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Ken Borland


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Bulls have the spirit but little power 0

Posted on April 22, 2017 by Ken

 

It was far from the displays of arrogant power the Bulls have historically produced at Loftus Versfeld, but at least they managed to get the win as they scraped through 20-14 against the Cheetahs in their SuperRugby match in Pretoria on Saturday night.

The Bulls were once again their own worst enemies with numerous unforced basic errors, and they left it late to keep their unbeaten record at home intact for this season as Jesse Kriel’s 74th-minute try gave them the lead for the first time and ended up being the last score of the game.

The Cheetahs had led 11-3 at halftime and were able to use their scrum as a tremendous platform, while also disrupting the Bulls’ lineout maul and causing problems with the driving maul. The visitors were also more slick on attack and credit must go to the Bulls defence for restricting them to just one try, and that from a rolling maul.

The Cheetahs scrum made themselves known in the first set-piece of the match, shoving the Bulls towards the touchline and allowing space for a backline move which saw right wing William Small-Smith looping around and then stabbing a clever grubber through which forced the Bulls to concede a five-metre lineout.

The Bulls were penalised for sacking the driving maul and the Cheetahs kicked to touch again, fiery loose forward Paul Schoeman rumbling over for the opening try from the second drive.

The Bulls also did themselves no favours through a lack of presence at the breakdowns, and a nice little dart by outside centre Francois Venter earned the Cheetahs a ruck penalty, which flyhalf Niel Marais slotted to put them 8-0 ahead in the 10th minute.

The Bulls are capable of playing some impressive rugby when they can hang on to the ball without someone dropping a straightforward pass, and 19 phases of sustained pressure eventually led to a penalty, allowing flyhalf Tian Schoeman to put them on the board with a penalty in the 26th minute.

But the scrums are always an area of concern for the Bulls and they soon went down in a heap once again, allowing Marais to extend the Cheetahs’ lead back to 11-3 with another penalty.

That was the halftime score and it had been a disappointing first 40 minutes, with the sheer number of errors backing up those who feel South African rugby players are well behind when it comes to skills.

At least the Free Staters can still scrum, with loosehead prop Charles Marais thoroughly dictating affairs against Bulls tighthead Jacobie Adriaanse, the steady stream of penalties from that set-piece messing up the flow of the game for the home side.

But Adriaanse, together with openside flank Nick de Jager, who had struggled to make any impact at the breakdowns, then sponsored replacement flank Jacques Potgieter for the second try with fine runs and nifty offloads.

Although the Bulls undoubtedly lifted their game in the second half, they still made a lot of unforced errors in the second half and they wasted a fine counter-ruck by replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka when scrumhalf Piet van Zyl fumbled the ball, was tackled and then conceded a penalty at the ruck, Niel Marais stretching the Cheetahs’ lead to 14-10 after the home side had closed to 10-11.

Bulls flyhalf Tian Schoeman brought the gap back to just one point, however, with an excellent long-range penalty punishing the Cheetahs for a high tackle after the home side had run from their own half.

The Bulls certainly showed more attacking spark in the final quarter and the match-winning try also came from a long way out.

Right wing Travis Ismaiel effected a vital turnover inside his own half and left wing Jamba Ulengo then went through the gap, centre Burger Odendaal then feeding outside centre Jesse Kriel out wide, the Springbok cutting back inside to evade two cover-tacklers and score the second, crucial try.

Tian Schoeman converted for a 20-14 lead, but the Bulls defence still had to hold out at the end, Ismaiel and fullback Warrick Gelant combining to tackle left wing Raymond Rhule out on the corner flag in the last play of the game.

It was typical of the spirited defence the Bulls showed all night and the determination of the team not to lose, despite how badly they were playing, must please coach Nollis Marais.

But the Bulls must still do more when they have the ball and their skills have to be better if they are to be a force in SuperRugby. They have the pace and power out wide, but too often they are running from deep, which stifles their attacking efforts.

