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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: Why I think the Boks will win in Perth 0

Posted on September 07, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks have so many guys playing well at the moment that I see us getting the result against Australia in Perth on Saturday, even though the Wallabies have been very competitive against the All Blacks for the last 120 minutes – it’s just the first 40 minutes of the first Test in which they were hammered.

Australian rugby is not at its strongest state at the moment and there has been a losing culture around the players from SuperRugby and a two-game loss to New Zealand, which has been their traditional start to the Rugby Championship.

They did come very close to winning in Dunedin and they probably should have won that match, but they haven’t been convincing, whereas the Springboks are full of confidence, belief in their systems and they have momentum. You can just see the positivity in the camp.

On the back of two losses, the Wallabies will be in a motivated and desperate state, but the confidence is not quite there.

Australia don’t have the same weapons as the Springboks do and they don’t have much of a kicking game. In fact they don’t want to kick, everything is about ball-in-hand for them, so obviously if the Springbok defence stands up well, opportunities could be created by the Wallabies trying to play under pressure.

There has been an exceptional improvement in the Springbok defence and the players are working so hard for each other, they’re getting off the line and smashing the opposition. It just shows that defence can be a weapon as well.

Australia will want to carry the ball a lot, they want to outscore teams, but the Springbok defence has proven quite lethal in stopping attacks and forcing turnovers, and then finishing those off.

Australia have a few good ball-carriers at centre, but the Springbok defence has been very good from first phase and they coped well against France, who had big wings and midfielders.

The Wallabies will try to beat you through phase play, which means they can become very vulnerable themselves later on in the movement, around phases five to 10, when the attack is not as structured and there’s a chance for turnovers.

Australia also don’t have the best scrum and Stephen Moore being out will affect that even more. Their back row is also a lot younger than it was previously.

Centre Tevita Kuridrani is the big threat in their team with the way he runs inwards at the lineout vacuum – that area between the last player in the lineout and the first backline defender. He can be a handful running hard and headlong into that hole.

Flyhalf Bernard Foley is definitely a threat as well, especially around middle rucks, because he has good feet and gets quite flat so he is able to go at the inside pillars.

We just don’t know from week-to-week though what team Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will pick, which is the difference between the teams because we virtually know the Springbok team from one to 23. It’s settled, which is a big advantage, and they’ve had combinations now for five Tests and they’ve performed really well. The biggest positive for the Springboks is that consistency of selection, which means the players are confident in the people around them.

The Perth crowd can also be 50/50 when it comes to who they support between South Africa and the Wallabies, but the pitch is very removed from the stands, so the crowd is quite a long way back. It also makes it a bit difficult for the kickers because the stadium is just different to most others.

The other unknown is that the Boks have not been in a losing position in any Test so far this year, they’ve been in control after the first 20-30 minutes of every game. So that is the only box unticked – if they are 10-15 points down after the first half-hour or 40 minutes, can they come back? That is the only question mark against them, but I’m sure they can do that if necessary as well.

There’s real hope that we can win in Perth for the first time since 2009. Elton Jantjies is in such a rich vein of form, the defence is so strong and the attack has been lethal – scoring at least four tries in every Test this year has been phenomenal.

 

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 – Defence and touring are the talking points 0

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Ken

 

Two of the main talking points among South African SuperRugby followers at the moment are the apparent slackening in the defence of the local franchises and the resting of players for the away matches against the Jaguares and Sunwolves.

Questions have been raised about the defence of the South African franchises, especially after the Bulls leaked six tries against the Blues in Auckland last weekend. But it’s not just the Bulls – there are a lot more tries being scored this year in general.

The reason is that over the last year the attack has gone a lot wider and there are more players behind the ball. Sure, the rules have changed a bit, like the tackle law favouring more offloads, but the game has changed over the last year with people more willing now to leave forwards in the wide channels.

Most teams now play 2-4-2 or 1-3-3-1 with their forwards spread out across the field, and we are seeing more loose forwards standing in the backline.

In terms of the tries the Blues scored against the Bulls, we often saw two forwards in the outer extremities running against backs. When you have a big man on a smaller man, you’re more likely to be able to get an offload away. The Blues were able to score either because the Bulls simply ran out of numbers or they were able to effect excellent offloads by having support players behind the ball.

Three or four years ago, teams would have their forwards in two pods of four, but now they leave them in channels across the field and you will often see a hooker or back-row forward in the 15-metres-from-touch zone. The All Blacks have been doing this for the last five years and England did it between 2000 and 2003.

The reason it’s being done is because it’s now been proved, thanks to every player being fitted with a GPS that measures how many metres they have run and at what speed, that a lot less energy is used if the forwards are spread across the field than if they follow the ball. That’s how this new trend has evolved.

