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Ken Borland


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Chapter & verse from Coetzee, and then what? 0

Posted on December 10, 2017 by Ken

 

In the next week, national coach Allister Coetzee will have to give chapter and verse on what happened to the Springboks this year to the SA Rugby executive council and if he stays true to his public pronouncements after the loss to Wales, then he will describe his charges as “a side that is on the up” and having “a really healthy team environment”.

Which is nothing but a sop for a South African public that rightly expects top-class performances from their national rugby team. Instead, the Springboks have endured a decidedly mediocre year, without a single rousing victory for Coetzee to rave about at his performance review. Victories over France, Argentina and Italy are not results we would expect the Springboks to boast about, and neither were two draws against a very average Australian side.

The results have been disappointing enough but to add insult to injury, the Springboks are playing such uninspired rugby that it feels like we are back to the most conservative days early on in Heyneke Meyer’s tenure as national coach.

Simply put, the Springboks are not making any progress under Coetzee. In fact, we have seen two more unwanted milestones set this year in record defeats to New Zealand and Ireland.

To put an end to this continued slide into mediocrity, SA Rugby simply have to hold Coetzee accountable and relieve him of his duties as Springbok coach. I had sympathy for him this time last year because he was coaching with one hand tied behind his back, perhaps even being set up to fail, but this year he has been given everything he wanted and even said at the start of the campaign that there were no excuses this year.

In the general public, Rassie Erasmus, freshly back in the post of director of rugby, is seen as the obvious candidate to replace Coetzee and try and rescue South Africa’s hopes for the 2019 World Cup.

But Erasmus has shown little desire to emerge from the shadows, from which he has been strategising, and there seems little doubt that the rumours that Deon Davids of the Southern Kings will be the new Springbok coach have emanated from his office via his usual journalistic channels.

Davids has done wonders with the Kings considering the lack of resources, both in terms of players and finance, and time he has had to deal with, and is highly-rated as a coach. But other players and coaches tell me he would be out of his depth at international level.

I do have a fundamental problem, though, if Davids is appointed to merely be the face of the Springboks with Erasmus making all the big decisions.

The Springbok coach needs to be accountable to the fans and he needs to be regularly available to the media to explain his decisions; something Coetzee and those before him have never shirked. Erasmus cannot be allowed to be pulling the strings and not seen to be answerable for the national team’s performance.

As Springbok coach, Coetzee has made some stupid selections (such as neutralising Eben Etzebeth as an enforcer by making him captain) and has rightly been called to task for them; Erasmus cannot be allowed to operate as a dictatorial figure whose instructions are not open to scrutiny.

The time has come for change, but as in Zimbabwean politics, there are concerns that the change won’t necessarily be for the better. The smooth-talking Erasmus has been able to con a lot of people in recent years, but perhaps now is the time for him to display his rugby acumen in the frontline, under the glare of the television cameras and the beady eye of the fourth estate.

 

Rugby not expediting much joy for me 0

Posted on December 05, 2017 by Ken

 

I must confess to a certain sense of relief today as our rugby season (the 15-man game anyway) comes to an end this weekend with the misfiring Springboks facing a daunting assignment in Cardiff. Sad to say, but I find myself more and more irritated by rugby these days.

The uninspiring fare dished up by the Springboks, made worse by the tantalising glimpse they gave of what they are capable of in the Newlands Test against the All Blacks, brings little joy and the two domestic sides I cover, the Bulls and Sharks, have had more heartache than cheer this year. Even the Lions’ loss in the Super Rugby final still hurts.

Nevertheless, just to get two last parting shots in before Christmas, rugby made me angry twice more this week.

It’s annoying that Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is not expediting the smooth introduction of the tremendously talented Warrick Gelant into international rugby. Instead of playing him in his natural position of fullback, where change is surely required because the solid Andries Coetzee has done little to suggest star-quality, coach Coetzee has plonked Gelant on the wing for his first start.

