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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Positive about Bok prospects 0

Posted on August 16, 2017 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has picked the best players for the Rugby Championship based on how well they did in the French series and I am really positive about their prospects, I believe they are in the best position of all the teams.

It reminds me a bit of 2013, when we won 10 of our 12 Tests. There was also a British & Irish Lions tour that year – to Australia – and we had time to bed the players in.

The Springboks played really well against France, who were a full-strength side that came out with tremendous intent. The fact that their coach Guy Noves is now under pressure to keep his job if they don’t improve in November shows how good the Boks were, in terms of attack, defence and the way they created a new team culture.

Meanwhile, Argentina were losing 3-0 to England, Australia lost to Scotland and only just beat Italy, and the All Blacks could only draw with the British & Irish Lions.

With some of our SuperRugby teams falling out early, the Springbok coaches were given extra preparation time and I think we all see that there is definitely a new culture about this Springboks group. You can see that the positivity and confidence is back, both in terms of the public and the players, after a disastrous 2016.

This has been built on respect for each other and there is a high energy within the group on the field. Their return-to-action time and kick-chase were both very good and the improvement under the good doctor, Brendan Venter, on defence was obvious. They only conceded four tries in the three Tests against France and they got off the line quickly with intensity, intent and attitude.

Return-to-action time is one of the keys for any side to succeed in the modern game. A player is likely to have to get up off the floor after a carry or cleaning at the ruck about 40 times per game and it is very hard to do this after hard contact. The standard figure in international rugby is to be off the ground in three seconds so it offers you more numbers on attack, to get your shape, or on defence to ensure your line has width. The Springboks did incredibly well with this and it is the basis of their defensive system.

The Springboks are now employing a far more aggressive line-speed, similar to what the British Lions used and it definitely gave New Zealand problems: they weren’t able to play with their normal width and freedom because they were worried about making mistakes on attack, and turnover ball is the most lethal in the game.

The architect of that defence was Andy Farrell and he worked under Brendan Venter for a few years at Saracens, so I think there will be a lot of similarity in the defensive system the Springboks employ and I believe they will certainly give the All Blacks problems this year.

Also, due to a loss of form, neither Julian Savea nor Waisake Naholo are in the New Zealand squad, so they don’t quite have the same size out wide as before. In any case, a wing very rarely defends against his opposite wing off first-phase, he’s virtually always on the second-last man, which is the fullback. The All Blacks will have Ben Smith or Israel Dagg at fullback and I’m certain our wings will be of a similar size.

What’s important for a wing these days is his ability to score tries, defend and catch high-balls, and one would never be picked at that level if they can’t catch box-kicks off lineouts.

Coetzee has obviously picked his wings for their finishing ability, work-rate and understanding of the system, and for me, Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule are the incumbents and really showed superb work-rate and an ability to pull off try-saving cover-tackles against France.

The Springboks also employ the defensive system – well, everyone does these days – of the fullback coming into the line very early, so a wing can’t just have the ability to make tackles, he also has to make line-breaks and expose the props acting as pillars round the ruck area, and has a big role in covering grubbers, he becomes the last defender. Modern-day wings will cover an enormous amount of ground in a game.

I wouldn’t rule out JP Pietersen coming back into the mix, especially in World Cup year. His decision-making is so good and he adds a calmness and maturity in the backline. He has, however, recently changed clubs from Leicester to Toulon and we all know how their owner feels about his players taking part in the Rugby Championship …

Anyway, Allister Coetzee has obviously decided to back the home-based players who really performed in the incoming series to see if they can do it as well in the Rugby Championship. Let’s not forget two of the back three played against the Hurricanes for the Lions in the SuperRugby semi-final and gave them 44 points with six tries.

So we must be positive about Allister’s wing selections until we see evidence otherwise.

Argentina showed a lot of attacking intent against England in June, but they were really playing against England B and were well-beaten. Plus the Jaguares were disappointing in SuperRugby, they blew hot and cold.

So Saturday’s Test is a really good opportunity for the Springboks to hopefully get a good win that sets them on the road for the really difficult part of the Rugby Championship – those three away games in the middle that South Africa always get and which are very difficult because of all the flying.

Our best performance in Argentina in the last few years came in 2015 when we trained in South Africa and only left on the Wednesday, arriving on the Thursday evening. We had a captain’s run and then went to Buenos Aires for a convincing 26-12 win.

