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Ken Borland

Matfield returned to finish on a high at World Cup & work with Meyer again 0

Posted on September 18, 2015 by Ken


Finishing his career on a high at the World Cup and having another chance to work with coach Heyneke Meyer were the main reasons Victor Matfield returned to rugby last year after retiring in 2011.

And even the skeptics were won over as Matfield enjoyed a fine season, his excellent form for the Bulls in SuperRugby winning him a return to the Springbok side.

And when the likes of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Flip van der Merwe were injured, the Springboks were reliant on the veteran number five lock to run their lineout, which he did with aplomb.

“There were a lot of challenges last year and it was a big decision to make to play again, it wasn’t easy and I was a bit nervous. But I’m pretty happy with my personal performance.

“Some of the other contenders were injured so it made it a bit easier for me, it opened up a gap for me,” Matfield said.

Having retired at the last World Cup and begun moving into his coaching career at the Bulls, it was Springbok coach Meyer, who coached the Bulls from 2000-2007, who told Matfield he believed he could still feature at this year’s global showpiece, even though he will be 38 when the tournament begins.

“Heyneke told me that if I was at my best, then he knew I would be good enough for another World Cup. But he said I had to play well in SuperRugby. He asked me to come back and knowing I had his backing was a big help in pushing myself.

“It’s one of the big things that motivates me, a new opportunity to work with Heyneke at the Springboks. We were able to build something very special at the Bulls and I was really keen to play with players like Fourie du Preez again, and also guys like Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers, under Heyneke. And it’s been really successful having all of us back together at the Boks,” Matfield said.

The challenge of getting used to the intense physicality required when playing in the pack in top-class rugby was the first thing Matfield had to deal with, and thereafter it was a mental adjustment.

“It was all about the mindset in the end. When you’re 21, rugby is everything. But when you reach my age, then your marriage and your kids are also very important. But you have to decide to give rugby everything, which is a big decision.

“But with the backing of my family, rugby has become number one again. My wife Monja knows that if I put my mind to something then I am very disciplined about it,” Matfield said.

Matfield was allowed to take it relatively easy in the pre-season by Bulls coach Frans Ludeke but the veteran has played all 240 minutes of their first three SuperRugby games.

“Last year I thought that I was only going to play five or six games, but I ended up playing all of them. And now this year we lost our first two games at home, so the pressure is on again.

“I still hope to get managed in terms of game time because it’s important for your recovery. My fitness is there, but after five or six games it takes longer to recover from the knocks and be ready for the next game at my age,” South Africa’s most-capped player said.

Matfield is confident that Meyer will preside over a successful World Cup campaign, and with De Villiers recovering from knee surgery, the former Toulon lock might well be captain.

“My last year before retiring was 2011 and that was a bad year, with a very disappointing World Cup. Heyneke believes I can win another World Cup this year and there are very talented players in South Africa at the moment.

“Heyneke is pushing for us all to be kept fresh through SuperRugby, so hopefully there aren’t too many injuries. If we want to win, then we need all our best players there,” Matfield said.

Matfield has precious experience and his lineout skills are still invaluable. It may seem preposterous, but one of the Springboks best players in the 2015 World Cup could well be Matfield, as it was in Paris in 2007.



Glorious day for AB at SCG bucks trend for SA captains at World Cup 0

Posted on September 15, 2015 by Ken


South African captains have generally been through the mill at World Cups – the deep pain of Graeme Smith in 2011, Shaun Pollock’s stunned expression in 2003, Hansie Cronje’s tears at Edgbaston in 1999 are all still vivid memories – so it was wonderful to see AB de Villiers enjoy a glorious day at the Sydney Cricket Ground yesterday.

Just five weeks after lashing 149 off 44 balls against the West Indies at the Wanderers – his 31-ball century being the fastest in ODI history – De Villiers made 162 not out off 66 deliveries to destroy the same side at another great cathedral of the game.

In the process, the South African captain reached 150 off a record 64 balls, and De Villiers now holds the records for the fastest 50, century and 150 in ODI history, sealing his status as one of the greatest batsmen to have ever played limited-overs cricket.

The Sydney Cricket Ground rose as one for De Villiers after one of the most scintillating displays of batting ever seen on the global stage, and the likeable 31-year-old now has a beautiful World Cup memory to cherish, replacing the nasty scenes of 2011 when New Zealand substitute Kyle Mills was shouting in his face after a mix up with Faf du Plessis accelerated a South African collapse.

In terms of batting excellence, De Villiers’ innings ticked all the boxes.

He came in under pressure with South Africa having lost both set batsmen, Hashim Amla and Du Plessis, for solid half-centuries in the space of three deliveries from Chris Gayle. De Villiers weathered that storm and was able to rotate the strike for the impressive Rilee Rossouw to capitalise on his own brisk start.

It was only once Rossouw had been dismissed – for a momentum-changing 61 off 39 balls – that De Villiers really took the game away from the West Indies.

There was tremendous skill, innovation, some brute force, wonderful placement and brilliant thinking in De Villiers’ innings. Probably the most impressive feature of his batting is the amount of time he has, even against the quick bowlers, to get any delivery away to the area he has pre-identified as a scoring region.

To say that De Villiers has a tremendous eye for the ball is a bit like saying Imran Tahir (South Africa’s best bowler in the tournament) likes to acknowledge taking a wicket with some sort of celebration; combine that with quick feet, lovely wrists, superb timing and placement, plus tactical nous, and bowling to AB becomes a nightmare for even the best bowlers.

For me, there are probably two more things I’d like to see AB de Villiers do.

One is obviously play the match-winning innings in the World Cup final.