The Bulls will be enjoying a bye next week, but then they host the Crusaders and Highlanders on successive weekends and they will be far more ruthless in punishing the many errors they are still making.

Points scorers

Bulls: Tries – Jacques Potgieter, Jesse Kriel. Conversions – Tian Schoeman (2). Penalties – Schoeman (2).

Cheetahs: Try – Paul Schoeman. Penalties – Niel Marais (3).

 

John McFarland Column – What made the difference for the Lions? 0

Posted on April 21, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions’ win over the Stormers in the weekend’s big game in Cape Town was a fantastic effort.

I predicted last week that whichever side defended better would win the game and that was the case. The key difference was the Lions defence dominated the collisions and were also able to force vital turnovers against the home side.

The Stormers’ defensive policy meant they stayed out of the rucks because the Lions have such width to their game; but that resulted in uncontested, free ball for the Lions and allowed them to build control of the game, and in defence Jaco Kriel and Malcolm Marx were vociferous over the loose ball.

If a team keeps more numbers on their feet in defence then they can build greater width in their defensive line and it is a tactic used by a lot of teams, mainly at wide rucks. With this you should be able to get greater line speed and come harder off the line because of the players on their feet. The Stormers have used this tactic since the Jacques Nienaber era, with the defence outnumbering the attack, and it requires great discipline for players to stay out of the ruck, and so your penalty count will be lower.

If you do defend that way, then you need line-speed and the Stormers didn’t really have that. You need to put pressure on the halfbacks because they are the decision-makers, cut down their space and options, and that was lacking. Elton Jantjies had his best game of the season.

This is completely different to the approach of a team like the Hurricanes, who put pressure on the ball and push the attack backwards, forcing turnovers, which is the hardest ball to defend against.

First prize in defence is to get good tackle contact, maybe a double-hit, and then get over and steal the ball, like Kriel does. The Stormers are lacking a specialist openside flank which means this form of defence suits them, but obviously they need to revisit their recruitment policy and develop or find an openside.

The Stormers were keen on making offloads, getting their hands above the tackle, which means you have to stay up in contact, leaving you vulnerable to the choke-tackle. The Lions were very effective at keeping square and hitting the carrier so that the offload opportunity was nullified or could only be made under extreme pressure. This also resulted in turnovers through the choke-tackle, just like Ireland used in the 2011 World Cup win over Australia.

The Stormers will be disappointed with the blindside try they allowed Sylvian Mahuza to score because the wing should always be up on the short side, Cheslin Kolbe was hanging back which gave space and Harold Vorster ran a wonderful line, through pillar three and four, who were watching the ruck and not him, allowing him to slice through.

It takes a special talent to see the hole in the defence and then to hit it, and Vorster shows how blessed South African rugby is in terms of backline depth. The two leading centres favoured by Allister Coetzee – Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh – are both injured, so the performances of Vorster have been very encouraging.

The Cheetahs were really on fire for the first 30 minutes of their game against the Chiefs and some of the rugby they played, and the courage they showed to run from deep, was a joy to watch. It just shows that the decision to go with only four South African franchises is going to have the terrible consequence of a lot of people, fine rugby players, losing their livelihoods and jobs, or taking the road overseas.

Francois Venter was very influential with his reverse runs and clever lines, and the Cheetahs still use the strength of their maul well and that caused the Chiefs many problems. They run their exits off the restarts, they take you on first and then look for a short kick. They got good reward from chips during that opening period.

There probably should have been more yellow cards in the first half-hour because the Chiefs were really under the pump and they started to concede penalties rather than tries. They knew that even two penalties against one try was a good deal.

The deliberate conceding of penalties really stops the attacking momentum and after a penalty the offending side then gets territory because they kick deep from the restart! It certainly calls for captains to speak to the referees, the captain needs to put the right sort of pressure on the referee.