The selection of players out of position has become something of a Springbok curse in recent years, but the disappointing treatment of Gelant might also be due to the lack of options Coetzee has on the wing. As at fullback, we can all see change is necessary, but the only other specialist wing in the squad is Raymond Rhule, and would he really improve things?

A rugby sage once told me that Springbok coaches stand or fall by selection and, judging by the number of times Coetzee has replaced an injured player with someone who plays in a different position, the current national coach is obviously failing in this regard. Just on this tour, we’ve had an eighthman, Duane Vermeulen, replacing a prop, Coenie Oosthuizen, and lock Ruan Botha came in for flank Jean-Luc du Preez, which clearly shows he got the initial selections wrong.

But the failure of WorldRugby to honour their own processes and award the 2023 World Cup to South Africa was the low point of the year; at least South Africa’s 57-0 thrashing in Albany came with plenty of wonderful rugby from the All Blacks to admire.

The duplicity and lack of integrity shown by their council members makes the blood boil, and the reputation of rugby took a major hit in London a fortnight ago.

So it was with utter shock that I observed the sheer nerve of WorldRugby this week trying to clamp down on players writing messages on their strapping. The rationale was that WorldRugby had no control over what messaging was displayed and with the pettiness typical of the jobsworths who have more regard for their own positions and privilege than the good of the game, the decision was made to clamp down.

Perhaps WorldRugby should worry more about the game being brought into disrepute by their own administrators; the message sent by the 2023 World Cup decision was far worse than anything a player could fit on to his strapping.

Sport did bring me some happiness this week though. It was wonderful to see a cricketing legend of yesteryear, Mike Procter, team up with one of the country’s most talented young writers, Lungani Zama, to launch an updated autobiography.

Procter, of course, played in an era when someone like Zama, who is a good enough cricketer to have played for the KZN Inland side before they gained first-class status, was not allowed to fully express their talents.

Procter, one of the all-time greats of South African cricket and a former national coach and selector, understands these issues and it is wonderful to see him so actively involved in cricket development through his coaching work at the Ottawa Primary School outside Durban, introducing the game to nearly a thousand underprivileged children.

A cricketer capable of taking the new ball and bowling at 145km/h, with prodigious swing, and a good enough batsman to score 254 against Western Province in a Currie Cup game, Procter was obviously a rare talent and one that the current lovers of the game really need to know more about.

He is certainly one of the contenders for the title of greatest all-rounder the game has known and the story of his playing days is augmented with fascinating accounts of his stint as an ICC match referee, having to deal with the major controversies of Darrell Hair abandoning an England v Pakistan Test match, the Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds ‘Monkeygate’ saga, and the bomb blast that ended international cricket in Pakistan.

As Caught in the Middle details, Procter is one of the heroes of the game still adding value in the present day.

 

John McFarland Column: How do the Springboks beat Ireland? 0

Posted on November 08, 2017 by Ken

 

The first priority for the Springboks when they meet Ireland in Dublin on Saturday will be to defuse the Irish kicking game.

Ireland have very strong halfbacks with a very good aerial game, especially the pinpoint accuracy of Conor Murray’s box-kicks, which he is able to launch from behind the maul.

Which is why Allister Coetzee will choose such a big pack, with Pieter-Steph du Toit in the back row it means they have an extra jumper at the tail and three big lineout forwards. It is vital that the Springbok forwards get on top and make sure that the Ireland halfbacks get back-foot ball. Ross Cronje can then get after flyhalf Jonathan Sexton and the locks can look after Murray on his box-kicks.

It was interesting to see in New Zealand during the Lions tour how there was a clear plan to unsettle Murray by attacking him on the blindside and rushing on to his non-kicking foot. I don’t think the Springboks will do the same thing – the legality of the tactic is a bit dubious, but it shows that he can be unsettled.

In terms of receiving those Irish kicks, Allister Coetzee has gone for continuity all year and Dillyn Leyds and Courtnall Skosan are both good under the high ball. It’s similar to how the All Blacks go behind Aaron Smith’s kicks, but it’s not just about the way you catch those balls, it’s also about getting escorts back and making it difficult for the opposition to get a clear jump, and getting numbers around the first ruck.

