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Ken Borland



Provided with decent support, our sportswomen flourish 0

Posted on August 01, 2017 by Ken

 

Women’s sport has always taken the back seat in this macho country of ours, but the last 10 days have shown just how much can be achieved, and how much joy our female sports stars can bring us when they are provided with decent support.

The Proteas women’s cricket team are the obvious example and one could only salute a magnificent effort when they were pipped by eventual champions England in their World Cup semi-final, which was one of the classic games of the tournament as the hosts and favourites were so nearly undone by the tenacious underdogs.

Our national women’s cricket team have become the most-improved team in the game thanks to the wonderful support they have been given by Momentum and Cricket South Africa. Many young girls will have been inspired by their efforts and it is vital that the momentum created by their exploits is not lost.

The national women’s hockey team have just finished a global tournament of their own in the Hockey World League, which will go down as yet another international showpiece sporting event that we have hosted with aplomb.

Unfortunately, South African hockey does not have the same sort of backing as our cricketers, and it still sticks in the craw to see Investec, founded in Johannesburg in 1974, emblazoned all over the England team. But they have arguably more female talent than even the cricketers do simply because it has been ‘acceptable’ in our misogynistic society for women to play hockey for far longer than it has for cricket.

They showed that they have the ability to consistently be in the top-10 in the world rankings by finishing fifth in the Hockey World League Semifinals, pulling off a memorable win over eventual champions, the United States, as well as beating Ireland and Japan and finishing above India in the final standings. They also qualified automatically for the World Cup.

The obvious enjoyment they get from playing alongside each other, their tremendous team spirit, is one of their greatest assets, but sadly, it was obviously lacking from the men’s team, who managed to avoid relegation but did not win any other games.

Again, South Africa has the male talent to push for a top-10 place, with several of our players sought-after members of overseas clubs, which enables them to escape the poor economic prospects of an amateur sport in this country.

But it is this split-nature of the team – made up of locally-based and overseas-based players – that is causing problems, just as it did with Springbok rugby. According to players who are part of the expanded national squad, the environment in the camp is “hostile” and this threatens to scupper any hopes of our men’s team recouping the losses they have suffered over the last few years of neglect.

Sure, hockey overseas is more professional and better, but the returning players need to realise their job is to lift up their team-mates who are still slogging it out back at home, not belittle them. The team culture is non-existent, with some stars apparently staying in their own hotels, and it is up to the senior players to set an example.

Apart from results, there has been one casualty already with coach Fabian Gregory resigning to take up a position overseas. He says he battled to get his ideas through to the team, that he had a hard time dealing with certain “know-it-all” players.

The senior players, apparently, found it hard to take Gregory seriously as a coach, especially those who are based overseas.

So a new coach will have to be found before the Africa Cup in October – which will be crucial for World Cup qualification – and, hard as it will be for some absolute stalwarts of South African hockey, the time seems right to make a new start with the men’s team, who are really rather old in global terms.

My new broom would be Garreth Ewing, who was one of Gregory’s assistants at the Hockey World League, and I have been highly-impressed by the work he has done with both the SA U21 and University of Johannesburg sides, both in terms of the brand of hockey they play and the team culture he has grown.

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.

 

Batsmen can bank on being unsettled – Elgar 0

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Ken

 

South Africa opener Dean Elgar said on Thursday night that the one thing a batsman can bank on at international level is that your head is always on the chopping block following what he described as the “unsettling” axing of his opening partner Stephen Cook for the last Test against New Zealand.

The Proteas returned to Johannesburg on Thursday night after rain spared them the likelihood of defeat on the final day of the third Test, allowing them to win the series 1-0, but there are still rumblings over the controversial decision to drop Cook, who scored only 17 runs in four innings but had made three centuries in his previous nine Tests.

Theunis de Bruyn was then forced to make his Test debut as a makeshift opener, without success.

“We had a good thing going but selection is out of the players’ control, it’s one of those things. It’s not easy for Stephen, I’ve been through it before and you can go into a dark place. The team has still been winning though, so it’s very difficult, especially when you know how much hard work he has put in and he’s a massive team guy.

