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Ken Borland


Archive for the ‘Rugby’


Focus on the overseas-based players as Springbok selection draws near 0

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Ken

 

It is a rugby truism that any coach stands or falls by his selections and Allister Coetzee’s mind will be rapidly focusing on who will represent the Springboks in the three Tests next month against France, the bulk of whom will surely be invited to the final training camp from May 20-22.

And when the first Springbok squad of 2017 is selected towards the end of the month the focus will once again be on the overseas-based players. But SA Rugby, who have done their coach precious few favours since negotiations with him began in 2015, have put him on the back foot in this regard with their new ruling that, from July 1, only players with 30 Test caps can be chosen from overseas.

If Coetzee had to just choose the most in-form team from SuperRugby then a backline could run on to Loftus Versfeld on June 10 with less than 50 caps, which a coach, on as shaky ground as he is, is highly unlikely to gamble on. The form Super Rugby backline would probably be Bosch-Mvovo-Mapoe-Odendaal-Skosan-Jantjies-Cronje.

So it seems inevitable that Coetzee will call on overseas-based players, especially amongst the backs.

Jan Serfontein is on his way to France and only has 26 Springbok caps at the moment, so he will not be eligible for the Rugby Championship. Should Coetzee pick him anyway against France knowing that he won’t be part of the plans for the rest of the year?

Willie le Roux has been playing with typical enthusiasm for Wasps and is likely to be in the picture at fullback, but Coetzee will be curbing the development of Curwin Bosch by not selecting him against France and instead letting him play in another World Junior Championship for the SA U20s.

Bosch has been one of the standout players in SuperRugby and has come through the ranks having been tipped as a future Springbok star after his exploits with the SA U20s last year. He will surely be involved in the 2019 World Cup, and could quite possibly be needed during this year’s Rugby Championship, so why not get him involved now? Let him play at fullback where he will have more time to settle at senior international level.

Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Morne Steyn and Ruan Pienaar are all still playing well overseas, but the general feeling amongst rugby observers is that it is time we moved on from these superstars, particularly since none of them are likely to be around for the 2019 World Cup. Nevertheless, Coetzee is a desperate coach trying to avoid the axe, so don’t be surprised if he calls on some of these elder statesmen.

While there is probably more depth at forward, veteran hooker Bismarck du Plessis is almost certain to be summoned to play the role of a general in the tight five, and playing the French at the end of their gruelling season with two of the Tests being played on the Highveld should produce open rugby and encourage Coetzee to pick players suited to a free-flowing game plan like Warren Whiteley, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Thomas du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

But the new 30-cap ruling on overseas players will also hurt Coetzee at forward. There is a hint of lawlessness in the way certain agents are shipping their players off overseas these days, so some tightening probably is necessary, but a hard-and-fast arbitrary number like 30 is not in the Springboks’ best interests.

Someone like Saracens tighthead prop Vincent Koch is playing unstoppable rugby at the moment, but he has only nine caps and is ineligible after July 1. If a couple of tightheads get injured during the Rugby Championship, how desperate will Coetzee be to select him? He may be forced to go back to Jannie du Plessis.

Ferocious flank Marcell Coetzee is in a similar position, stranded on 28 caps and currently out of action after another knee injury.

Instead of an inflexible rule, it should be left up to the national coach and Coetzee has already expressed his preference for locally-based players unless there is no viable option in a position, which is how it should be.

Hopefully the boring predictability of SuperRugby these days – those playing SuperBru will know this well – will give way to a thrilling Springbok resurgence next month, but there are numerous selection concerns for Allister Coetzee.

The rapid returns of Pat Lambie, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh to their best would help, but the lack of in-form options at scrumhalf is also an obvious worry. But let’s hope that the natural flair, tremendous tenacity and game-breaking ability of Faf de Klerk is not ignored. Not blooding Curwin Bosch will be a bad enough waste of talent.

 

 

 

Anxious times for Coetzee as his plans are undermined 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken

 

The way his plans for his crucial second year as Springbok coach are being undermined by injuries and overseas departures, Allister Coetzee could be forgiven for starting to take Valium as his appointment with the feisty French looms ever nearer.

