for quality writing

Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: How to beat the All Blacks 0

Posted on July 12, 2017 by Ken

 

It was an enthralling final Test between the All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions, and a tremendous achievement for the visitors to draw a series in New Zealand. Every international coach will have looked at the three Tests and will take something from them – it has shown it is possible to beat the All Blacks.

So how did the Lions achieve this?

Firstly, their defence over the three Tests was superb, so hats off to the Farrell family.

It’s no coincidence that most of New Zealand’s losses over the last few years have been caused by a rush defence and a high line speed, so Lions, England and Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell should really take a bow – he has now enjoyed three wins and a draw against the All Blacks since 2013.

And then there was his son Owen’s kicking. None of his kicks at goal in the last Test were gimmes and it was very interesting to see that even with Jonny Sexton, who has such a high success rate in his kicking record, at flyhalf, the Lions went with Farrell for goalkicking and that’s what made the difference in the end.

The All Blacks were disciplined in their own 22, but were prepared to give away penalties further away from their line, and Farrell kept the Lions in the game.

It was the defence that was able to disrupt the New Zealand attacking structure, they weren’t really able to go forward or get the ball wide, because the Lions totally dominated the gain-line and the rush-defence took time and space away from Beauden Barrett. But it didn’t operate from a tight base, the wings were on the second-last runners and would not always engage, sometimes they would back off on to the last runner, therefore there was no kicking space behind them.

The Lions also chose two openside flanks who were a real nuisance at the breakdown.

The biggest thing about the rush-defence is that it means you are so square in the tackle, you line up your man and come forward, there’s no shifting. The Lions tackling was very confrontational, they didn’t really hit the legs but tended to be just under the ball. This forced more errors and led to dominance in the tackle; a softer defence relies on leg-tackles and a confrontational rush-defence on chest tackles. You can see it unnerved the All Blacks and with the quality of defenders the Lions had – players like Jonathan Davies, Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien – the system totally suited them.

The shift put in by the Lions forwards at the coalface was also amazing and New Zealand could not get any offloads or tip-passes going at all. The Lions cleverly took out the support players, so the ball was wide open at the breakdowns. The quality of the tackles and the athletes involved meant that on the tip-ons, they frequently took the passer out of play, which exposed the ball-carrier and then the turnover could happen.

What was especially interesting to me was that New Zealand just could not get the ball to the outside channels in space, and even if they tried, Barrett was frequently standing still and then it was easy for the Lions to pick off the carriers.

The way to break down the rush-defence is through the kick-pass and offloading from contact and it’s no coincidence that the All Blacks scored from this.

The Lions also relied tremendously on Conor Murray’s box-kicking. There was no messing around here – they would maul or box-kick immediately from the restart and that put pressure on the New Zealand wings, thanks to the quality of Murray’s kicking and exits.

For me, Murray was the real star of the series, his tactical control was superb; him kicking contestables meant the All Blacks never had a chance to counter-attack or get the ball back from the Lions back three with running bombs.

The New Zealand attack was very static. They wanted a two-sided attack against the rush-defence, but they played a lot of one-pass rugby, which made it quite easy to defend.

One of the key moments of the final Test was the chase back of Davies on Ngani Laumape after Barrett’s intercept, it was just superb. It was a series-turning moment and the other players get really excited when they see that sort of attitude and commitment from a team-mate.

It was an enthralling finish to the series, but it’s a pity to see such a great Test end with all the focus on Mr Roman Poite.

His eccentricities have been exposed even before Eden Park last weekend: there was the red card he gave Bismarck du Plessis at Eden Park in 2013, his performance in the World Cup and against Argentina in 2014 when there were seven water-carriers on the field during a stoppage and he allowed the Pumas to take a quick tap, which resulted in a try just before halftime. The last defender in the Springbok backline was our physio, Rene Naylor!

It was good, though, that Poite reviewed the incident at the end of last weekend’s game and I think Craig Joubert will be wishing he had done the same in 2015 in the Scotland v Australia game at the World Cup. That’s what the TMO is there for and at least Poite used it. But rugby has to eliminate these grey areas because referees have to make hard decisions in a very short time.

