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Ken Borland



Sharks surprise nobody but nearly unhinge the Lions 0

Posted on July 22, 2017 by Ken

 

Not many people, least of all the Lions, will have been surprised by the Sharks bringing an intensely physical, in-your-face approach to their SuperRugby quarterfinal at Ellis Park on Saturday, but it so nearly unhinged the home side, the overwhelming favourites.

In the end, the Lions had to be bailed out by a phenomenal penalty kick by wing Ruan Combrinck, who slotted the ball over in the 78th minute from six metres inside his own half and 10 metres from touch, to make the final score 23-21.

Combrinck did not have much opportunity in the match, thanks to the Sharks’ swarming defence swallowing up practically all the space on the field, but he showed that he is a person who thrives on the big moment.

“It’s just Ruan’s character that he’s always looking for opportunities and the big moments, he’s normally the last one to leave kicking practice, even though we don’t know how many kicks he gets over!” captain Jaco Kriel joked after the nailbiting victory.

“I always look to the touchline to see if the coach is giving any advice, and both JP [Ferreira, defence coach] and Cash [Ivan van Rooyen, conditioning coach] were pointing to the line to set up the lineout, but Ruan already had his tee in his hand, even though he told me he cramped when he missed his previous kick!”

More drama was to follow in the final minute as the Lions received the kickoff and then set up a series of slow-mo pick-and-goes and rucks as they counted down time. The incensed Sharks were screaming at referee Marius van der Westhuizen, who was the epitome of indecision throughout, for holding on, but the Lions refused to concede anything, even though Kriel afterwards admitted that “we nearly lost the ball in that last ruck”.

The Lions roared into Sharks territory from the first kickoff, which lock Stephan Lewies dropped, and showed their aggressive, confident intent as they turned down two penalties at goal to rather set up lineout drives.

The Sharks were also having early problems in the scrum and the Lions’ third penalty came from that set-piece, and this time flyhalf Elton Jantjies went for poles.

The easy kick from just inside the 22 hit the post, however, and it set the tone for an awful kicking display by the incumbent Springbok flyhalf.

Lionel Mapoe was chasing the rebound, though, and for the umpteenth time, lock Etienne Oosthuizen cost his team points as he took the outside centre out off the ball, giving Jantjies an even easier shot at goal which he slotted to give the Lions a 3-0 lead.

The Lions are always intent on playing the game their way, but in the face of such an aggressive defence and the Sharks’ strategy of getting players in-between their backs, perhaps they should have played the situation more than their preconceived tactics.

A case in point came straight after they had opened the scoring as they tried to pass the ball around in their own 22 after the restart, with both Sharks prop Thomas du Toit and outside centre Lukhanyo Am getting intercepts. Am cut inside and then fed flank Jean-Luc du Preez, who freed wing Kobus van Wyk to go racing over in the corner for the first try.

The Sharks were playing the knockout rugby, building their play around the intensity of their pack and defence, and using the boot of flyhalf Curwin Bosch to good effect.

Coach Robert du Preez played in the Currie Cup-winning Northern Transvaal sides of superboot Naas Botha, so it was no surprise to see Bosch using the drop-kick, and he succeeded with one in the 17th-minute, centre Andre Esterhuizen’s powerful run at the flyhalf channel providing front-foot ball and plenty of time for him to stretch the lead to 8-3.

Jantjies then missed a penalty from in front of the poles, after another Sharks scrum infringement, and the sense of unease grew at Ellis Park as the flyhalf then lost the ball in his own half and lock Andries Ferreira knocked on, forcing the Lions to play the ball on the ground and allowing Bosch to kick a penalty (11-3).

Just before halftime, the Lions were on the wrong end of a 50/50 ruck call and another Bosch penalty put the Sharks 14-3 in front at the break, and seemingly in command.

But the Lions came out for the second half playing much more direct rugby, and with a greater focus on hanging on to the ball rather than throwing speculative passes.

Immediately, the pressure shifted on to the Sharks and a couple of offsides calls led to Lewies being yellow-carded in the 46th minute, an important development as the Lions scored two tries, both unconverted, while he was off the field.

The great work of the Lions scrum set up the first try as lock Franco Mostert plunged over the line a couple of phases after the set-piece had the Sharks forwards going backwards; and four minutes later, flank Kriel burst through the weak defence of Bosch to score.

The woeful kicking of Jantjies meant the Lions were still one point behind though (13-14), but just after the hour mark they won a penalty on their own 22 for a high tackle – although it was not the most obvious offence.

Centre Harold Vorster took a quick tap and jinked his way through the disorganised defence, making it well into the Sharks half before he freed Mapoe on his outside for the Springbok to speed over for the try. This time Jantjies converted (20-14).

But the Sharks regained the lead four minutes later.

Ferreira was blatantly offsides at a ruck and the Sharks kicked the penalty to touch to set up the drive, which was collapsed by Mostert. But the Sharks, playing with the advantage, went over the line as scrumhalf Cobus Reinach nipped over from a ruck close to the poles.