Coetzee was spared the axe by SA Rugby after a 2016 campaign that had most Springbok fans in need of post-traumatic stress drugs, and he has also been given more support in terms of more experienced assistants and training camps during SuperRugby.

But there is little doubt that Coetzee needs to produce a series win from the three Tests against France in Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg in June if he is to still be Springbok coach for the Rugby Championship. There are ongoing shadowy moves involving Rassie Erasmus that will have Coetzee perpetually looking over his shoulder.

But the problems Coetzee already faces in terms of selecting his squad would be enough to send someone of less tenacious character running for the hills.

A run of injuries has sidelined his two most capped local flyhalves and his first three choices for inside centre. Another midfield star has decided to pursue his career overseas as has a potential scrumhalf candidate, a position in which Coetzee has real problems.

In fact, if you run through the list of names of local players currently available for the backline, it makes gloomy reading.

And thus we come to the thorny issue of overseas players. The new 30 caps criterion of SA Rugby only comes into effect from July 1, so there are obviously going to be a bunch of foreign-based players included for the French series.

If one had to pick a backline only from the ranks of the SuperRugby franchises, it would be sorely lacking in the experience which is so important at Test level.

On current form, the uncapped Ross Cronje should probably be the starting scrumhalf, but Faf de Klerk, although suffering from the vagaries of form at the moment, must surely feature somewhere, especially since he played in 11 of the Springboks’ 12 Tests last year.

Cobus Reinach is the scrumhalf heading overseas and will be ineligible after July 1 because he only has 10 caps.

At flyhalf, Coetzee is faced with a repeat of last year’s problem when he was without Pat Lambie and Handre Pollard. The Bulls man is a non-starter for the French series, leaving the coach to gamble between a rusty Lambie or a frustrating Elton Jantjies, a man who looks top-class in SuperRugby but has been as hesitant as a vegan in a butchery at Test level.

But hopefully there will be a change in approach from the Springboks this year, a move towards the up-tempo, ball-in-hand style of the Lions, and Jantjies will surely feel more comfortable in that sort of environment.

The Springboks have a history of throwing Lambie into battle when in need of a rescue act, but it would surely not be fair on the 26-year-old to toss him back into Test action after probably just three SuperRugby games.

Curwin Bosch has burst on to the scene for the Sharks, but it would be heaping too much pressure on to the 19-year-old’s shoulders to expect him to play flyhalf for the Springboks, especially when you have Jantjies to call on.

Bosch could well be selected at fullback for the Springboks, however, with Jesse Kriel and Warrick Gelant only producing glimpses of form for the Bulls.

Lwazi Mvovo is likely to be on the one wing for the Springboks and Courtnall Skosan certainly looks like someone who can be relied upon if called to make the step up. The local depth at wing is not great, with Ruan Combrinck out with a long-term injury and Seabelo Senatla and Sergeal Petersen battling to get on the field.

One does not like to dwell on the defensive frailties of players, but for all their brilliance with ball in hand, Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ismaiel, Dillyn Leyds and Cheslin Kolbe have all shown weaknesses in defence that Test opposition will definitely focus on.

Lionel Mapoe and Francois Venter have put their hands up for the outside centre berth, but Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh, the last three players to wear the number 12 jersey for the Springboks, are all currently injured.

De Allende and De Jongh might return to action just before the June international window, but the confirmation last week that Jan Serfontein has given in to the agents flashing lots of numbers on their calculators and will head overseas is most untimely.

While Serfontein can still play against France, will Coetzee be willing to make an investment in a player who will be stranded on 29 Tests, if he plays all three internationals in June, and therefore won’t be eligible for selection for the Rugby Championship?

While I fully understand the reasons players leave to perform overseas, I have it on good authority that Serfontein is managed by an agency that only gets a commission if they land the player an overseas deal.

So obviously his agent was unlikely to recommend the improved contracts that were on the table from both the Bulls and SA Rugby. In fact, there was an unconfirmed report from France that Serfontein had already signed a three-year deal with Montpellier back in January.

