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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: Springboks still heading for a very good year 0

Posted on September 28, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s a very important Test for the Springboks against Australia in Bloemfontein on Saturday because victory will take them to six wins out of eight matches and that obviously means they are heading for a very good year.

Heading into the last two home Tests of the year, the good news is that the Springboks have a good chance to finish second in the Rugby Championship. If they win their last two games, then they are heading for a very good year indeed!

But first they need to get through Australia, but they are playing one of the top four teams, so it’s a chance to go up the rankings.

Traditionally the Wallabies have always struggled at altitude – South Africa have won 14 of the last 15 games on the Highveld – but there’s obviously more to it than that. The Springbok forwards were really in control at the back end of the game in Perth, they scored a really good lineout drive try and their scrum was dominant, so those are real positives.

I expect the scrum to go well again and garner penalties like they did at Loftus Versfeld last year and in Perth, and I expect the lineout maul to dominate when in good field positions. Hooker Malcolm Marx remains a helluva talent and the Springboks will definitely produce a better lineout performance. New Zealand have one heck of a competing lineout and it wasn’t the first time they’ve dismantled an opposition lineout and it won’t be the last.

So the Springboks should have different quality ball for the halfbacks and having Ross Cronje back and fit will definitely be a big help for Elton Jantjies.

In terms of any scarring from the 57-0 hammering in Albany, after a big loss the hardest thing is that the confidence takes a knock. It wasn’t the best day for the players or the coaches and they’ve got to regain trust in the system. It’s a good thing that they had a week off to clear the mind and Allister Coetzee needs to look at people who can bounce back and deliver a great performance.

The stakes are so high and there’s such immense pressure to perform at national level that the players will have real feelings of shame. They know how great the support is and how high the expectations are because the Springboks are one of the country’s flagship sporting teams.

It was obviously a great disappointment, but that all goes when they step back on to the training field and they’re back to normality. But there will still be that little bit of doubt in the back of their minds, which is why they need a good performance to erase that.

At altitude, it’s not so important to start well as we saw with the Lions in the SuperRugby semi-final. From 30 minutes onwards, the altitude starts to kick in and take the sting out of the opposition legs.

Test matches are like playing 12 Currie Cup finals in a year, such is their importance that they are live or die, every one of them.

Which is why I feel sorry for Raymond Rhule, who took full responsibility for his performance, but there’s no need to throw him away as a Springbok. In my time on the Springboks staff, we had a player who missed five tackles on the wing and weeks later he was still deeply upset and disappointed. You could see the hurt in his eyes a month later. But he went on to play stellar rugby for South Africa for the next three years, he recovered and became a regular throughout my tenure with the national team.

The players need to know they have the backing of their coaches and sometimes you get players who are immense talents on attack but their defence is not so strong. Then you have to ask: Is he coachable? Does he listen? Does he make the right decisions under pressure? Is his positional play such that he will be in the right place to execute the tackle?

Social media can be quite brutal, everyone has an opinion, but now it can be stated and broadcast far and wide. In the old days the players didn’t have to bother with any of that.

The Handre Pollard situation has also raised plenty of debate and it’s non-negotiable for me. A returning Springbok has to come back into the franchise 23 because the national interest comes first, sometimes coaches have to see the bigger picture.

He is an elite player for the Bulls and has been with them since he was 18, six years, and he has shown great loyalty and produced many good performances. A player of Pollard’s class should slot in seamlessly.

In 2004, I can remember Jake White released Victor Matfield from the Springbok squad and we were in the middle of our Currie Cup campaign at the Bulls, but we accommodated him on the flank against the Lions.

He was man of the match the next weekend against the All Blacks and that was the season South Africa won the Tri-Nations.

It is vitally important that if a Springbok needs game time, then you give it to him, even if it’s off the bench. We always used to play them at the Bulls and the Western Province, Sharks and Free State national squad players were all welcomed straight back into their teams.

