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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – How the Lions turned around their SuperRugby semifinal 0

Posted on August 01, 2017 by Ken

 

 

In the last 45 minutes of their SuperRugby semi-final, the Lions beat the Hurricanes 41-7, which is a phenomenal achievement against the defending champions and a truly top-quality side.

Altitude was certainly a big factor and you could see the Hurricanes fading away, but the way the Lions set up their amazing comeback was highly impressive.

There were things they definitely needed to do better from the first half, starting with their first-phase defence. They were caught out with a simple second-man play from a lineout for the Wes Goosen try, when there were a couple of misreads, and the turnovers in their own half also provided the Hurricanes with position and points.

There was a lot of long kicking at the start of the game and very few contestable kicks, so there wasn’t a lot of counter-attacking either, with both teams playing safety-first rugby, and the Hurricanes generally capitalising on Lions’ mistakes exiting in their own half.

When the Lions carried the ball, they generally went close to the ruck, either in channel one or on the blindside, attacking the pillars. This did not give the Hurricanes defence the chance to rush, and even though the Lions did not get much momentum and made a few mistakes and turnovers, it kept the Hurricanes tight five making tackles, and by the end of the match they were stuffed, the wind had been taken out of their sails.

The turning point in the match came when Jaco Kriel made a steal just before halftime on halfway, when the Hurricanes had first-phase ball from a lineout. He got in over the ball, the Lions won the penalty and they went for position.

The previous time they had won a penalty in a similar position, they went for the tap-and-run which in hindsight was the wrong decision. But it came from the frustration the players on the outside would have been feeling because they weren’t in the game and someone obviously felt the space was there to attack. No player takes a tap just on their own volition, there would have been a call from someone else.

Jaco Kriel is such a warrior, he never gives up and he has a really tough streak, which influences the whole of the team. I felt that important steal totally changed the momentum of the game as it gave the Lions field position which led to the try just before halftime. The Hurricanes forwards just could not fold into position after a couple of lineout drives and in the end Jacques van Rooyen barged over to bring the Lions back into the game.

The Hurricanes had all the possession and territory in the first half, but the second half was all Lions. Their scrum was dominant enough to gain penalties to gain field position in the 22 for lineout mauls.

I felt the Hurricanes yellow card was very harsh. Beauden Barrett definitely rolled away, but the ball squirted out on his side and into his legs. It was definitely a penalty, but with their flyhalf and main general off the field, the Hurricanes fell apart and the game really opened up for the Lions.

They converted their field position into points well and were ruthless in terms of their lineout maul. It takes a fair amount of numbers to stop them setting it up and driving, so that opened up other options for them as well off the lineout.

The big thing though was that the belief was there in the Lions team and you have to also give credit to their whole coaching staff. And Cash [Ivan van Rooyen], their conditioning coach, is their real unsung hero. Against the New Zealand teams, it’s always in the last 20 minutes that they come back so strongly, but the Lions actually dominated the final quarter, which shows they are in tip-top shape.

In terms of defence, it was very difficult to go around the Lions with Andries Coetzee coming into the line very early as the extra man. That does leave them vulnerable at the back, but the Hurricanes weren’t able to get kick-passes or grubbers in behind.

And the Lions scored some really well-worked tries. Especially the one where their centres set things up and their loose forwards finished out wide. Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have the size in midfield, and then they have the pace of Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith out wide to finish.

I thought Franco Mostert was immense and is really starting to look like a world-class lock, and his two consecutive lineout steals in the first half were crucial in keeping the Lions in the game.

The biggest compliment one can pay Malcolm Marx is that he did not lose anything to Dane Coles, who is possibly the best hooker in the world. A long Springbok career lies ahead of Malcolm and we are blessed to have someone of that size starting their international career so early.

In the final, however, the Crusaders will be a totally different kettle of fish to the Hurricanes. They have a number of All Blacks, especially in the tight five, and world-class back-row forwards. They have some of the best players in the world in Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Owen Franks, they are second to none and they all play in key areas.

So there’s going to be a lot more pressure on the Lions at the scrum and lineout. While the Hurricanes stayed down against the Lions lineout, which gave them a lot more latitude, the Crusaders will definitely compete.