“But the general thing with batsmen is that if you think you’re safe, you’re not. Your head is always on the chopping block and a good ball or a bad decision could cost you your spot. It’s unsettling that a guy like him can be left out when he’s been working his butt off,” Elgar said at O.R. Tambo International Airport upon the team’s return.

South Africa’s success – they won the T20, ODI and Test series – in New Zealand on pitches that closely approximate the conditions they will find in England for the Champions Trophy and a much-anticipated Test series, suggest they are on track to do well on that tour in mid-year.

“We feel we are nicely set up for England having won all three series, which doesn’t happen often in New Zealand,” assistant coach Adrian Birrell said. “Obviously we’re all gearing up for the Champions Trophy and the fact that we won the ODI series 3-2 by winning what was like a final at Eden Park will be good going forward.

“Conditions were probably closest to what we will find on the England tour, there was always seam movement but not excessive bounce, which is what we expect in England. We’ve used various combinations and we have an idea for what works. We’re particularly pleased that all-rounders came to the fore and that batsmen in the lower-order were winning us games.”

http://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170401/282419874094770

 

I know a week is a long time in sport, but … 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken

 

I’ve always known that a week can be a long time in the world of sport, but I go away for eight nights to the bush of northern Limpopo and return to find rugby’s entire landscape changing with indecent haste compared to the months of feet-dragging that often characterise a game that has been presided over at some stages by dinosaurs or the old farts of the straw-chair brigade.

One of the changes I saw coming before my departure. I always love unintended consequences and it was former Springboks and Bulls defence coach John McFarland who pointed out to me that the rulemakers’ new emphasis on keeping tackles lower, away from the head and shoulders, was at least partly responsible for the sudden rash of offloads we have seen from the South African teams, who have traditionally preferred taking contact and winning some hard-earned, psychologically-meaningful centimetres.

So it’s not just a mindset change amongst our franchise coaches and players, but also that tacklers are now being forced down below the arms, allowing the hands to be free to keep the ball alive.

Time will tell whether that more skilful approach is carried through to the Springboks, but the national team has already had better preparation than last year with a camp and they look better resourced too in terms of coaching staff.

One of those additional resources is Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and it may be just as well that he has earned a promotion because he might be out of a decent Super Rugby job next year. If we believe what the New Zealand media tell us, then the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings will be axed from Super Rugby under the new, hopefully improved format for 2018 that is yet to be unveiled.

Harold Verster, the CEO of the Cheetahs, cheerfully told the world though that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and that the rumbling noise he hears is not a rampaging stampede of buffalo at all, but the sound of the Grey College-Free State-somewhere else in the country pipeline running smoothly. He says the Cheetahs are safe.

You cannot be nearly as optimistic about the Kings, however. They would seem to be sitting ducks as not only are they struggling on the field but they are a financial drain on the South African Rugby Union and money always shouts loudest when it comes to administrators, like politicians.

Speaking of politicians, you cannot escape the irony that Cheeky Watson, the self-proclaimed messiah of transformation, has now left Eastern Cape rugby and has done more damage to the nursery of Black rugby in our country than anything since a Nationalist government functionary.

If you called him a blood-sucking tick you would probably be understating his effect. The man has been a full-blown parasite on the game in that vulnerable region, more like the deadly malaria protozoans that kill half-a-million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Later this year, the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand in what should be the rugby highlight of 2017, but this type of proper tour probably won’t become more common given the news this week that a new global rugby calendar is being introduced. Coming into effect in 2020, it has reducing player workload as one of its main tenets.

Tours by northern hemisphere teams to the southern hemisphere will be pushed back to July, but this will allow Super Rugby to be completed in one fell swoop from February to June. This is a good thing and will come into effect in 2019, because that is a World Cup year.

The 2023 World Cup is another story of course, with South Africa seemingly ranged against France and Ireland for the right to host the tournament. If you can believe what came out of sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s mouth this week, then government is now backing the bid.

Then again, Mbalula might just have been trying to distract from the fiasco that was Durban’s Commonwealth Games bid. The chairman of that bid was Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, but that’s a story for another day.



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