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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Lions’ efforts deserve Test selection 0

Posted on June 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks are back in camp and it will be interesting to see the team for the French Tests, two of which will be played at altitude, so it will definitely be an advantage to pick players that are full of confidence and successful on the Highveld.

There’s only one team that has been playing with real conviction and confidence, though, and that is the Lions, so I expect a few debutants from them over the course of the series. It will be a well-deserved honour and credit to their coaches, Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.

The Lions’ 54-10 win over the Southern Kings showed that the difference in strength is vast between them and the other South African teams and they now have a great run-in towards the SuperRugby playoffs. They deserve it after winning three games overseas and they are reaping the rewards in confidence and the way they are playing.

It’s sad for SuperRugby that the playoff places are mostly already sorted out, especially in South Africa. It always used to go down to the last weekend and a very exciting final day of round-robin play. Anyway, it’s a huge advantage to finish first on the log and the Crusaders are three points clear of the Lions as our pacesetters go into the international break.

The Crusaders have some tough New Zealand derbies coming up though, including having to travel to the Hurricanes.

So I believe Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions CEO, can’t wait to pencil in 3pm playoff games on the Highveld. If you speak to the Highlanders players they will tell you that their legs felt like jelly during their semi-final at Ellis Park last year, they just could not get going, and that’s a side packed with All Blacks that lost 30-42.

The Lions will definitely have earned that advantage via their performances, especially their tremendous run of 15 unbeaten games against South African opposition.

Most of the Lions players have been let go by other franchises or picked up from other unions, so you have to credit their hard work and improvement. Guys like Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan were playing for Tuks in 2012/13, while Franco Mostert was also part of that side and nobody has worked harder for their Springbok opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.

A guy like Ross Cronje has worked really hard on his game, he’s been the second-choice at the Lions a lot of the time, but he kept his belief and keeps producing the goods, so his selection is also fully deserved.

It was really pleasing to see Warren Whiteley appointed as the new Springbok captain, he’s a really honest player and always totally committed on the field. You can never accuse Warren of shirking anything, whether that be in terms of workload or skill.

He was with the Sharks as a junior and was a very explosive, impact player who could really cause damage in the wide channels in the last 20 minutes. He has become a dominant captain who epitomises all that his Lions team stands for in terms of culture.

Warren is a superb lineout option and also has safe hands at the back, which is important because it’s vital these days for eighthmen to be able to counter-attack. He brings his Sevens skills to bear.

His journey to the Springbok captaincy has not been easy, he has worked so hard to get there and thoroughly deserves the honour.

The Springboks are heading into a phase of more inclusive leadership, Warren will take notice of the opinions around him and has great empathy. But he showed when he first came into the Springbok group in 2014 that he is strong enough to have his own ideas, he knows the path forward and will not just follow the party line, he will make sure he drives his own opinions. He’s also a great communicator, with the coaches and the playing group.

I wish him all the success he deserves and wouldn’t it be nice for him to have the Rugby Championship trophy in his hands in October?

And Duane Vermeulen playing at seven will definitely work, in terms of their defensive system, they want a blindside flank who can do a lot more when it comes to work-rate. I think the eighthman will stay at a lot of the set-pieces and save his energy for attack and ball-in-hand play.

Duane of course will be in France for the Top 14 final with Toulon and will only have a couple of days training with the Springboks after flying back to South Africa, which is why Jean-Luc du Preez has been called up.

The Sharks v Stormers game showed the difference in strength between the two conferences. The Stormers just could not get that final pass or offload away, which, given their style of play, is essential for them.

Under new coach Robbie Fleck, they’re always going to be involved in high-scoring games, but they need to convert their chances. One has to credit the Sharks for their defence holding firm, which bodes well for the Springboks.

I felt there was some improvement from the Bulls, they were far more physical at the gain-line. There’s obviously been a change in the coaching staff there, which possibly produced the improved display, but unfortunately it was not enough against a clever team like the Hurricanes.

The Bulls will regret those soft moments in defence when the Hurricanes were able to slice through them like a knife through butter.