Surely SA Rugby could have a case for negotiating in bad faith against the Essentially sports management company and cancel their agents’ licence? This same company hardly covered their names in glory with the way they handled the departures of SA cricketers Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott on Kolpak deals earlier this year …

That leaves someone like the uncapped Burger Odendaal as the frontrunner for the inside centre position and as tempting as it may be to pick a backline purely from SuperRugby players, their total number of caps might then amount to less than 50.

Which means there is the likelihood that the likes of Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar and Morne and Francois Steyn will be winging their way back to South Africa in an effort to make up for their undistinguished recent efforts for the Springboks.

One cannot blame desperate coaches for trying anything to save their own skins, but bringing back all those former stars would surely be a retrograde step in terms of the future of Springbok rugby.

https://www.alloutrugby.com/euro-boks-retro-injuries/

The John McFarland Column – Not enough emphasis on defence 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken

 

To see so many tries scored against the South African teams in SuperRugby last weekend – 26 in all – was disappointing and it’s not great when your top franchises are conceding so many tries in particular, but the problem is that there has just not been enough emphasis on defence.

Look at the value SA Rugby put on defence after Jacques Nienaber left halfway through 2016: they appointed Chean Roux in his position and he will freely admit that he was an absolute rookie defence coach at that stage. What does that say about how they rate defence and defence coaches?

We’ve now had the national indaba and the Springboks are on to their fourth defence coach under Allister Coetzee, but I’m sure Brendan Venter will do a really good job because he has the experience and the skills, and was the architect of the Saracens defensive system that has taken them to the European Champions Cup final.

But there was no national defence coach when the indaba was convened, so I wonder if there was input on defence at that gathering? After conceding a record score against New Zealand, defence was an obvious area that needed fixing.

It’s not Allister’s fault of course because he was handed his staff; now he has been given the staff he wants and I expect to see a massive improvement in the Springboks this year.

There are problems, but the people who coach defence in the franchises will, of course, care deeply about the defensive performances. In 2013, I remember when the Springboks conceded five tries against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, but we needed the bonus point to win the Rugby Championship and we played a high-tempo game, which a lot of people said was one of the best Test matches ever played. But I stewed over those five tries for a month; but then at least we only conceded one try, to France, on the whole European tour thereafter.

So our defence in general is not in a great situation at present and whether it is due to conditioning problems or the speed of the modern game is open to debate. But you can never win a rugby match if you are conceding that many tries.

There’s obviously currently an emphasis on attacking skills but I’m certain the defence coaches are still being given sufficient time with their teams, and they would have done a lot of work on certain aspects of how the opposition attack. Like the Australian middle ruck attack, for instance, where the flyhalf goes hard for the line with a wing or centre like Israel Folau hard on their shoulder.

It’s no surprise when the New Zealand teams employ the kick-pass, especially the Hurricanes.

They employ the rush defence, therefore their wings have to be high and so there is always space behind them. Beauden Barrett would have had a lot of practice doing the kick-pass in training because he would see and have a high understanding of that space all the time.

The Stormers left too much of the field free, nearly 20 metres of space, and with players set in the wide channels, that’s not the smartest move.

In order to make sure you cover the width of the field, you need your tight five to work really hard close to the ruck, to set the breakdown correctly with good placing between the three pillars, and then the outside backs go wider.

The Bulls obviously had problems with their defence and if you said it started with their conditioning then you would not be far off. They also have folding problems, they’re just not setting the breakdown around the corner and so they end up with insufficient numbers.

They were also caught out by grubbers and so one has to ask questions about the back three’s positional play. They need to co-ordinate better to cover those and they need a much higher work-rate.

The Southern Kings have also had defensive problems and so it is only really the Lions and Sharks, who are defending in the same fashion as always, who can be satisfied with their defence.

The Lions have shown a great defensive improvement and one must credit JP Ferreira for improving their consistency in this regard.

The Lions are rolling through nicely and it will be a phenomenal tour if they can beat the Brumbies, which will make it probably the first unbeaten tour by a South African team – a tremendous achievement, and they’ve been winning with bonus points!

We know Australian rugby is at an all-time low and they have even more defensive problems, but their forwards are really their soft underbelly and the Lions have exposed that to great effect.

