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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Looking back at the fantastic Newlands Test 0

Posted on October 13, 2017 by Ken

 

What a fantastic game of rugby it was at Newlands, with the incredible atmosphere, the pace, intensity and physicality making it real Test match rugby.

Unfortunately the Springboks lost, but they gave a huge performance and the All Blacks will know they were lucky to win. It was so pleasing to see the Springboks go from 57-0 to losing by just a point, but they should have won.

Of course the game could have been different had Nehe Milner-Skudder’s break been finished off or Rieko Ioane had not been tackled over the goal-line by Jesse Kriel, those 14 points could have deflated the Springboks. But it was also the home side’s own mistakes that gave the All Blacks the points they needed.

Even the last-minute controversy was avoidable because it’s always a risk rushing for the charge down; you need to come at an angle so you don’t hit the kicker head-on. It’s to protect the kicker and Damian was too square-on. He did manage to put Lima Sopoaga off his drop kick, but he also would have known he was late and risked sanction, and conceded the penalty anyway. It wasn’t the best moment in Damian de Allende’s rugby life and it changed the complexion of the game because the All Blacks were then two scores clear and with just 14 men on the field, it was an uphill task for the Springboks.

The breakdown turnovers were the key and you could see the reaction of the team after Malcolm Marx and Francois Louw stole the ball. The mix of the back row Allister Coetzee chose came in for a lot of criticism but it was done for a reason.

Siya Kolisi and Francois Louw were the two breakdown players, which you need to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking pattern, and Pieter-Steph du Toit provided physicality and bolstered the lineout.

In terms of the Springbok kicking game, they kicked a bit more than previously, although I find it strange that the crowd boos our own scrumhalf for kicking box-kicks, while the New Zealand scrumhalf is applauded for doing it. The plan was clearly to have contestable kicks to test the All Blacks back three. In the last World Cup semi-final, Milner-Skudder dropped a few high balls and was eventually moved away from the wing, so that was clearly part of the Springboks’ plan at Newlands.

You can’t just run willy-nilly from your own half, sometimes you’ve got to kick. It must either be long into the 22, which gives you time to build a chase line or force the catcher to kick out and give you a lineout; or he will kick long which gives you the chance to put the running bomb up; or it must be contestable. If you’re accurate enough then you have a 50/50 chance of winning the ball back, or you can put in a dominant tackle, get a turnover or just slow their ball down.

That did not happen in Ross Cronje’s box-kick that led to Damian McKenzie’s spectacular try, but to be fair, David Havili was allowed too much space and time to run across the field. The Springboks have struggled with guys running across their defensive line, it raises doubts as to whether the outside defender should turn in or trust the player on the inside. It’s something the Springboks have got to tighten up.

What was probably most pleasing of all – and credit must go to their conditioning for this – was that the Springboks were much stronger at the end of the game, both physically and mentally. Playing at sea level, as predicted, was also important because it makes it a level playing field.

The performance of the pack was magnificent, they were bristling on the gain-line, they won the collisions and they really gained confidence from the lineout. The Springboks went for four-man lineouts and then the short ball, which ensured they were able to win quality possession. The maul try they scored was also really pleasing.

The forwards seem to be in that special zone right now where they are full of confidence and intensity and they are really playing for each other.

We should also not underestimate Francois Louw’s calmness and experience and just his assurance, which definitely has an impact on his fellow forwards on and off the field.

Elton Jantjies’ kick at goal that he didn’t put over was also important and at international level you’ve got to convert those chances.

The main problem with the backline was that they were a little too deep and too lateral. Everyone wishes they can have a flat attack, because that’s what causes the defence the most problems, and it was better when Handre Pollard came on. Then again, there has to be quick ruck ball for the number 10 to take the ball into the jaws of the defence.

Ironically, the shorter lineouts do actually cause a problem for the backs because then there’s not much chance for them to have a one-on one. It’s good that Allister Coetzee is backing combinations because that induces trust, but he needs to be aware if, over a period of time, players aren’t really performing.

With the backs being a bit too lateral and too deep at Newlands, it allowed the All Blacks to pick off the carriers in the backline. It was interesting when Pollard came on that he played much flatter to the gain-line, which brought his forwards more into play, for example when Malcolm Marx hit the hole and set up the try for Jean-Luc du Preez.

For the end-of-year tour it will obviously be different conditions to South Africa, especially compared to on the highveld.

Both the matches against Ireland and Wales will be played in stadia with roofs, which makes a difference. Hopefully the Springboks have now found the formula that works for them.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

A buzzing that killed the Wanderers buzz … until Pierre arrived 0

Posted on February 07, 2017 by Ken

 

The buzzing atmosphere of a full Wanderers Bullring has always been one of the standout features of South African cricket, but there was also a buzzing of a kind less conducive to cricket on Saturday as the third one-day international between the Proteas and Sri Lanka was interrupted for an hour by a swarm of bees.

Midway through the Sri Lankan innings, the players were forced to lie flat on the ground by the swarm, which also colonised wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock’s helmet left behind him on the field. Play resumed for a short while but then the umpires took the players off the field.

The groundstaff tried to cajole the hive into a wheelie-bin and also sprayed a couple of fire extinguishers on them, which just temporarily dispersed them and presumably made them more angry.