Some captains are better at this than others – eg one Richie McCaw! – but it’s a vital thing to get that influence. There are never a lot of yellow cards given because referees don’t want to have an overbearing influence on the game, but there’s normally at least one and it’s important teams find the right time to go to the referee by the captain.

For example, Jan Serfontein’s yellow card last weekend for the Bulls against the Sunwolves was for something not much different to what the Chiefs were doing. But the scoreline influences the decision. In that first half-hour in Bloemfontein, the high tackle when it was a one-on-one by Damian McKenzie was a prime example. He was at the last line of defence and such fouls raise the question of a penalty try.

The Chiefs knew they would score tries at the back end of the match and the Cheetahs’ conditioning was off so the game followed the traditional pattern of South African teams versus New Zealand sides and they ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes.

I was pleased to see the Bulls get back on track and to see CEO Barend van Graan so publicly back the coaching staff. The reward was a quite convincing win and the best result against the Jaguares by a South African team this season.

Congratulations too to all the schools who took part in Easter festivals in South Africa. These are a wonderful showpiece for the game and a very special part of our rugby itinerary. Long may these traditions continue, it’s just wonderful to see the number of games of such quality over the course of a day and that so many come out to support these festivals.

With SA Rugby’s plan for four Super Rugby sides and eight professional Currie Cup sides, you wonder where these highly promising young players are going to get opportunities to play. Obviously the Varsity Cup will be an entry point, hopefully these players will show patience and remain in South Africa.

 

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: SA’s SuperRugby downgrade hard to understand 0

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Ken

 

Sanzaar obviously had to make changes to SuperRugby because the crowds were not reflecting the status of the competition, but I struggle to understand why South Africa have to give up two teams.

Our previous wins at the Sanzaar negotiating table have been because we could always use the threat of going to Europe and our TV figures to get our own way.

So why do New Zealand keep five franchises and South Africa have just four, but we’re a much bigger nation! I know the argument based on the performance of the teams, but in 2013 we had four teams in the top eight and in 2012 three sides in the top six. So we have had the strength, and the Bulls were a dominant force in SuperRugby from 2005-2010, which is not so long ago!

So I struggle to comprehend how a team like the Cheetahs, who are such a strong rugby region, can be facing the axe. Everyone understands that the Kings will have to go due to their financial woes and because they are propped up by Saru, but it will be very disappointing to lose the Cheetahs after they have been in SuperRugby for so long. And the Free State and Griqualand West region has provided a heck of a lot of players who have gone on to greater things.

What really concerns me is that the Springboks will miss out on an extra 30 players to choose from, while New Zealand will have a pool of 150 SuperRugby players, a 20% bigger selection pool.

And it’s easy to say we will retain more players because we will now have more money, but as Faf de Klerk’s offer from Sale shows, guys can still earn more than triple what they’ll get in South Africa by going overseas. I believe we’ll actually retain fewer players because there will be less opportunity with only four franchises. Our coaching ranks will also be diminished with less opportunity for them too.

The funny thing is, a year ago Sanzaar said everything was fine and a big fuss was made about how the new format would mean much less travel for South African sides – a maximum of two flights overseas.

The tournament did need expansion and Argentina have now been able to keep their best players, they haven’t gone to Europe, because there’s a clear pathway for them to develop and express themselves at the highest level. We’ve seen that with the Sunwolves too.

People say it’s not our job to develop rugby in South America and Asia, but that’s shortsighted. Rugby has to be a global game, if it just stayed within the Commonwealth and Argentina, it would die.

Exposing a team from Japan to higher levels of rugby has certainly brought an improvement to their play. There were 22 000 people at the Bulls game in Tokyo and the excitement was incredible, especially considering that the last game in Tokyo saw the Sunwolves lose 83-17 to the Hurricanes!

But there was a great atmosphere and huge interest in the Bulls game, but more on that shock result later on.

In my view, the SuperRugby format should be a 16-team competition – so five New Zealand and South African franchises, four from Australia and the Sunwolves and Jaguares – with everyone playing everyone else once. You would have two three-week tours as part of that.