And the quality of finishing this weekend by Courtnall Skosan and Sylvian Mahuza was top-class. As we get closer to the Springbok selection, it’s a good time for players to remind the national coach that they are out there by scoring skilful tries like that.

In South Africa, skills development seems to be more coach-driven, but in New Zealand, the players take personal responsibility for it. An example at the Kubota Spears is Patrick Osborne, who has played at the top level as a wing, but he works hard on his kicking. He’s playing as a right-footer on the left wing, so he’s constantly working on his left-footed grubbers and other kicks, he does that consistently.

To see a top New Zealand SuperRugby player take individual responsibility like that was quite an eye-opener.

 

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.

Bulls kneel in submission to Crusaders at Loftus 0

Posted on May 06, 2017 by Ken

 

The hapless Bulls were forced to kneel in submission to the might of the Crusaders as they were thrashed 62-24, suffering their biggest ever defeat at their Loftus Versfeld fortress, in their SuperRugby match on Saturday night.

It is both the most points the Bulls have conceded at home and the biggest losing margin, worse than their 56-28 defeat at the hands of the Blues in 2003.

As brilliant as the Crusaders were, the Bulls were utterly supine, their defence passive and lacking any of the fire they had spoken of in the week leading up to the match. Their attacks invariably started from so deep that they were seldom any real threat to a Crusaders side that is playing magnificent rugby at present.

There weren’t many lineouts in the game, but scrummaging was once again the bane of the Bulls’ lives, with that set-piece being destroyed with regularity by a Crusaders tight five led by stalwart Wyatt Crockett. Aimless kicking, poor defensive alignment and bad basic skills were some of the other failings to bedevil the Bulls.

As dismal as the Bulls were, the Crusaders deserve huge credit because they are playing proper rugby at the moment – strong in the set-pieces, direct with plenty of pace and power out wide, their execution is immaculate and coach Scott Robertson is clearly getting a new-look side to play with confidence while thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Outside centre Jack Goodhue, a former All Blacks Sevens player and Junior World Cup winner, was the central figure in the Crusaders’ enforcement of their huge dominance of the advantage line. His decision-making was outstanding, knowing exactly when to carry the ball, which he did with pace and great footwork, and when to put through clever grubbers which ripped the Bulls apart. Two tries were just reward for a powerful display.

The soft defence of the Bulls was obvious in the opening minutes when flank Pete Samu, bursting from a scrappy lineout, was tackled but then just let go inside the 22, allowing the Australian to regather the ball and storm over the line for the opening try. The heart of the Bulls has to be called into question because everyone expected them to come out breathing fire, playing with great physicality to at least make the Crusaders’ expected win tough to achieve.

The scrums were a disaster area for the Bulls with the Crusaders employing the tactic of shifting to the left immediately after the hit. Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss admitted after the game that it was a clever strategy and entirely within the law, the home side just not coping with it.

The Bulls attack is running from deep so often that it is always going to be a huge uphill battle for them to get over the advantage line. The Bulls’ backline is certainly a threat on turnover ball but the lack of vision and skill is also so apparent. A key moment in the game came in the 19th minute when the Bulls created space out wide for fullback Warrick Gelant, who raced down the touchline and then fed the ball inside to Piet van Zyl. The scrumhalf had a man on his inside and outside, but held on to the ball too long and the move broke down. Tian Schoeman then missed the resulting penalty. It was the sort of chance that is a certain try for every New Zealand team and it would have made the score 10-14 to the Crusaders.

The bench did at least make some impact for the Bulls, with Jan Serfontein and replacement flyhalf Francois Brummer, in particular, showing that the way forward may well include them in the starting line-up.

 

Points scorers

Bulls – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Jamba Ulengo, Jan Serfontein. Conversions: Francois Brummer (3). Penalty: Tian Schoeman.

Crusaders – Tries: Pete Samu, Tim Bateman, Scott Barrett, Jack Goodhue (2), Seta Tamanivalu, David Havili, Richie Mo’unga, Andrew Makalio, Mitchell Hunt. Conversions: Mo’unga (5), Hunt.

 

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