John Mitchell has stated how important the Currie Cup is to build towards SuperRugby. Surely the chance to integrate a world-class player in a match situation is very much a bonus for the Bulls?

So for a week he gets to use his key tactical decision-maker in the Currie Cup while preparing for SuperRugby 2018. Surely you would take that any day?

 

 


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: 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.

CSA need to put their faith in building the base, not quick riches 0

Posted on May 30, 2017 by Ken

 

Two not entirely unconnected happenings in the world of cricket caught my eye this week: The first was an article (http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/1098043.html) on CricInfo about the looming player strike in Australia and how the relationship between their administration and their players has almost entirely broken down; the second was that Cricket Australia’s executive manager of broadcast, digital and commercial, Ben Amarfio, had come to South Africa and briefed local cricket stakeholders on their successes, in particular the Big Bash League.

The irony of the situation is that although the Big Bash League has been an enormous success in terms of crowds and television revenue, the damage it is doing to all other aspects of Australian cricket reminds one of the south Indian proverb that “nothing grows under the shade of the Banyan tree”.

The T20 competition might be going through the roof, but the rest of Australian cricket is not exactly excelling: results have been indifferent and the players are about to go on strike! The temptation to copy what they are doing should be resisted.

The dollar signs are already rolling in the eyes of Cricket South Africa when it comes to the new Global Destination T20 League that will debut on our shores next summer, but the actual economics of the event have been poorly communicated to many of the stakeholders who will hand over control of their stadia and players for the duration of the competition.

The state of the game in this country is currently strong, and CEO Haroon Lorgat was a well-deserved winner of the Leadership in Sport Business award at this week’s Sports Industry Awards, but the danger still exists that the lower levels of the sport, the foundation, will be ignored in favour of the riches that could suddenly become available.

We all know the immense damage done to the reputation of Cricket South Africa following the hosting of the IPL in 2009 and the money-grabbing associated with it, but our administrators seem to have short memories; how else can one explain the presence of disgraced former CEO Gerald Majola as an honoured guest, seated in the front row, at their own awards ceremony last week?

At the same awards dinner, it was noticeable that the prize for the best scorers association, previously included in the professional operations section along with the umpires, had been demoted to the amateur awards given out at the breakfast earlier on the same day. It may seem like a trivial matter – but it was certainly a slight felt by the scorers, who are an integral part of the game, just like umpires. It points to a lingering suspicion that CSA might just be undervaluing their foundations, the domestic base.

It is a fact that the best organisations look after the interests of all their people – their employees and stakeholders – and a prime example of this is the Northerns Cricket Union, who also held their awards luncheon this week.

Their Titans team is the best in the country, winning two trophies last season and narrowly missing out on the third, and that is partly because of the superb administrative structures that support the on-field performance. The Northerns team is also the dominant force in senior provincial competitions.

The administration is happy and productive because every person is treated well and with enormous respect; they are made to feel part of the success of the union and franchise. There is no greater measure of this than the fact that all the grounds staff, dressed in their Sunday best, were invited to the luncheon and the hug and kiss CEO Jacques Faul received from one of the housekeeping staff when she received her certificate.

Faul is an outstanding CEO who makes every one of his staff feel valued, and that is the secret to getting the best out of people, and the strong relationship between him and president John Wright, a true servant of sport, is also vital.

Cricket South Africa need to be warned that there is a danger of prioritising money over people and the overall well-being of the game of which they are trustees; when things are going well is probably the right time for this reminder.

*Altaaf Kazi, CSA’s head of media and communications, has pointed out, however, in response to this column that the scorers were never previously honoured during the live TV broadcast segment of the awards, whereas this year their award presentation from the breakfast was shown live on SuperSport. The reshuffling was due to the pleasing inclusion of three extra awards for women’s cricket.

Improvement needed if today’s pride & joy is to remain 0

Posted on December 06, 2016 by Ken

 

The Standard Bank Proteas need to continue improving if the sense of pride and joy that surrounds the team today is to remain in the long-term, coach Russell Domingo said upon the squad’s victorious return from their Test series triumph in Australia.