Enter one Pierre Hefer, who has obviously been taught the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Hefer, who describes himself as a hobbyist beekeeper, said he was sitting at home in Emmarentia watching the cricket and the delay as none of the plans against the bees worked, when he realised he could help.

Amazingly, and fortuitously, security allowed him to park outside the stadium and gain entry without a ticket nor accreditation. Being dressed in white overalls, with long boots and gloves and carrying trays containing honey and wax, obviously helped him convince the authorities that he was supplying an emergency service.

Hefer said the honey and wax were the key ingredients in attracting the bees into a container. The trick, according to the silver-haired hero of the day, is to keep the bees congregated on whatever they have settled on, making them far easier to move.

The Wanderers has seen many heroes during the 61 years it has been in use, but few have been as unlikely as Pierre Hefer, the beekeeper who was sitting at home and came over to help. It was certainly the biggest crowd he has ever performed in front of and the gratitude of the masses who had gathered for the Pink ODI in order to raise awareness and funds for the fight against breast cancer was obvious.

 

Now for the Springboks to lay the same platform in Mendoza 0

Posted on January 23, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks touched the heights of greatness in the emotional, inspirational atmosphere of the FNB Stadium last weekend; the challenge will be for them to repeat that sort of performance in the hostile, unfamiliar surrounds of Mendoza in the return fixture against Argentina on Saturday night.

The 73-13 victory over the Pumas as the country celebrated the Nelson Mandela Sports and Culture Day was the biggest win ever in the Rugby Championship or the Tri-Nations that preceded it, and the Springboks were rightly lauded for the record nine tries they scored in producing some dazzling attacking play.

But the foundation for that win was laid up front by the massive ball-carrying efforts of Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts, and the set-piece excellence of the tight five.

Given the time and space, and the platform to shine, the backline then showed what they are capable of.

It is little surprise that coach Heyneke Meyer has chosen the same starting XV to take on Argentina this weekend, with the only change to the squad being the promotion of Jano Vermaak to reserve scrumhalf in the absence of Fourie du Preez, who will not be part of any of South Africa’s away games, as per the wishes of his Japanese club, Suntory Sungoliath.

The continuity that Meyer has engendered through his selections has allowed the confidence in the side to grow markedly through seven consecutive wins. It is still early days in the Rugby Championship, but at the moment the two sides on an upward trajectory are the Springboks and their arch-rivals, the All Blacks.

But to ensure that they keep tracking the world’s number one side, the South Africans are going to have to bend their backs and put in another big effort in Mendoza.

A year ago, almost to the day, that hunger was missing as South Africa scraped a fortuitous draw against Argentina at the same venue.

As the actress may well have said to the bishop, “it’s what you put in that counts”, and the Springboks will have to put in an even bigger effort amongst the forwards to soften the Pumas in front of their most passionate supporters.

The Springboks have obviously adjusted better than expected to the requirements of the new scrum laws but the return of the bajada, which seems tailor-made to the new engagement sequence, cannot be far off.

The loss of the injured Patricio Albacete will place the Pumas lineout under even more pressure, following the dominance of Juandre Kruger and Etzebeth last weekend, and the effectiveness of the rolling maul – there seemed to be a total lack of a defensive plan against it from Argentina – means that set-piece should once again provide a great attacking platform for the Springboks.

The improvement shown at the breakdown will be under even more scrutiny this weekend as the Springboks will have to adapt to the vagaries of referee Steve Walsh, who will have a vocal crowd on his back in the most intimate of venues. The hostile atmosphere in the sunken stadium is epitomised by its name – the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas – which literally means Argentina’s Falklands Islands Stadium, a defiant show of the country’s claim on that territory.

If the Springboks do get the same sort of front-foot ball they enjoyed last weekend, then they can be expected to canter to victory once again. The arrival of Willie le Roux and JJ Engelbrecht, and the continued spark shown by Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers, has allowed the Springboks to bury suggestions they are dour and one-dimensional on attack.

And one of the most encouraging features of the opening round win was the crisp, snappy service provided by scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar – Meyer said it was the best game the Ulster-based veteran had produced under his coaching.

Adding Le Roux to the mix at fullback has certainly brought an extra dimension with the Cheetahs star’s vision and ability to put others in space reminiscent of the great Andre Joubert.

The form of Morne Steyn at flyhalf has also been superb in all departments all year.

The only player who didn’t shine last weekend was wing Bjorn Basson, although it’s fair to say the run of play didn’t go his way. The Bulls player will need to make himself more involved, however, if the temptation to move Le Roux to wing and play Pat Lambie at fullback is not to take seed in Meyer’s mind.

Lambie came off the bench last weekend and set up the seventh try with a superb break, epitomising the tremendous impact that the bench had. Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Vermaak, Lambie and Jan Serfontein could all easily distinguish themselves in the starting line-up and the softening-up process the Springboks employ – their subdue and penetrate style – is hugely boosted by having such a powerful bench.

The Springboks have the ideal chance on Saturday to make up for the dismal showing on the previous trip to Argentina. The confidence is there, the game plan is in place; all that’s needed now is the hunger to quell what will be a fiery Pumas response to the humiliation they suffered at the FNB Stadium.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-23-boks-vs-argentina-bring-it-home-at-hostile-mendoza/#.WIdV01N97IU



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