I thought Poite was also really poor in the lineouts, there was taking out of jumpers left, right and centre, it was like a free-for-all. New Zealand also seemed to have some dominance in that final scrum and there could have been a penalty to them, but again he opted out.

The All Blacks ended up playing a lot of guys with just a handful of caps, which is not what you want in high-pressured Tests. Injuries and Sonny Bill Williams’ self-inflicted absence obviously affected them and you want more caps for the big games like last weekend. They ended with Laumape at 12 and Anton Lienert-Brown at 13 and they are actually both inside centres, both confrontational and direct. The Lions started with a similar sort of player in Ben Te’o, but then switched to Sexton and Farrell and had far more ball-playing ability to stretch the All Blacks.

One has to credit coach Warren Gatland for wearing his red nose with pride. He might just hang around and is probably very excited about a third tour with the Lions, against the Springboks in 2021.

It will be interesting to see whether the Springboks pick Cheetahs or Kings players for that tour because it will be the end of their season in Europe!

 

 

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.

John McFarland Column: Attitude makes all the difference for B&I Lions 0

Posted on July 06, 2017 by Ken

 

One has to credit the British and Irish Lions for their win over the All Blacks in the second Test, especially after losing the first Test the way they did.

They just brought a harder attitude in Wellington, a desperation to get the win. To keep the All Blacks tryless, even though they only had 14 men for most of the game, takes some doing, and the attitude they showed on the day was top-class.

It was definitely a red card for Sonny Bill Williams, he made no effort to raise his hand or grip Anthony Watson in the tackle, and his shoulder made contact with the head.

The last penalty – for the Charlie Faumuina tackle on Kyle Sinckler while he was airborne – was a little bit harsh though. When a player jumps to catch a pass above his head and it’s a gain-line tackle, the tackler is already committed and in motion, so it is very difficult for there to be any other outcome.

Jumping into a tackle is also a penalisable offence, but sometimes when the pass goes upwards, the player has to take it airborne. So it’s an anomaly that the lawmakers have to look at going forward.

The All Blacks had to play with 14 men for so long, that it was quite heroic of them to stay in the game; they did not manage to score a try, but they kept the scoreboard ticking over with penalties.

If a team fields two openside flanks like the Lions did with Sean O’Brien and Sam Warburton, then the penalty count will be high because they go hard on the ball on the floor and to make tackle attempts to get the All Blacks to bring more players to the ruck. It brings a different philosophy at ruck time, they were trying to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking pattern by bringing more players to the ruck and then the attacking shape won’t be what it should be.

The British Lions’ set-piece was of a high standard and their forward effort was built on the success at Saracens, the pack had a very high work-rate.

But whether the Lions can back up that performance with another one at Eden Park in Auckland this weekend will be a hard task. They will need the same desperation and, at the end of a long season, will they be able to produce that again? They will need extra effort on the gain-line once again.

In SuperRugby, the Gauteng Lions basically had a game of touch rugby, but I thought the Bulls played well against the Sharks.

I’m a little worried by the inconsistency of the Sharks, they have been poor at home in too many games and I can’t see them winning on the road in New Zealand, so it’s definitely a problem. For Robert du Preez to so publicly take on his players shows that something is not right.

But the Bulls have clearly gained confidence in the break, they won the Mauritius 10s with their SuperRugby team and played some good rugby.

I’ve been quite impressed with how they have blooded youngsters and someone like Duncan Matthews has really come through.

It’s also very encouraging to see Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel play so well, and they have obviously gained confidence through their time together with the Springboks for the June Tests and they are both starting to show leadership.

Jesse is such a strong character and his enthusiasm rubs off on the players around him, and he is a big part of the new era at the Bulls.

When Jan decided to leave the Bulls, he was recovering from a long-term injury. But he’s been on the Springboks’ radar since 2012 and has never let them down. He has gained experience since being named World Junior Player of the Year in 2012 and the Test series against France saw him fulfil his potential.

One needs to look at Brendan Venter’s influence on him and you can just see the confidence and belief is there right now. Jan was backed at the start of the series and knew he would play all three Tests.

It always takes five or six weeks after long-term injury for a player to rediscover their form and then they really hit their straps in weeks eight to 10. It’s unfortunate that Jan is leaving, but I really hope he stays fit and can get to the 30-Test cut-off mark in the Rugby Championship.

