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Ken Borland

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John McFarland Column – Tries aplenty in pleasing weekend for SA franchises 0

Posted on March 07, 2017 by Ken


Judging by the number of tries scored by the South African teams in SuperRugby last weekend, I’m glad I’m not a defence coach in the South African Conference!

Between them, the Lions (8), Cheetahs (4), Kings (4), Bulls (3), Stormers (3) and Sharks (2) scored 24 tries in some very interesting games of rugby over the weekend, which we have not seen from our teams in SuperRugby for a long time. Newly re-confirmed Springbok coach Allister Coetzee should be delighted.

I believe it is mainly due to the tackle law, stopping players from going high, that we are seeing a lot more offloads in the line, the ball is being kept alive a lot more. There has been a definite improvement in attacking play and I would say it is more a case of the attack improving than the defence deteriorating.

Good weather, good handling and the fact that the players are still fresh has also played a part, and it’s clear the elite players have made a real mindset change when it comes to conditioning and skills.

It was nice to see the Cheetahs put together some really good attacking play in the first half of their match against the Bulls. They were really willing to keep ball in hand and because the Bulls have such a massive pack, every team will try to up the ball-in-play figure against them. The norm is around 35 minutes, but if teams can up that to above 40 minutes then they can test if the Bulls forwards will still be fresh at the end of the game.

It’s interesting, in terms of the Cheetahs attack, that their wings are always on the inside, in the middle of the field. Ryno Benjamin and Raymond Rhule are always threatening the pillars and are not out wide, they have a complete roaming policy.

There’s a perception that the Cheetahs use the full width of the field, but they don’t really. With them, it’s more a case of them playing through you rather than around you and they rarely go into the final 15 metres of the field unless there’s a clear overlap. This also makes it easier for them to support the ball-carrier and they will be less prone to being turned over out wide.

The Cheetahs are also quite inventive.

They’re prepared to chip from their own 22, even by the scrumhalf from the kickoff, so you can see the Cheetahs think outside the box – most people chase restart kicks with their wings, but their primary chasers are their scrumhalf and centre. It means they have a better counter-attacking option with the wings at the back.

Never mind the use of Ryno Benjamin in the lineout!

They also took quick throw-ins because they wanted to keep pace on the ball for the whole game and chase that high ball-in-play figure. The Cheetahs obviously took something out of the Stormers game against the Bulls because they really tried to keep the ball alive and were willing to try and force the offload to avoid rucks.

The Bulls struggled defensively because they were caught a bit narrow a few times and their wings were in two minds whether to go with the line or shadow and push to the touchline, which caused a few problems. I also think the Bulls tried to be over-physical in the sense that they committed too many numbers to the middle rucks at times, sometimes the ball had already gone so counter-rucking was not on.

But the Bulls did score a great try, thanks to a sublime line run by Jason Jenkins off Rudy Paige, to indicate what they can do, as did the way they came back in the second half.

But the Bulls just need to start better, they need cool heads, to have Blue Ice, at the start, when the gainline battle is so important.

The Bulls have also had problems with their lineouts for the last two weeks. The lineout is actually a basic of the game and without possession you cannot get continuity and build pressure with your attack.

But we should remember that they’ve had to start with two away games, although if you have title ambitions, then you’ve got to come through those games and win. They are still quite a young side in certain areas and it will definitely take a bit of time for them to be at their best.

They also have an horrendous draw, with just one game at home in the first seven weeks of the competition. In 2005 we first of all played five away games and then we won all six at home to make the semifinals, and in 2007, when we won SuperRugby for the first time, we also lost our first two games, and in 2016 so did the Hurricanes, so it does not mean the Bulls are out of contention, but champion sides are the most resilient and they come through these sort of challenges.

The Jaguares certainly gave the Stormers a run for their money, but the Cape side are following a high risk, high reward game plan. They are always looking to push the pass and break the line, and they are scoring some lovely tries with off loads and great support.