Six teams would then progress to the playoffs, with the top two sides initially having a bye straight into their home semis against the winners of the quarterfinals, which would be third versus sixth and fourth against fifth.

This weekend I am really looking forward to the match between the Lions and the Stormers, which should be a high-tempo, all out attacking game, but the side that defends best will win it. For the main Easter weekend game to be between the two conference leaders is going to provide a great spectacle.

The quality and skill level of the Stormers last weekend against the Chiefs shows that they have reached a new dimension and you have to credit Robbie Fleck and his staff, and the players, for their willingness to play like that. It’s really high-risk, high-reward rugby and, believe me, it has to be coached!

What was especially pleasing was the way they really matched a New Zealand team at the back end of the game, when it’s normally been a huge struggle for South African teams.

The Sharks also had a good win, even though they are not scoring a lot of tries. They are playing off the other side’s mistakes, like their spectacular intercept try against the Jaguares.

They hung on in there against the Argentinians and it was an important win for their conference, although they will be a bit disappointed they gave the Jaguares a point. But it’s good that they were able to grind it out, hopefully they can get on a roll and get their confidence going.

The humidity in Durban made the ball very slippery and there were similar conditions for the Bulls in Tokyo, a match I was fortunate enough to attend. It was very wet and the Sunwolves managed the conditions better. The Bulls are not far off but they were simply not good enough last weekend.

They took time to get into their stride, they struggled to get control of the game. But then they had control when they were nine points ahead, they were in the pound seats, but the yellow card obviously had a huge influence.

After that the Sunwolves took a scrum with 10 minutes to go and scored the matchwinning try. The lesson for the Bulls is that when a backline player like Jan Serfontein gets a yellow card, then you must replace him. It’s better to have a full backline because you need that speed on defence. It was standard procedure when I was with the Springboks that if a backline player got a yellow card late in the game then we would take a forward off and replace him. Otherwise you’re defending with six versus seven, which is why the Sunwolves were able to break out so easily.

The Sunwolves were also able to keep the ball in play and did a good job of nullifying the Bulls’ lineout maul threat by standing off. That meant the Bulls had to mostly play from static ball. The home side were also very good with their kicks and chips, while the Bulls could have done much better with their chips, especially the one from their own 22 that led to a try.

The Bulls will be really hurting, but they now have a lot of games at home. No other team in the competition has had such a tough start away from home, and the Bulls will now hope they can get some form and a winning run at Loftus Versfeld.

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.

Boks fitter than ever to do justice to up-tempo hopes – De Allende 0

Posted on April 10, 2017 by Ken

 

Centre Damian de Allende said on Wednesday that the Springboks have focused on being fitter than ever this year in order to do justice to the more high-tempo game plan most people are hoping they implement in 2017.

With the Lions being the country’s most successful Super Rugby side, there has been pressure on the Springboks to emulate their expansive, up-tempo style of play, but as De Allende pointed out, the groundwork has to be laid for that in terms of fitness and training.

“It’s tough to play that way if physically you’re not there. You also have to train that way and for a lot of seasons teams have wanted to play that way, but we haven’t trained like that.

“But this year we’ve all been striving for that, the plan is to make our play more dynamic, and our fitness levels have improved immensely. At the start of the season I was probably the fittest I’ve ever been.

“The Stormers are now training like that, we’re not perfect yet, but we’ve come a long way  and we’ve scored some great tries, even from our own 22. We’re still getting better,” De Allende said.

The 25-year-old said he hopes the new international season sees the Springboks all on the same page.

“Every Super Rugby franchise is heading in the same direction and once we all join the Springboks, I hope we’re all on the same page, we should all have the same fitness levels. We’ve changed our mindset a lot and I hope we can all combine better,” he said.

De Allende is still in a moon boot following his ankle injury, but is hopeful that the latter half of May will see his return to action.

 

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