I thought the Crusaders were very clinical in their semi-final against the Chiefs, even though they also don’t compete much at the breakdown (apart from Ryan Crotty), they concentrate on having numbers of defenders on their feet. That will mean a lot of free ball for the Lions, which is a big risk at altitude.

The key moment in that semi-final was the Tim Nanai-Williams grubber try and a great call by the TMO to cancel out even though Damian McKenzie was shaping for the conversion. It’s important to get those decisions right in matches like that and it was correct.

It’s great that the final will be a sell-out crowd and a great way for Johan Ackermann to finish his tenure at the Lions.

The Lions have now got a lot of belief and confidence and I think they will emerge as the 2017 SuperRugby champions. It has proven nigh-on impossible for a team to win a SuperRugby final outside their own country, never mind crossing the Indian Ocean. I think it will be done at some time, but hopefully not this weekend.

 

 

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: A special win for the Springboks 0

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Ken

 

It was really a quite special win for the Springboks over France at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, against a side that definitely turned up, were hard to break down and were the best French side available on that Saturday.

The match was brutal on the gain-line, there were double-hits, they smashed the Springboks and the Springboks smashed them, so it was a great Test for the home side to come through, especially with five debutants in the 23-man squad. It’s a great start to their 2017 season.

The match was in the balance at 16-14 and then came the penalty try. Given how quickly the officials made up their minds, it must have been a clearcut decision.

The Springbok attack was definitely based around getting to the middle of the field and there were a lot of tip-on passes from the forward pods, which creates indecision in the defence, one-on-one tackles and lightning-quick ball. It’s quite an effective tactic against a rush defence.

From middle rucks, sometimes the outside back-row forward would come hard off the scrumhalf, who would either play him or go behind his back to Elton Jantjies, which makes the defence sit a bit and creates space.

There was a lot of quality passing from the Springboks, which was not in evidence last year, and there was definitely more attacking understanding and ball-in-hand play.

It was great that Jantjies looked so composed, and he and Ross Cronje, who gave very slick service and was a threat around the edges, directed play well; they always had a couple of options and it created indecision in the French defence. Because Elton is the only specialist flyhalf in the squad, he’s not looking over his shoulder and he feels he has Allister Coetzee’s total backing, he can run the show. It’s the sort of thing a key decision-maker wants.

Andries Coetzee, in his first Test, showed real pace, especially in the outside channels, he showed one or two lovely touches and was willing to run the ball back from deep, he really had a go.

The ball-carries of Malcolm Marx were exceptional and the Springboks made a lot of blindside probes, guys like Marx running a hard line close to the ruck, and he bounced off defenders at will, also creating more space. When was the last time we saw such a physically dominant performance by a South African hooker?

The scrum was very compact, it looked in good shape and form and was used as a good platform. The Springboks had two very experienced props, plus with their locks and loose forwards, there was no shortage of beef behind them.

The lineout also functioned really well, Eben Etzebeth was really good, and the Springboks won most of their pressure throws. There were not many easy balls at number two in the lineout, and it’s very difficult to attack from the front of the lineout. So they were very adventurous with their lineout tactics and Marx’s throwing was spot-on.

It was also a superbly-executed try off a throw to the back, a move which was very difficult to defend against. It’s very special to score those sort of tries at Test level, so credit to the coaches, it takes some doing.

In terms of the kicking game, South Africa cleared their lines very well and were never under pressure from kickoffs, it was just one hit up and then back to Jantjies, who kicked it to halfway. In the middle areas of the field, they would drive to suck in forwards and then Cronje would kick, and there was excellent execution of that too.

It was also a very much improved defensive display from the Springboks, credit to Brendan Venter for the best defensive performance by a South African team this year. There was brutality on the gain-line, great field-coverage and, at the end of the game, their willingness to put their bodies on the line and keep the French out was tremendous.

The defence looked organised and in the French faces for the whole game, and it will only get better as the players settle into the system. What was most impressive was how disciplined they were, so France only had one penalty shot at goal.

A small area of improvement that is needed was that they became a little compressed from wide rucks and were caught a little short on numbers in the outside channels. They came off the line quite hard and if France were able to get the ball behind their first line of attackers then they did find space.

The Springboks also closed very early at fullback, Coetzee came very early into the line, which means you then rely a lot on the scrumhalf for cover. Everyone does it these days, but sometimes perhaps the fullback should not be so quick to come up.