But the TMO referral showed that the ill-disciplined Oosthuizen had once again cost his team points, this time by shoving Mapoe to create the gap that Reinach went through.

The Sharks had another chance though, because Mostert was yellow-carded for his earlier offence and the visitors chose a five-metre scrum, where this time they had the edge and eighthman Daniel du Preez scored against the post.

The Bosch conversion made it 21-20 and the lead lasted all the way through until the thrilling final couple of minutes, with Combrinck missing a penalty in the 70th minute.

The Sharks nearly scored in the right corner as Van Wyk, under pressure from Courtnall Skosan, just failed to gather the bouncing ball. The Lions had the throw-in, under severe pressure, five metres from their line, and Akker van der Merwe, having replaced the excellent Malcolm Marx at hooker, threw over the top for Kriel, charging forward on a storming run.

Mapoe gave great support and the Lions were out of their territory and able to win the fateful penalty that gave Combrinck his moment of glory.

 

Attack will be at the forefront in new expanded SuperRugby 0

Posted on February 19, 2016 by Ken

 

The Jaguares of Argentina were at the SuperRugby launch at the SuperSport studios in Randburg on Thursday and, despite their loss to the Stormers in a warm-up game, everyone expects them to continue with the attacking, ball-in-hand approach that took them to the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup.

Then again, all of the South African teams have also committed themselves to a more positive, expansive brand of play, with some coaches intimating that local rugby is standing at a crossroads.

The Lions are the team that has been leading the way for South African teams in terms of a new, more high-tempo style of play and they will be the next team to face the Jaguares, albeit in another warm-up game, when they meet at Wits University on Friday night.

And coach Johan Ackermann is expecting a lot from the Argentinians.

“Although the Jaguares lost, Gert Smal of the Stormers told me that they were impressed by them, that they played an exciting brand of rugby. They can all step and offload, they run the ball and really push the pace. It’s basically the Argentina Test side and we couldn’t ask for a better test when it comes to seeing if our players can handle the pressure of SuperRugby,” Ackermann said on Thursday.

That Argentina are now a top-class Test side is beyond dispute, but fielding a team in SuperRugby is a different dynamic for them and flyhalf Martin Landajo says they are treating it all as a learning experience at the moment.

“It was very important for us to have a good World Cup and lots of players from that team are in the Jaguares. But we are just trying to go slowly and try and learn a lot, we must just enjoy it, that’s the most important thing. But the people back home are really happy and we have a lot of support from Argentina rugby fans,” Landajo said.

While the Jaguares will enjoy the lack of expectation that comes with being tournament rookies, the Stormers are always under pressure from their demanding fans, but new coach Robbie Fleck is calling for a “fearless” approach from his team.

“We’ve prepared very well and although we’ve had changes in management and new faces in the team, we still have a quality spine to the side. There are a lot of youngsters, but some of them are 22 or 23 years old and senior players.

“It’s exciting to blood youngsters and develop a new culture, and I feel these are very exciting times for South African rugby as a whole, particularly with all the new coaches on the scene and being in the unique position that we can now really develop players. I want our team to be fearless, even though there is a lot of pressure on them to perform and a lot of pressure off the field,” Fleck said.

The Southern Kings are meeting the Sharks at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on February 27 in their first game back in Super Rugby since 2013 and, despite their tumultuous build-up, captain Steven Sykes says they will be ready come opening day.

“We’ve done enough so that we can compete, it was very tough only starting our pre-season preparation on January 4, but we’ve had six-day weeks and put in a lot of work so we are prepared. I believe we will be fine depth-wise, there are new players coming in every week, and we have a really nice team environment and facilities.

“We’re in the same shoes as the Lions were in a few years ago in that we have a lot of young players who want to show how they can compete. Plus we have a lot more experience than in 2013 and one of our goals is to make a better showing this year. But we have a good mix that I am excited about,” Sykes said.

Up in Pretoria, Nollis Marais is one of the coaches in their first year of SuperRugby and he has already inculcated a more attacking style of play into the Bulls, having brought it into the Currie Cup campaign in which a callow side went down to Western Province in the semi-finals.

Marais is unapologetic that he has placed his faith in youth.

“We’ve lost a lot of top players but it’s time to adapt, it’s time for new blood and that makes it easier down the line because it’s a long competition. We’ve had a lot of senior players leave and it’s time for the youngsters to step up and take their chance, although they still have a couple of guys that have played SuperRugby before who they can learn from.

“But I believe in the Bulls structures, I’ve been part of the system for five years, and it’s important for South African rugby that we develop the players in the pipeline too. The Bulls once had a lot of senior players and the youngsters couldn’t come through, there was no opportunity for them, but we need to keep an eye on them,” Marais said.

In Durban, there is an optimistic mood after two impressive wins over Toulon and Toulose and coach Gary Gold is happy that the pre-season has gone according to plan.