It’s also an advantage having Andries Coetzee at fullback because Sexton is a bit different to every other international kicker in that he is prepared to launch lots of torpedo kicks. They are quite hard to take because they move quicker through the air and gain more distance.

The torpedo is a more high-risk kick, it requires a higher skill level and it depends on having time on the ball. The punt is safer and more accurate, which is why most kicking coaches favour it. But Sexton’s kicking coach is Dave Alred, who worked with the Springboks in 2014 for two weeks, and he is a big advocate of the torpedo kick.

But because Coetzee is left-footed and both Irish halfbacks are right-footed, they will be kicking into his strength and he can also do the torpedo kick.

Otherwise the Springboks should just continue in the same vein as they ended the Rugby Championship: a good set-piece, a strong maul, good defence, getting their ball-carriers over the gain-line and dominating the collisions.

The other key for South Africa is to defuse Ireland’s ball-carriers on the gain-line. It will be interesting to see CJ Stander starting in his adopted country against the Springboks and whether they are able to put him on the back foot because Ireland get a lot of momentum and base a lot of attacking play off his carries. I’m sure he will be very motivated to right the wrong of the Cape Town Test last year when he got a red card. Francois Louw and Siya Kolisi against Stander is going to be a revealing battle.

In 2012, Heyneke Meyer picked a lot of apprentice Springboks in his first Test squad and Stander and Kolisi were both in that wider group. They are both world-class performers and it will be a great contest.

Allister Coetzee will maybe start Handre Pollard at flyhalf, but there is a little problem in that position because neither he nor Elton Jantjies have played a live, competitive game since the All Blacks match a month ago in Cape Town, which is a small disadvantage.

Even though Pollard has been training a lot, he hasn’t started a game for a long time. But if they feel he is the right guy going forward, and you do get different things from him, then they should choose him sooner rather than later.

Pollard is a lot faster to the gain-line, he’s a threat with ball-in-hand and has a great show-and-go. He has the ability to beat defenders off front-foot ball, whereas Jantjies is more of a distributor.

I’m also looking forward to seeing Damian de Allende get a start at inside centre. He has been picked in front of Francois Venter, who has been playing more at outside centre, all year, he has size and good feet and is a fantastic distributor. De Allende had a stellar year in 2015 but has not quite hit the same levels since then, so hopefully he will now get a good run of Tests. The Springboks generally favour having a ball-carrying, gain-line dominator at 12.

Otherwise Allister Coetzee will probably reward the guys who played quite well against New Zealand in the last Test, you have to show faith as a coach; Heyneke Meyer always said loyalty to performance was important.

It will be interesting to see how Malcolm Marx does starting a Test overseas after his world-class performance at Newlands, can he maintain that consistency?

That applies to Steven Kitshoff too and with Wilco Louw coming through, the props can rotate. The stronger scrummagers should start and establish dominance, and then the more mobile props can come on and ram home the advantage.

Matt Proudfoot has done a great job establishing six good front row forwards and in the World Cup year, Vincent Koch will come into the mix as well. Plus there’s Frans Malherbe and Trevor Nyakane, so there should be plenty of props going into 2019. It will be a nice selection headache to have.

Ireland have a strong front row, though, with Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath, so the scrum battle will obviously be worth watching.

The Springboks need a good start in this European tour, winning the first two games is important.

 

 

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: Let’s get real about the Currie Cup 0

Posted on November 02, 2017 by Ken

 

The Currie Cup final was a real spectacle, but it is a competition that SA Rugby really needs to sort out and it doesn’t any longer have any real bearing on Springbok selection for the end-of-year tour.

The Currie Cup staggered to the playoff rounds, when there was far more interest, but the competition cannot overlap with SuperRugby, teams can’t be playing three games in a week and we can’t have the situation we had this year with the Free State Cheetahs starting with a team on fire, winning five of their first six games, but then having to go and play in the Pro14.