For the other, I’m going to dig up the legend of Barry Richards, arguably the greatest South African batsman ever.

The destructive power of Graeme Pollock, the prolific elegance of Jacques Kallis and the silky skills of Hashim Amla all feature in that debate, but for sheer brilliance in being able to fashion any stroke for any ball, Richards and De Villiers probably come out tops.

In the days of Richards, there was no international cricket for South Africans and the club game was of a very high standard, with provincial players in action most of the time. The legend goes that Richards, bored of the humdrum challenges of plundering hundreds, sometimes used to make it more interesting by only using the side of the bat. And the pitches were generally quite juicy in Natal club cricket.

On one famous occasion at the Collegians Club in Pietermaritzburg, Richards used the side of the bat for an over bowled with the new ball by Pat Trimborn, who played four Tests for South Africa!

Given the extraordinary brilliance of De Villiers, perhaps he should take on the bowlers with only the side of the bat just to even the contest a bit!


Wood back at Africa Open looking to right ‘injustice’ of 2011 0

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Ken


Lanky Englishman Chris Wood will be back at next week’s Africa Open at East London Golf Club for the first time since 2012 hoping to right what he might feel was the injustice of 2011, when he lost in a three-way playoff with Louis Oosthuizen and Spain’s Manuel Quiros.

Wood fired a four-under-par 68 on the final day to catch Oosthuizen and Quiros. The 18th was the first playoff hole and Wood safely found the fairway with his blind tee-shot, while Oosthuizen hooked his drive left, but the South African was fortunate to have a good lie and then produced a superb approach shot to eight feet of the flag.

Wood’s 25-foot birdie putt looked on course for the cup until it just faded away on the last few rolls, narrowly missing the hole, while Quiros was on the fringe and could not chip in for birdie. So it was Oosthuizen who holed out for birdie and his third European Tour title.

Wood is joined at the co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour/European Tour event by fellow highly-rated Englishmen Oliver Wilson and David Howell, but just to add even more spice to the Africa Open, there is a strong contingent of Frenchmen, their arch-enemies from across the Channel, coming to East London.

Julien Quesne has had a tough start to the year, including the black mark of a disqualification from the Dubai Desert Classic at the start of February, but he is a two-time European Tour winner and a regular visitor to South Africa.

Gregory Bourdy is the man many are tipping for success at the Africa Open as he is the third highest-placed competitor in the Race to Dubai, at 22nd, while Raphael Jacquelin, the father of four children with wife Fanny, is a four-time European Tour winner. He dreamed of playing professional football before having to give that up due to a knee injury when he was 13 and he initially switched to tennis before taking up golf with great success.

In terms of current newsmakers playing at East London Golf Club, none is bigger than Darren Clarke, the former Open champion who has just been named as Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain, while spectators will also get the chance to see one of the future stars of the tour in 21-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero.

Andrew Dodt, fresh off his victory in the Thailand Classic which lifted him to 13th in the Race to Dubai, and Brett Rumford, who grew up in Perth, a city that shares East London’s reputation for being windy, are coming from Down Under.

Jeev Milkha Singh was the trailblazer for Indian golf and has entered the Africa Open, but Shiv Kapur, one of the rising stars who fell in behind him, is the highest-ranked golfer from the sub-continent in action in East London, at 68th in the Race to Dubai and 240th in the world rankings.

Another Asian talent, South Korea’s Jin Jeong, finished tied second in last year’s Joburg Open and the time may have come for the former world number one amateur to claim his second European Tour title.

But it is English golf that is really taking the European Tour by storm this season and, apart from Wood, SA Open champion Andy Sullivan, Wilson and Howell, Robert Dinwiddie had an excellent Africa Open last year, finishing seventh, just two shots off the playoff, and Matthew Nixon had a strong finish over the weekend with rounds of 68 and 67.

Clearly, South African golfers are going to have their work cut out to ensure that the internationals have to wait a little longer for their first Africa Open title.

Locals aim to bring SA Open crown home for first time since 2011 0

Posted on March 06, 2015 by Ken

A strong contingent of local golfers will tee it up at the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club from Thursday as most of the country’s biggest stars go in search of bringing the national open crown back to these shores for the first time since 2011.

A home golfer has not won the South African Open since Hennie Otto’s triumph at Serengeti Golf Club in 2011 and former champions Ernie Els and Richard Sterne, as well as top contenders Charl Schwartzel, who has just overtaken Tiger Woods in the world rankings, Branden Grace and George Coetzee will all be gunning for the prestigious title of the game’s second oldest national open.

Louis Oosthuizen has sent his apologies and is the major South African absentee, but there is plenty of other home-grown talent for fans to enjoy with Jake Roos, Jacques Blaauw, Darren Fichardt, J’be Kruger, Dawie van der Walt, Danie van Tonder, Jaco van Zyl, Jaco Ahlers, Thomas Aiken and Jean Hugo all having entered.

However, there is also a powerful overseas contingent coming to Edenvale aiming for a third successive overseas win. Denmark’s Morten Orum Madsen is back for his title defence, aiming to become the first golfer to win back-to-back titles since Trevor Immelman in 2003/4.

Edoardo Molinari, who impressed for Europe in the 2010 Ryder Cup, will be one of the favourites from offshore, but any of Peter Uihlein, Pablo Martin, Anders Hansen, Paul Lawrie, Niclas Fasth or Andy Sullivan could continue the recent foreign dominance in the South African Open.

The final field of 166 entrants has yet to be printed, however, with 377 golfers aiming for the last 12 spots at the qualifiers to be held on Tuesday at Kempton Park, Zwartkops and Irene.

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