“We had a very clear strategy pre-season in terms of how we wanted to prepare and the two games in France showed us how far we’ve come in certain areas. But we’re being harsh on ourselves and we know that there are other areas we now need to spend time on.

“We’re very satisfied with the things we’ve worked on, we got reward from those, we’ll bank those, but now we need to sharpen the pencil in other areas. We’d be dumb to think we won’t come a cropper if we don’t spend time and energy on those areas,” Gold said.

While the new complex conference system has its detractors, South African Rugby Union CEO Jurie Roux is banning all such negativity from his thoughts.

“It’s a new era, SuperRugby is now almost a global competition, spanning five continents and 16 time zones. And the great positive is that half the South African teams can now qualify for the playoffs. The key things that make it a win-win for South African rugby are that we play less games, and travel used to be a big issue because our teams used to be unfairly treated, but now we have significantly reduced the tour to Australasia.

“People said they wanted a new product, we’ve given it to them and time will tell whether they like it or not. We wanted six franchises, we’ve got it; we wanted less travel and more derbies, we got that; and we’re playing different teams because people didn’t want to play all the same teams all the time,” Roux said.

 

 

Keeping it simple pays off for struggling De Kock 0

Posted on October 22, 2015 by Ken

 

Uitenhage Golf Club’s Allister de Kock hopes that keeping it simple at the Africa Open will pay off and the approach certainly worked in an encouraging first round for the struggling pro.

De Kock spent most of the first day in the Sunshine Tour/European Tour co-sanctioned event at East London Golf Club inside the top-20 on the leaderboard after a solid one-under-par 71 in tricky, windy conditions.

“I just need to focus on what I have to do, I know my strong points and keeping the ball in play is one of those, which is what you have to do on this course,” De Kock said after his round.

De Kock, starting on the ninth hole, began solidly with two pars, but then dropped a shot at the par-four 12th, a tough hole with sharp elevation changes.

He immediately gained the shot back though with a birdie on the 13th, but then dropped again on the par-four 14th.

But the 31-year-old then found his feet and parred his way to the turn and then picked up three birdies on the front nine, with just a bogey on the par-four fourth to set him back.

“It wasn’t easy today but I’m happy with 71 in the wind. I had a few drops because of my putter, but then I sank a few putts to give me some momentum. I learnt from the other guys in my three-ball, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Le Roux Ferreira, hitting the low balls, so I started hitting lower too,” De Kock said.

De Kock is in his fourth year on the Sunshine Tour, but has made the cut in just two of 32 events, so if he can build on his good start in the Africa Open then it could be a stunning boost to his career and bank balance.

The reaction of his father, Frans, who is caddying for De Kock, after he sank his par-putt on the eighth hole (the end of the front nine at East London GC) made it clear what a good day it was for the former Eastern Province Amateur Matchplay champion.

“My dad is on the bag and he was very happy, you could see his expression when my round finished. He gave me a thumbs-up and a hug!” De Kock said.

Which just goes to prove how such great delight can come from such simple things.

 

Bulls look to use attacking approach to beat WP 0

Posted on October 16, 2015 by Ken

 

 

When the Blue Bulls hammered Western Province 47-29 at Loftus Versfeld nearly two months ago, they used a ball-in-hand approach, clever attacking innovations and pace and intensity, and coach Nollis Marais wants them to use the same strategy in their Currie Cup semi-final in Pretoria on Friday night.

“We wanted to do things differently, we weren’t looking at a semi-final or a final back then, we were just starting a new culture at the Blue Bulls. We’ve worked hard and now the guys must just play. They must believe in themselves and believe in what we do. They’ve all had a season behind them now and we’re good enough to beat any team. Being young is not an escape clause, the guys must just go out and play,” Marais said.

For Western Province coach John Dobson, the way the Bulls used the restart that day has been a major concern.

“We were beaten on the short kick-off down the middle. A couple of times we just weren’t watching and then it’s Game Over. There was just general sloppiness that day. We have to make sure we don’t get caught in the middle and when we receive the restart the clearance has got to be beyond our own 10m line or else the Bulls will just maul you.

“So we’ve had to change our strategy considerably, in terms of how we set up. We weren’t blocking properly, we were leaving Robert du Preez [flyhalf] stranded deep in the pocket. It was a massive issue for us and we had to change the plan,” Dobson said.

Western Province will no doubt want to use their powerful, more experienced pack to grind down the Bulls.

“Last time we played the Bulls [a 29-14 home win at Newlands a month ago] our pack was fairly well on top and if we can do that again then we are going to stop them from playing Bulls rugby, force them into a more open game, and then the mistakes are going to come and we can put pressure on them. Maybe we can force them to run when they don’t have numbers, we see opportunity in that,” Dobson said.

“That was probably our worst game of the season,” Marais said of the Cape Town loss, “because our set-pieces just didn’t work. So it was the first time we were really under pressure, but we still twice lost the ball over the tryline, so we were competitive. We’re better prepared up front than we were then.”

 



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