It begs the question whether SA Rugby have made the right decision when it comes to the 30-Test cut-off for overseas eligibility, especially if a player gets injured (e.g. Marcell Coetzee, who is short of 30 caps because of injury), and how will it work going forward with Jan, who has signed to play in France but currently only has 29 caps?

The Springboks cannot ignore Jan’s form nor talent, or the impact he had on the series against France.

That being said, the success of the series was Allister Coetzee’s decision to pick mostly home-based players, which led to a great series win.

 

 

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.

Springboks suffering due to lack of solid structure below them 5

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springboks’ humiliating defeat in Durban last weekend was a painful reminder of the gulf in quality that exists between the administration and structure of the game in New Zealand and back here in South Africa, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen making sure to mention the decision-makers in their rugby when he was asked for the reasons behind their world record equalling run of 17 successive wins.

A solid structure from schoolboys to the Springboks is what is needed for our rugby to remain amongst the best in the world, not yet another overhaul of the national team and their coaches; that’s just treating the symptom, shuffling people around, and does not address the root cause of our problems.

And, as great as next week’s Rugby Indaba sounds – except for the unfortunate two coaches who have their preparations for the Currie Cup final disrupted (another example of Saru’s awful treatment of their flagship competition) – it’s not going to address our real problems either. There might be some good ideas about game plans and what-not, but the coaches and the franchise CEOs do not have the power to change the structural failings in rugby, that lies with the South African Rugby Union and their turkeys who will steadfastly not vote for Christmas.

Below the national sides, there should just be six teams playing fully professional rugby based in the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. And those six unions should have the power in South African rugby, not the eight lesser unions, largely amateurish and as relevant as dinosaurs, which are currently the tail that wags the dog.

Below that, all 14 unions can have semi-professional teams, but the amount of money that can be saved by only having six fully professional teams and by eight economically unviable organisations no longer drawing over R20 million a year in Saru grants could go a long way towards keeping our players in the country.

Just like in New Zealand, talented rugby players must fight for a limited number of professional contracts through their performances at club level, that lead to them playing for their provinces and then being chosen for a Super Rugby deal.

The vast majority of schoolboy players in New Zealand don’t become professional rugby players when they finish their education. They go to university and play rugby there, or play for their local club side while working, which is why so many All Blacks have had interesting occupations like lumberjack, piano mover or, as in the case of Aaron Smith, apprentice hairdresser.

It’s a system that builds character and ensures only the fittest and hungriest players survive to reach the top.

Good schoolboy players in South Africa should be lauded in their school hall and with selection for provincial and national schoolboy teams; not with professional contracts and way too much exposure on television.

There is far too great an emphasis on schoolboy rugby in South Africa and that just creates entitled, spoilt players, wastes a lot of late-developing talent, kills our clubs and also gets in the way of transformation in many cases.

This is not to say that our current Springboks and their management are beyond blame. The All Blacks have a relentless drive to improve on and off the field every day, they see every challenge as a means of getting better.

Do our Springboks and their coaching staff have that same hunger? The same desire to do whatever it takes? Because it will also come down to that if they are going to close the gap with the All Blacks.

Any top professional sportsman worth his salt would turn a record 57-15 hammering at home into motivation to lift their conditioning and skills to new levels.

The South African cricket team has just completed an historic 5-0 series whitewash of world champions Australia, with captain Faf du Plessis saying a culture camp they held before the start of the summer has ensured that they are now playing as a team again and, most importantly, are really challenging each other to be better.

Now that’s the sort of indaba that could be useful for our rugby players and coaches, but the administrators still need to make the major, unselfish changes that will really benefit the game in this country.

 

John McFarland Column – All Blacks win not a foregone conclusion 0

Posted on October 05, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s not a foregone conclusion that the All Blacks will beat the Springboks this weekend in Durban, with the win over Australia last weekend showing that there are strengths the home side can use against New Zealand.

If you look at the team Allister Coetzee selected, it was specifically chosen to stop the opposition on the gain-line and kick their goals, and they did that. They gathered points through their set-piece and winning breakdowns at crucial times. They were far more aggressive at the breakdown and they were rewarded for it.