They are riding their luck at the moment, but the intent is clearly there. They’ve had a mindset shift and now want to be an attacking team, and some days they will fail, but I am pleased to see that thinking.

The Lions have had that mindset for three years now and to score eight tries against the Waratahs, the top Australian side, was very pleasing to everybody in South Africa.

It was also pleasing to see the number of maul tries by the South African teams. Last year the Springboks lost their way a bit in not using the driving maul much, but it is a definite strength of South African rugby. The Lions scored three maul tries and the Cheetahs also scored from the lineout drive.

This was a great weekend for the South African Super franchises and fills us with hope for the Springboks.


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.

Cricket is a strange game but Kingsmead was just stupid 0

Posted on August 29, 2016 by Ken


Cricket is, in many ways, a strange game but there is nothing as infuriating than play not taking place when blue skies and bright sunshine are overhead. That was the case in Durban last weekend as the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand was allowed to just die with only 99.4 overs being bowled in the match.

As an endangered species, Test cricket needs to be given utmost support and attention and I firmly believe that where there is a will, there is a way.

Notwithstanding the foolishness of Cricket South Africa digging up the Kingsmead outfield in order to soften it two weeks later than they should have, meaning it struggled to cope with unseasonal heavy rain in Durban, the villains of the peace for me were English umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth, who showed little interest in actually getting play underway, so fixated were they on a few damp patches on the outfield.

The umpires are the final arbiters of what is fair and safe in terms of conditions, but lines have to be drawn somewhere. Both teams were eager to play – in fact the Proteas were gathered on the side of the field shortly after play was finally abandoned on the fifth day eager to have a run-around and get some fitness in, but they were prevented from going on to the field because that would have made the umpires look bad.

I am certain that if it had been an ODI or a T20 match with similar soft areas of outfield, a plan would have been made and the umpires would have done everything in their power to get a game underway.

As usual, the accountability has been shifted to Kingsmead, who never wanted the outfield to be dug up in the first place. The International Cricket Council, as usual, passed the buck. There was absolutely no communication from the match referee, Andy Pycroft, to explain why play was not possible, and he declined to speak to the media. What’s the point of having a match referee if that is their attitude?

To make matter worse, the umpires were so apathetic when it came to making an effort that they actually banned the groundstaff from the field when groundsman Wilson Ngobese and his staff wanted to proceed with mopping up operations, saying they preferred to allow natural processes like sun and wind to run their course.

Week in and week out rugby players are busy making crunching tackles and sidestepping such collisions in often wet conditions, but how often do one of them turn an ankle? With both teams happy to play, the only conclusion is that Gould and Illingworth were being overly precious.

The future of Test cricket may not bother them or Pycroft, but what happened at Kingsmead under their watch was a fiasco and just another small nail in the coffin of the original format of the game.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis spoke earnestly on Friday about how, for them, Test cricket was still the ultimate and it needed better treatment from the ICC.

“Test cricket is still number one for the players and a Test Championship is a step in the right direction. You ask any of the international players and they will tell you that Test cricket is still the best thing to play and we need to play as many Tests as possible.

“You want to be able to say you’ve given everything on the field and that feeling of winning a Test can’t be copied, especially not by T20. I hope the ICC is looking at that,” Du Plessis said.

Sadly, the ICC are more interested in red tape and bureaucracy, and are way more likely to jump up and down about over-rates, sponsors’ logos being too big or a player saying something even mildly controversial in a press conference.

As usual, the administrators seem to think cricket fans are more interested in what they are up to than in the actual game they are meant to be serving.

AB confident camp will give birth to better fortune 0

Posted on August 17, 2016 by Ken


AB de Villiers says he is confident a “culture camp” the wider Proteas squad held last week will give birth to a resurgence in fortunes for the national side, starting with victory over New Zealand in the two-Test series that gets underway in Durban on Friday.

De Villiers is off for six weeks with an elbow injury the most serious of several niggles he is getting right before the season gets into full swing, but he is clearly still playing a powerful leadership role within the team, speaking confidently about how he backs them to beat New Zealand, when he was interviewed at the launch of the series, at which sponsors Sunfoil announced they would be extending their sponsorship of South African Test and first-class cricket for another two years.