SA Rugby needs to get the crowds back to the Currie Cup, it is the most traditional South African tournament and every player and coach, when they set out on their career, they want to win it. The basis of South African rugby is unions, not franchises, that’s how they run it, so the Currie Cup should be SA Rugby’s main competition.

One must commend the two smaller unions, the Pumas and Griquas, for showing how much they belong in the tournament. The Pumas hammered the Blue Bulls by 50 and Griquas beat eventual champions Western Province, and both teams gave some of the other sides real frights.

The Springboks have shown good continuity in their selection – Lukhanyo Am has been recalled after being in the squad in June, Louis Schreuder was there already and Warrick Gelant has been part of the training camps. You don’t want to keep starting again with new players and you don’t want the situation where guys have to fly in and out because of the game against Wales on December 2 falling outside the international window.

Allister Coetzee has been pretty consistent in selection this year and the players have responded because it shows the coach has belief in them, after a good run in which the only team to beat them has been the All Blacks.

Ireland, they’re first up, will be the toughest game for the Springboks on their tour, because of where they are after a stellar year, but I expect South Africa to beat France, Italy and Wales. If the Springboks can win all four tour games, it would be a very good year indeed.

Against Ireland, the Springboks will need a solid lineout and a bit of size around the field, which is why I think Pieter-Steph du Toit will be chosen as a back-row forward from now on. They will need to dominate the set-pieces and have a good kicking game on those fields. The back three will need to absorb pressure and put it back on Ireland because Conor Murray kicks 70% of the time for Munster and kicking from scrumhalf, there’s always a good chase.

The Springbok team is always chosen before the Currie Cup final so that you don’t make emotional decisions, so there are no late inclusions and no outsiders suddenly selected. International rugby is really high-pressure and you need guys who have played well consistently.

Curwin Bosch showed some great moments of class in the final, especially with his kicking game – that drop goal was particularly brilliant. But he’s been in the system since he was 16, part of South African rugby’s elite programs, flagged as a major talent. But it’s obvious he has a weakness in defence, in fact it’s his only real weakness.

This will obviously have to be worked on during the end-of-year tour, but why hasn’t it been worked on already? There are no small centres in international rugby anymore and if he’s going to play in the flyhalf channel then he has no choice – he has to fix his defence or move to fullback.

Robert du Preez certainly put his hand up in the final and I am sure he will get his chance with the Springboks. He now needs a good SuperRugby season.

In the game itself, the other big defensive lapse came when Nizaam Carr picked up against the wheel of the scrum and there was very poor defence by the Sharks flank, it was their dominant scrum but he still allowed the Western Province eighthman to get around him and set up the try.

The final showed the value of a great set-piece and forward-dominance. Western Province were completely in charge from the time their front row was dominant.

The Sharks were maybe a little over-confident after their scrum demolished the Blue Bulls in the semi-finals, but hats off to Wilco Louw and JC Janse van Rensburg.

Wilco has received plenty of deserved plaudits, but hats off to JC as well, who is a real stalwart, especially at the scrummage. Many a tighthead has come off second-best against him and he is unfortunate not to have a Springbok cap, although he did go on tour with us to Great Britain in 2012.

It was a clear turning point in the game when Western Province scored a try just before halftime, with Damian Willemse having the vision to evade Kobus van Wyk’s spot-tackle. There are always risks to rushing out like the Sharks wing did, and Western Province kept the ball for a number of phases after the break by their fullback and the try left them only five behind going into the second half, when Western Province just completely pegged down the Sharks through the dominance of their pack and set-piece.

The Sharks were probably the better team in broken-field play, they have quite exciting backs, and they got a lot of mileage from the kickoffs. That’s a basic thing, but it seems most locks in the Currie Cup were not able to catch the ball! So that’s a work-on for South African teams ahead of SuperRugby.

For the Sharks, they can still approach 2018 with some confidence. They chose not to pick the experienced Chiliboy Ralepelle in their squad for the final, and they’ll have him and Beast Mtawarira back in the front row. They’ll also have some nice physicality in the backs with Robert du Preez arriving at flyhalf and Andre Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw and Louis Schreuder around him.

 


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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