So the Springboks have their pride back going into the game against the All Blacks and I’m certain that they will have the mindset that they can beat the world champions. If they make a good start, if they play territory, use their set-pieces and defend well, then they have a chance.

They need to kick behind the New Zealand wings like Argentina did in the second half of their match last weekend. The Pumas managed to put them under pressure, they made them look average and won the second half.

But the All Blacks were pretty special for 20 minutes before halftime, when they turned up the pace and took their opportunities, which is always the danger with them.

It was a concern how easily Australia were able to get into South Africa’s 22, but from then on you’re up against a full line of defence, all 15 players, and it comes down to playing off nine and collision rugby. But the Springboks really defended well, they scrambled well, it’s not ideal but they still only conceded one try.

They ended up with Jaco Kriel on the wing, but they gutsed it out and got the win. When you’re playing people out of position and really scrambling, you could be in trouble, but the Springboks won some crucial turnovers.

There were many try-saving tackles and some very important steals, notably two by Adriaan Strauss. You can’t really compete at the breakdown if the other team has momentum because it’s hard then to get over the ball, but I thought Francois Louw and Strauss were immense at the breakdown against the Wallabies, and when Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel came on, they used choke-tackles to turn over possession as well.

One also has to credit the Springbok scrummage for winning crucial penalties. They applied pressure at the set-piece and scored points through that.

They will not score a lot of tries as the backline is set up to chase kicks and long kicks at that.

The first thing I noticed when I came back from SuperRugby into international rugby in 2012, having worked with the Springboks back in 1999 and 2002, was that all the players are so much quicker and more powerful at that level, it really is a different game.

But the Springboks now have a backline that has been chosen to defend well, chase kicks and obviously it’s evasive having Hougaard and De Jongh, and the only real speedsters are Jesse Kriel and Habana. But Allister’s plan is obviously to have the best defenders in place and to play for territory and field position with Morne Steyn, Pat Lambie and whoever plays at nine.

Territory was still a problem though, but that’s because Australia keep the ball so well. They would attack from anywhere, even at the end when a kick downtown behind Jaco Kriel would probably have been better, they were still running from deep. They were trying to tire out the Springbok forwards, but it’s a credit to the home side that they didn’t ever slacken off.

But you don’t look back at the style or manner in which a team won, the record books will just show that it was a win.

There’s obviously a great amount of difference between playing at altitude on the Highveld and playing down on the coast in Durban. The last time the Springboks played the All Blacks at sea level at home was in 2011 when we won 18-5 in Port Elizabeth. New Zealand made many line-breaks that day but just didn’t finish, the Springboks just scrambled and kept them out, and then Morne Steyn kicked very well.

They need to do the same this weekend – kick well, use their scrum to put the All Blacks under pressure, and it’s really key that the second half and the lineouts still function well. The Springboks can’t go into the game with a defensive mindset, and in the last 20 minutes they need the bench to come on and make a difference. If it’s wet this weekend, that will also be a great leveller.

In all three of our recent close games on the Highveld the Springboks have led going into the second half.

In 2013 the Boks needed a bonus point to win the Rugby Championship, so we had to play. From a turnover, New Zealand scored just before halftime and then we had key injuries at forward. In 2014 the Springboks beat them 27-25 at Ellis Park and last year it took a moment of Dane Coles magic for the All Blacks to win, again there was a crucial turnover just before halftime. So the margins are small and the gulf is not as big as many believe.

The All Blacks are beatable at sea level and both the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Crusaders, the top three New Zealand sides, were well-beaten by South African teams in SuperRugby. So the Springboks need to go into the match with a positive mindset and play the game they want to play.

But the Springboks have scored very few tries in the Rugby Championship and had few line-breaks. They’ve constructed just one try in their last three games, the others have come from turnovers and interceptions, but it’s obviously how Allister has decided they can win games.

In the Test in 2014 against the All Blacks, which the Springboks won, Handre Pollard scored two tries by playing very flat. You really need the flyhalf to challenge the gain-line more if you’re going to score tries, but Allister has decided he wants the comfort of Morne Steyn’s excellent goalkicking and drop goals and a strong set-piece to win this game. We would all love to celebrate a Springbok victory on Saturday.

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

 



↑ Top