“We had a culture camp five days ago where we were brutally honest with each other about where we are as a team and where we would like to see ourselves. We know exactly where we want to go, we had a lot of hard chats about what is wrong, what issues there are, behind our dip in form.

“A big part of our success in the past has been our culture and we revisited our core values, who we play for. I wouldn’t say we’re in a transitional phase because this is still a fantastic team that can beat anyone. I’m really backing our boys, even though the Black Caps are clearly a force to be reckoned with,” De Villiers said.

The Proteas arrived in Durban extra early for the Test and have had twice-daily practice sessions in order to offset their lack of Test cricket, in contrast to New Zealand, who have just enjoyed a convincing 2-0 win in Zimbabwe. De Villiers, however, predicted that it would be South Africa who would set the early pace in the series.

“One thing we really discussed in our camp was throwing the first punch. We’re proud of our ability to come back from all sorts of trouble, but it’s time for us to dominate from the start now and not be scared of being aggressive, of trying things. Hopefully people will get to see that in this series.

“I think New Zealand could be a bit thin in the batting department and if they don’t score big runs they’ll be in trouble. I don’t think they have an advantage from playing Tests recently, all our guys have played enough cricket and it was much more important for us to connect as players at our camp,” De Villiers said.


Ludeke shuffles his cards for crunch game v Lions 0

Posted on July 29, 2016 by Ken


Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is a believer in rotation and has shuffled his cards for their crunch SuperRugby match against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, announcing a side with five changes to the starting line-up on Thursday.

Springboks Victor Matfield and Jan Serfontein are both over their injuries and return at lock and inside centre respectively, while Trevor Nyakane was always going to start at loosehead prop even before Dean Greyling had to withdraw from the squad with a knee injury suffered in a car accident in midweek.

But Ludeke has decided to rotate his loose-forwards, with two of his hardest-working players, Deon Stegmann and Pierre Spies being replaced by Lappies Labuschagne and Arno Botha.

Stegmann drops out of the match-day 23 with Grant Hattingh, making room for Matfield, able to cover both lock and flank from the bench. Spies has been unwell this week and will be a replacement against the Lions.

“It’s more about rotation than anything else. It’s very positive to have Jan back and Burger Odendaal is on the bench and can have a big impact later in the game. It’s great to have Victor back and Arno and Lappies have both come through their injuries very well.

“Trevor has had a huge impact already this season, we had quite a crisis at tighthead and he really stood up. He’s on a roll, playing well and there’s no mental fatigue with him. At the moment he’s a crucial part of our team,” Ludeke said at Loftus Versfeld on Thursday.

Ludeke confirmed that starting Serfontein at outside centre, where he plays for the Springboks, was an option and the shift may well happen if the Bulls bring Odendaal on for number 13 JJ Engelbrecht at some stage against the Lions.

“Obviously it is an option to play Jan at 13, but we know his combination with JJ works. At this stage a change is not necessary, JJ has no niggles and is going well,” Ludeke said.

On the bench, there is the potential for a first Super Rugby cap for Tuks prop Andrew Beerwinkel, a rising star in South African rugby.

For Matfield, who takes over the captaincy from Spies, Saturday’s match is all about finishing the job in the closing minutes, something the Bulls failed to do in their last-minute 22-18 loss to the Lions at Ellis Park four weeks ago.

“We’re all confident at the moment, we had a great away win against the Sharks and we were in the games against the Stormers and Lions. But we need to pull those games through, we need to know how to finish and convert our chances,” Matfield said.

Team: Jesse Kriel, Francois Hougaard, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Handré Pollard, Piet van Zyl, Arno Botha, Jacques du Plessis, Lappies Labuschagne, Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane. Bench – Callie Visagie, Morné Mellett, Andrew Beerwinkel, Grant Hattingh, Pierre Spies, Tian Schoeman, Burger Odendaal, Jurgen Visser.

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