But it was a good start for the first Test and you can see the team is much more bonded, the leadership has set the right tone. Warren Whiteley is so selfless and empathetic, as alluded to in this column when he got the Springbok captain’s job, so he is in tune with his team.

France will obviously be a different animal in Durban, especially because they have just been physically dominated. But the whole Springbok side worked so hard, to keep a Test side pointless in the last 25 minutes at altitude is an amazing effort and it speaks to South Africa having a really strong bench.

It was a really positive start and we hope for more over the next two weeks.

And good luck too to the South African U20s for their Junior World Cup semi-final. It’s going to be a really big challenge against the England U20s, but I hope they can come through.

 

It was an unpromising start … but Boucher has flourished in new role as coach 0

Posted on May 31, 2017 by Ken

 

As a player, Mark Boucher showed many times that he was a difficult man to rattle, a tenacious character who was at his best when his back was against the wall. But even he was shaken by the start to his coaching career.

Due to a prior commitment to play golf in the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, Boucher was not actually at SuperSport Park when the Titans began their competitive season with a four-day game against the Knights. It started well enough with the Titans securing a 113-run first-innings lead on the opening day.

Boucher was keeping a regular eye on proceedings via his mobile phone and was on the 14th tee box at Carnoustie, rated one of the nastiest courses in the world with a particularly tough stretch of closing holes, when he checked the latest score on the second day of the Sunfoil Series match.

The Titans had been bowled out for 57, their lowest score ever, and Boucher had to phone a friend to check that the extraordinary collapse was, in fact, real.

“On 14, 15, 16 and 17, I hit all my tee shots out of bounds. But I guess it’s one of those things that happens in cricket; the other day the Bangalore Royal Challengers were bowled out for just 49 with Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle in their line-up.

“But it wasn’t great to see and I knew the only way the players would really get better is by being very honest about it. But we lost the next game as well, another poor performance, so we had to work really hard at practice and we won the next two games really well, both by an innings, and that was the turnaround,” Boucher told Saturday Citizen.

From the unpromising beginnings of that spluttering start, the Titans dominated the rest of the season. They only just failed to repair the damage of those first two Sunfoil Series losses, finishing only 1.78 points behind the Knights, but claimed the CSA T20 Challenge and Momentum One-Day Cup in convincing fashion.

Boucher modestly suggests he had luxury sedans to deal with in terms of the players at his disposal, but the way he has worked with cricketers from throughout the spectrum – seasoned former internationals, current Proteas, exciting youngsters who have pushed themselves to the brink of international cricket, and those journeymen who are the stalwarts of a team – as well as the media and administrators, has been highly impressive.

“The Titans always had a very successful set-up, the culture was very strong, and I always looked up to them as a player. They’ve had years of good discipline and a good team ethic.

“And they knew how to win. So it was just a case of trying to keep that culture and adding my knowledge. It would be difficult not to be successful with all that talent,” the 40-year-old said.

But he has handled the challenges of balancing a team with the Black players and keeping the left-out White players happy extremely well.

“I knew it would be a challenge, but I’ve enjoyed it. The emphasis has been on team, there are a lot of stars and great players here, but team is what makes it tick. A lot of players who would play every game with the other franchises have had to sit out and in the limited-overs finals Shaun von Berg and David Wiese had to miss out, which was really hard because they both had very good seasons. But they made good with the time they had,” Boucher said.

The nuggety wicketkeeper/batsman had an inspirational effect on his Proteas team-mates and it seems those qualities have transferred to his new career as a coach.

“Not every good player becomes a good coach but I have always enjoyed working with players. Mickey Arthur said I should go help the bowlers with their batting so they could stick around with me in the lower-order, and I spent a lot of time giving Paul Harris, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn short balls from the bowling machine. They didn’t particularly like it, but it worked!

“So I think there is a bit of that mould in me, but I’m a completely different coach to how I was as a player. I don’t mind using harsh words, but I try to be fair. I had so many coaches in my playing days so my attitude is ‘what would I have liked as a player in this situation?’,” Boucher said.

Surprisingly, he finds the white-knuckle moments the hardest.

“My big challenge is dealing with pressure, it’s twice as bad as the coach because you can’t do anything about it out in the middle! So I have to look in the mirror and tell myself I need to calm down because the players can feed off that. I’m still a young coach and I’m still learning.”

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170520/282497183600083

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.



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