I actually thought the quality of the Bulls defence was very good in the first half, but they were found out in the second half when they just ran out of steam, too much juice had been taken out of their legs. That meant the Bulls’ backs and wings were always in a numbers situation, they could not get their width back and get back into line, so they were always under pressure.

To be fair though, the try from the restart was because at the kickoff you usually leave players back – the three outside backs and the scrumhalf on the chip-kick – and with four players out of the defensive line you will be vulnerable. But it was a good try and the Blues’ first try also featured fantastic offloads.

It’s difficult to stop offloads in the wide channels because you’re also dealing with footwork because of all the space available out there.

We always faced these same difficulties against New Zealand sides and some days we were more successful dealing with them than on others. The keys are a high level of conditioning, especially amongst the forwards, and to work hard at the breakdown. If you can’t get tacklers over the ball to slow it down, then the opposition just gets quick ball and quicker ball, and momentum, and then it’s difficult to set a defensive line. That’s what happened to the Bulls and it put Jamba Ulengo under real pressure on the wing.

But Pine Pienaar is an experienced defensive coach, now in his fourth year in the job, and he will be very aware of all this and will know how to fix it. After all, the Blue Bulls made the Currie Cup final last year and you don’t get there without having a good defence.

Handre Pollard had a better game and I’m looking forward to him coming through, he’s going a level up every week.

But it’s an horrendous draw for the Bulls to have all those away games up front, it’s the hardest draw in Super Rugby because you can never get on the front foot. Even a brilliant coach like John Plumtree was let go by the Sharks in 2013 after that sort of draw, and Allister Coetzee also had a season starting with numerous away games with the Stormers.

So it can happen that you get on a downward spiral. Super Rugby is such a tough competition that you always go through crises, but it’s how you deal with them that counts.

There have been suggestions that South African teams are concentrating more on attack to the detriment of their defence, but they will always get enough time during the week to work on their defence, that will never change. Generally teams train for 50 minutes on the Monday, then Tuesday is virtually a full session, the major day for defence, with contact. Then on Thursday attack will be the focus, but it’s not true that teams are concentrating too much on attack!

Each coach will have equal time to work within that on their area, teams split their time evenly between attack and defence.

In terms of weakened teams going to play the Jaguares in Argentina, that would have been pre-planned. Teams have to rest their frontline players in accordance with the Saru guidelines and it’s a helluva trip. You leave on the Sunday morning, flying 10-11 hours to Sao Paulo, where you have a three-hour wait before flying for four hours to Buenos Aires, only arriving on Monday afternoon, so you can’t train then. Teams will have a light practice on the Tuesday, with just one major session on the Thursday.

And coming back from Argentina is even worse!

What coaches like Johan Ackermann and Franco Smith have done is look at their next games and those have been vital, the problem with travelling to Argentina is always the game after that one, but that’s just the nature of the competition.

Singapore is also 10 hours away and it’s very humid and hot there. The Stormers took it as a chance to get some fringe guys some rugby.

Teams are merely following medical advice on how to keep their players fresh and get their best rugby out of them, plus players are more susceptible to ailments on these long trips.

The Lions proved last year that you need home advantage to win SuperRugby, but they needed to be at their best in the knockout games, hence their decision to rest players for their last round-robin game in Argentina.

 

 

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.

Australia’s unexpected collapse a warning to SA cricket 0

Posted on November 21, 2016 by Ken

 

Australia’s rapid implosion as a Test team, going from the number one ranked side in August to their current shambles, was unexpected but there have been warning signs in their cricket for a while and they are similar to the problems South African rugby is experiencing at the moment.

A focus on chasing money and the commercial aspects of the game has been allowed to mar the systems and structures that were in place to ensure that Australia’s Test team – as well as, at times, the Springboks – were always at the pinnacle of the game.

The Big Bash T20 league is obviously a wonderful, exciting occasion in the Australian sporting calendar, but it seems it has become the most important part of the cricket season, Cricket Australia’s priority and something that is pushing everything else on to the periphery.

There was a time that the four-day Sheffield Shield competition was Australia’s premier domestic tournament and the envy of the world; nowadays it seems almost an afterthought and pace bowlers are pulled out of games midway through by national team management using medical protocols that have little basis in actual cricketing wisdom.

The most amazing example of T20 taking over to the detriment of everything else Down Under will come in February. Six days before Australia play the first Test against India in Pune, starting what is an incredibly daunting tour for a struggling team, a three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka starts in Melbourne.