Our worst display in Argentina was in Mendoza when we drew 16-16 in 2012 and we had to sit in the bus for two hours just to get to practice. I remember there was even a stray dog running faster than our coach was going!

The Springboks have the opportunity this year to play hit-and-run Tests in Perth and Salta and that makes you much more alert. They can stay on South African time and not change their body clocks, like we used to do at the Bulls when we would leave for Australasia on a Tuesday evening, arrive on Thursday morning and usually win our first game. It was definitely a winning formula.

The Springboks have a fantastic record in Port Elizabeth [17 wins & 2 draws in their last 20 Tests there] and I’m looking forward to this new-look side continuing in the same positive manner against Argentina on Saturday and hopefully gaining a really good 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.

The John McFarland Column: The Springboks’ best performance under Allister Coetzee 0

Posted on June 22, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s self-evident that the Springboks really played well to beat France 37-15 in the second Test in Durban, but I would say it was the best performance of Allister Coetzee’s tenure as national coach by a long way.

It has been so pleasing to see the Springboks put together two quality wins, in which they have scored eight tries, and it is obvious they have found the right balance between attack and defence.

I must say that I am a little concerned by the silence from the Saru executive because after two excellent performances with Allister Coetzee under pressure, he clearly deserves the mandate going forward.

Nobody did to France in the Six Nations or the home series last year what the Springboks have done to them over the last fortnight and real credit must go to Allister for the team culture he has instilled and the way it is working – that was a sensational victory at Kings Park.

The defence has been the biggest thing that has changed and the Springboks all work incredibly hard off the ball; they sprint on the kick-chase and they get off the floor so quickly. These are the trademarks of a Brendan Venter-coached team – work-rate and physicality.

Siya Kolisi was obviously the standout player with his intercept try and his ability to win ball off the floor, but the whole team excelled.

When they were on their own line for 25 phases and kept repelling the French side, that showed the culture and relationships between the players; attitude and how players feel about the environment always come out in how a team defends, and that was the best defensive performance by a South African side this season.

In terms of attack, it was pleasing to see some very clever plays, guys running short lines off scrumhalf or off the inside backs. When Raymond Rhule broke through off a lineout, the Springboks were clearly targeting the inside defence. We kept finding props with our wingers or hard-running backs.

It is also clear that a tremendous amount of work has been done on the passing and timing of the runs from first receiver; to be able to do this in the face of a rush defence, for example when Pieter-Steph du Toit passed to Coenie Oosthuizen for a sublime try, shows that the attacking play has definitely gone a level up. So hats off to everybody for a great performance.

The SA A team was a bit of a concern though and their defence was not so good against a scratch French Barbarians side, and they allowed Freddie Michalak to roll back the years at flyhalf.

What’s worrying about the  SA A side is that they have so many players over the age of 30 in key positions. There should be a clear national pathway from the U20s to the A side and then on to the Springboks, but the current selection shows no real growth or development for the future. The SA A side must use guys who have come through from the U20 level, so we can see how they cope outside of their natural SuperRugby environment.

Guys who have impressed at SA U20 level should be chosen because we know what Lwazi Mvovo, Lionel Cronje, who is also going to Japan now, and Jano Vermaaak can do. They need guys like Ivan van Zyl, Curwin Bosch, Burger Odendaal and Louis Schreuder to play – 22 and 23 year-olds with big futures. The SA A team should be about future Springboks and not Springboks of old. They must give young players a go, guys who have big futures and they must be in their 20s. They’ve basically selected this team as a Springboks B side and they must show more foresight.

The SA A side should also give coaches experience and it was pleasing to see JP Ferreira involved with their defence.

The SA U20s finished well, but to lose to an England side shorn of six players and others with the senior side in the semi-final was unacceptable. Then New Zealand klapped England by a long way in the semi-final, which showed South African rugby still has a long way to go to make up the gap.

The SA U20s need more tours against national schoolboy sides, to experience different environments. They will probably have played all the Northern Hemisphere sides in South Africa, where the hosts should win. The boys need to experience different conditions and a crowd that is not behind you. They need to step up and improve and a tour somewhere in November/December would be good.

Finally, it was a great privilege for Kubota to be able to play in the Mauritius 10s last weekend. The Bulls and Cheetahs sent their full SuperRugby sides and it was brilliant for a Japanese side to be involved in that.