The Proteas not only became only the second team in over a hundred years to win three successive Test series in Australia, but they also completed an amazing turnaround in fortunes from last season’s woes, beginning with the series win over New Zealand and then the historic 5-0 whitewash of the Aussies in the limited-overs series. But Domingo, who has come through a tough time personally with many calling for his head, wants the Proteas to keep pushing on.
“The team is in a good space at the moment and we have to treasure and nurture that because things can change very quickly in this game. The belief is slowly coming back into the team, but we are not yet where I feel we could be, although we’re heading in the right direction,” Domingo said.
Chief among the coach’s concerns is the inconsistency of the batting. Although South Africa’s batsmen scored five centuries and five half-centuries during the three-match series, only Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis averaged over 40.
“The batting, in particular, is an area we need to improve. We were 40 for three a lot and even 150 for six in the last game. Players are putting in big performances, but not consistently. A guy would score a hundred and then have a couple of Tests with no runs. Quinton was the one guy to find a rich vein of form, but for the rest there was no follow-up after they scored big runs. We’ve identified that and will work hard at it,” Domingo said.
Australia scored just one century in the series, by the impressive Usman Khawaja in the final Test in Adelaide, which Australia won by seven wickets. But that defeat was more about the Proteas having just run out of legs and intensity, having given their absolute all in winning the first two Tests.
Although the chance of an historic double-whitewash passed the Proteas by, captain Du Plessis said he was more than satisfied with a 2-1 series win.
“We set high standards and obviously we wanted a 3-0 win, but I’m exceptionally happy with a 2-1 win. If you had offered me 2-1 at the start of the series, I would have bitten your whole arm off for that result. If there was one specific incident that was more important than any others in winning us the series, it was the turnaround in Perth.
“The belief that the team took from that session, sparked by resilience, was out of this world and it took the team to a new level of confidence. It’s probably the best session I’ve been part of on a cricket field, the way everyone stood up after losing Dale Steyn, which was incredibly hard, the whole team felt it, but somehow they just made it possible to bounce back.
“After Dale’s injury, everyone thought we were out of the contest and I think we shocked Australia by playing some scarily good cricket,” Du Plessis said.
Despite the magnitude of the triumph, South Africa are still only fifth in the Test rankings, with Australia third, and the Proteas are going to have to keep winning if they are to return to the number one spot, preferably starting with a 3-0 victory over Sri Lanka in December/January.
“Going up the rankings is a goal of ours but it won’t just happen, we need to take really small steps to get back to number one. But all the signs are there that we can get back there; Sri Lanka are a good team, they’re playing well, but if we beat them then I reckon we’ll be close to number two,” Du Plessis said.
When Domingo and Du Plessis were asked to come up with reasons for the remarkable resurgence in the Proteas’ fortunes, the coach came up with “unity” and “resilience”, while the skipper mentioned “energy” and “vision”.
“It’s been a combination of things and getting a few players back that we have missed a lot, like Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, has made a massive difference. But the unity amongst the guys and the realisation of how important it is to play for your country has been very important. A few players have also come back into form, the team as a whole has got their confidence back. This team prides itself on their resilience,” Domingo said.
For Du Plessis, it goes back to the culture camp the squad had in August.
“We made some obvious goals because we weren’t happy with where we were as a team. We had that weekend away and we took a hard look at ourselves with brutal honesty. Ninety percent of our success is due to the rebirth in energy and vision from that camp and the results speak for themselves. We wanted to make sure our team culture was strong, that all of us were on the same boat and making sure we are going in the right direction,” Du Plessis said.
The Proteas captain will now await the date for his appeal hearing for ball-tampering, which is expected to be confirmed this week, but Du Plessis maintained his strong stance that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Whatever the outcome of that hearing, at which Du Plessis will now have proper South African legal representation, it will not detract from the fact that he led South Africa to one of their greatest triumphs – beating Australia in Australia is the stuff childhood dreams are made of.

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