International cricket was always about the best from each country playing against each other, but either Australia send a second-string team to India or their reserves will be playing in the T20 series. The last T20 will be played the night before the first Test starts!

Some of the Australian media were understandably outraged by the scheduling and, in the wake of the series loss to the magnificent Proteas, they have given their team and administrators both barrels and deservedly so.

Other Australian media have, however, resorted to blame-shifting and a video focusing on South African captain Faf du Plessis doing two perfectly legal things – eating a sweet on the field and using his saliva to shine the ball – albeit at the same time, was always going to go viral and attract the interest of the International Cricket Council.

But if they do punish Du Plessis, what are they going to do about players using sunscreen and then wiping their sweat on the ball? How about the ubiquitous Australian practice of chewing gum on the field, that is also like steroids for saliva.

South African cricket is currently basking in a glorious, phenomenal third successive series win in Australia that is going to be remembered for a long time because of the resilience and team unity they have shown, especially in the absence of big guns AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn.

But we also need to be wary that our administrators aren’t going to go down the same route as their Australian counterparts; there have been enough instances of South African sporting administrators chasing the bucks instead of what is going to be best for the game for us to be cautious.

Which is why, when I see the Proteas and Sri Lanka will be playing the third Test in Johannesburg from January 12-15, and the two Gauteng teams, the Titans and the Lions, will be playing a potentially crucial Sunfoil Series game at exactly the same time, I wonder if our four-day cricket is also going to be neglected, leading to the demise of our wonderful Test side?

Surely it can’t be too hard for the schedulers to say: “There’s going to be a Test in Johannesburg that week, let’s make sure that both Gauteng teams are playing away from home?”

Let the Australian malaise be a warning to us, no matter how smug and happy we are currently feeling.

Michaelhouse & College lift KZN spirits with unbeaten records 0

Posted on June 02, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s not all bad news for KwaZulu-Natal rugby at the moment with Michaelhouse and Maritzburg College emerging unbeaten from the St Stithians Easter Festival on Monday, joining Wynberg Boys’ High School as the only teams with a perfect three-from-three record.

Grey High from Port Elizabeth were also highly impressive at the festival and, although Maritzburg College pipped them 20-16 on the opening day, they ended their long weekend on a high with a brilliant 41-0 victory over Pretoria Boys’ High School. They have some quality players and one can expect to see the names of fullback Curwin Bosch, eighthman Kwezi Mafu and lock Kamva Dilima in the papers moving forward.

Michaelhouse were given their stiffest test by a plucky Windhoek High School side, but their ability to get quick ruck ball and the attacking skills of their players saw them run out 40-19 winners. Flyhalf Bader Pretorius scored 15 of their points and was impressive in marshalling his backline.

The Maritzburg College backline and the metronomic boot of fullback Ruben van Blerk were the main agents of destruction as they hammered the Schoonspruit Invitation XV from the Western Cape 78-0, right wing Kudzaishe Munangi scoring a first-half hat-trick and the other wing, Xolisa Guma, adding two tries.

Pretoria Boys’ High endured a disappointing festival, also losing to Wynberg on the first day, and they did not have the belief or consistency of skills to challenge Grey High in the third game on Monday.

Wynberg looked a tightly-knit, spirited unit as, led by inspirational scrumhalf Labib Kannemeyer, they overwhelmed St Alban’s 53-0.

Hosts St Stithians were forced to play second-fiddle at their own festival as, following their 51-3 thrashing at the hands of Michaelhouse on the second day, they surrendered a 24-7 lead and lost 29-24 to another KZN school, Clifton College, on Monday.

Helpmekaar finally enjoyed that winning feeling on Monday when they edged out St Andrew’s 29-28, fullback Chuiner van Rooyen scoring a dazzling solo try that was the difference between the teams in the end.

Results

Day Three – Michaelhouse 40 Windhoek HS 19; Maritzburg College 78 Schoonspruit Invitation 0; Grey High 41 Pretoria BHS 0; Wynberg BHS 53 St Alban’s 0; Clifton College 29 St Stithians 24; Helpmekaar 29 St Andrew’s 28.

Day Two – Pretoria BHS 22 Windhoek HS 12; Maritzburg College 34 St Alban’s 16; Clifton College 54 Schoonspruit Invitation 12; Wynberg BHS 36 St Andrew’s 12; Grey High 31 Helpmekaar 13; Michaelhouse 51 St Stithians 3.

Day One – St Andrew’s 31 St Alban’s 12; Wynberg BHS 24 Pretoria BHS 17; Windhoek HS 26 Clifton College 19; St Stithians 36 Schoonspruit Invitation 5; Michaelhouse 52 Helpmekaar 19; Maritzburg College 20 Grey High 16.



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