The Beachcomber World Club Tens as a format was an eye-opener and I really enjoyed seeing everyone again. I hope the excellent organisation of the tournament can now be brought to South Africa, in either pre or post season, that would be fantastic. Mauritius was really enjoyable for everyone who was involved

Well done to the Blue Bulls for winning the tournament, although it’s fair to say they do need a few cups.

 

 

 


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: Planning for the French Tests 0

Posted on May 23, 2017 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee will not find it too difficult to prepare for the three Tests against France and there is always great excitement when the players get together in the national team environment.

Due to WorldRugby regulations, he will have to wait for the overseas players until the week of the first Test match, but these days the information they need to know is easy to disseminate and the players have access to apps, for example, with which they can watch the training sessions. He will have communicated the game plans, moves and patterns to them, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to assimilate.

This week saw Allister have his third camp this year, which is obviously what he missed last year. His program of camps has been very much extended this year, but you still don’t do a lot of hard, physical work at these get-togethers.

As Springbok management, you have to be very careful because the players are in the middle of SuperRugby and will be coming off a very tough game. But the camps are certainly invaluable for laying down the plans for the structure and principles, making sure all the players get on the same page.

There will be on-field training, but basically it will just be walk-throughs or practising with the contact levels right down. We used to use the Lions U19 players as defenders, which puts much less pressure on the Springboks in terms of physicality.

After all, some unions used to send their players to camp with GPSs so they could check the amount of running they did!

Generally the three Tests in June are against the same opposition, so it’s easier to prepare for it, but it’s the same for every international team, they are all in the same boat.

In November, the Southern Hemisphere teams have an advantage because it’s after the end of their season, all their game plans are in place and they’ve just come off a month’s rest. In June, the Northern Hemisphere sides are tired at the end of their long season, but due to the Six Nations, they are further along in their game plans.

The key for Allister will be to not make it too complicated, stick to simple principles and make it clear what he wants the team to do to win that first Test.

I know international football sides only get their players for a week from all over the world, but soccer is quite an individual game, there are a lot more dynamics in rugby such as the set-pieces and the defensive and attacking game plans.

As far as last weekend’s SuperRugby goes, the Stormers did really well to come back from their overseas tour woes with a win. They defended very well in the final quarter and from half-time onwards they were very sound and physical in the collisions. They got their just rewards for quick-taps with some game-changing moments.

I was quite sceptical, however, about the TMO decision on Sikhumbuzo Notshe’s try, but there are always highs and lows in terms of officiating through a Super Rugby season and it evens out in the end.

The Southern Kings were a bit unlucky against the Brumbies, but they were very vulnerable to the grubber in behind. Their defensive system relies on the fullback getting up in the line very early, the Brumbies obviously saw that and took advantage.

In the game in Singapore, the 38-17 scoreline flattered the Sharks a bit because they had an intercept and two breakaway tries in the last few minutes against the Sunwolves. Before that, the Sharks just could not finish and the amount of mistakes they made, especially when it came to the final pass, didn’t help either. But they will be happy to get back to winning ways and get the bonus point, although it looks likely they’ll have to get through a playoff in New Zealand.

If the Lions, however, have aspirations of playing at home all the way through to the final, then they need to win their big game against the Sharks after the international break.

No side in SuperRugby would have lived with the Lions in the first half of their match against the Bulls and they are showing great decision-making at the moment.

Having been away for three weeks, there was definitely a feeling of the Lions being back at home and they were full of confidence.

Obviously they will lose a bit of momentum over the break, quite a few of their players will be in the national squads, so it will be a tough month for them. They will have guys who will play all three Tests against France, so that will be disruptive to their rhythm.

And coach Johan Ackermann won’t have a break either because he will be coaching the SA A side, which will be quite taxing too. And then one week after the end of SuperRugby, he’ll be off to Gloucester, so he has a very busy program over the next few months.

Sometimes you get very good SuperRugby players who are just not able to adapt to the higher environment and believe you me, international rugby is a higher level and just so much quicker, because it’s the best of the best playing. In SuperRugby, you get guys who are in the same system all their life, at the Bulls there were guys who were coached in defence by me since they were 19, but they can’t adapt to the different pace of the game at the next step up.

Certain other players prove to be consistently excellent players at Test level. There’s such a mental side to it because there is real pressure representing your country at international level, some players just cope better.

Those are the sort of players Allister Coetzee will want to be working with.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 



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