Under new coach Robbie Fleck, they’re always going to be involved in high-scoring games, but they need to convert their chances. One has to credit the Sharks for their defence holding firm, which bodes well for the Springboks.

I felt there was some improvement from the Bulls, they were far more physical at the gain-line. There’s obviously been a change in the coaching staff there, which possibly produced the improved display, but unfortunately it was not enough against a clever team like the Hurricanes.

The Bulls will regret those soft moments in defence when the Hurricanes were able to slice through them like a knife through butter.

The positives for the Bulls were Duncan Matthews, the young wing, who really took his opportunity well, and the way the forwards and inside backs competed on the gain-line against one of the most physical sides in SuperRugby (How we wish for the days when the Bulls were the most physical side in the competition!).

I was fortunate enough to be at the Cheetahs game against the Sunwolves and it’s always nice when the South African teams come to Tokyo – because of our relationships in the past, I get to catch up and spend some time with them. The smattering of survival Japanese I have helps them in the shops and with the very complicated subway system!

I thought the Cheetahs ran a very smart week in terms of preparation. Often when a team is coming off a massive losing run (nine games), the temptation is to go harder at the players in training. But the Cheetahs did not do much in Tokyo and Franco Smith ensured the players were very fresh, and they reaped the reward.

The match was quite tight until just before halftime when the Cheetahs scored a killer try to leave the Sunwolves 14-0 down.

I was impressed by the way the Cheetahs played, they kept their shape and Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen were always a big danger on the wings.

It was a big event in Tokyo, because they only get to host a handful of games every season. It’s a huge thing for Japan to have a SuperRugby team.

We need a global game and we should get teams from the USA and Canada involved as well, it has to happen eventually. Look at the improvement in the Argentina team from having the Jaguares involved in SuperRugby – they have been exposed to a higher level of rugby and it has paid dividends.

The biggest drawback is the travel for the Sunwolves and Jaguares, they do nearly twice as much travel as anyone else. It’s always a great feeling going to a new country when you win, but the worst thing is then losing.

So I hope they change the conferences, but who knows because there has still been no clarity from Sanzaar.

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland 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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    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
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