The positives for the Bulls were Duncan Matthews, the young wing, who really took his opportunity well, and the way the forwards and inside backs competed on the gain-line against one of the most physical sides in SuperRugby (How we wish for the days when the Bulls were the most physical side in the competition!).

I was fortunate enough to be at the Cheetahs game against the Sunwolves and it’s always nice when the South African teams come to Tokyo – because of our relationships in the past, I get to catch up and spend some time with them. The smattering of survival Japanese I have helps them in the shops and with the very complicated subway system!

I thought the Cheetahs ran a very smart week in terms of preparation. Often when a team is coming off a massive losing run (nine games), the temptation is to go harder at the players in training. But the Cheetahs did not do much in Tokyo and Franco Smith ensured the players were very fresh, and they reaped the reward.

The match was quite tight until just before halftime when the Cheetahs scored a killer try to leave the Sunwolves 14-0 down.

I was impressed by the way the Cheetahs played, they kept their shape and Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen were always a big danger on the wings.

It was a big event in Tokyo, because they only get to host a handful of games every season. It’s a huge thing for Japan to have a SuperRugby team.

We need a global game and we should get teams from the USA and Canada involved as well, it has to happen eventually. Look at the improvement in the Argentina team from having the Jaguares involved in SuperRugby – they have been exposed to a higher level of rugby and it has paid dividends.

The biggest drawback is the travel for the Sunwolves and Jaguares, they do nearly twice as much travel as anyone else. It’s always a great feeling going to a new country when you win, but the worst thing is then losing.

So I hope they change the conferences, but who knows because there has still been no clarity from Sanzaar.

 

 

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.

 

It was an unpromising start … but Boucher has flourished in new role as coach 0

Posted on May 31, 2017 by Ken

 

As a player, Mark Boucher showed many times that he was a difficult man to rattle, a tenacious character who was at his best when his back was against the wall. But even he was shaken by the start to his coaching career.

Due to a prior commitment to play golf in the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, Boucher was not actually at SuperSport Park when the Titans began their competitive season with a four-day game against the Knights. It started well enough with the Titans securing a 113-run first-innings lead on the opening day.

Boucher was keeping a regular eye on proceedings via his mobile phone and was on the 14th tee box at Carnoustie, rated one of the nastiest courses in the world with a particularly tough stretch of closing holes, when he checked the latest score on the second day of the Sunfoil Series match.

The Titans had been bowled out for 57, their lowest score ever, and Boucher had to phone a friend to check that the extraordinary collapse was, in fact, real.

“On 14, 15, 16 and 17, I hit all my tee shots out of bounds. But I guess it’s one of those things that happens in cricket; the other day the Bangalore Royal Challengers were bowled out for just 49 with Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle in their line-up.

“But it wasn’t great to see and I knew the only way the players would really get better is by being very honest about it. But we lost the next game as well, another poor performance, so we had to work really hard at practice and we won the next two games really well, both by an innings, and that was the turnaround,” Boucher told Saturday Citizen.

From the unpromising beginnings of that spluttering start, the Titans dominated the rest of the season. They only just failed to repair the damage of those first two Sunfoil Series losses, finishing only 1.78 points behind the Knights, but claimed the CSA T20 Challenge and Momentum One-Day Cup in convincing fashion.

Boucher modestly suggests he had luxury sedans to deal with in terms of the players at his disposal, but the way he has worked with cricketers from throughout the spectrum – seasoned former internationals, current Proteas, exciting youngsters who have pushed themselves to the brink of international cricket, and those journeymen who are the stalwarts of a team – as well as the media and administrators, has been highly impressive.

“The Titans always had a very successful set-up, the culture was very strong, and I always looked up to them as a player. They’ve had years of good discipline and a good team ethic.

“And they knew how to win. So it was just a case of trying to keep that culture and adding my knowledge. It would be difficult not to be successful with all that talent,” the 40-year-old said.

But he has handled the challenges of balancing a team with the Black players and keeping the left-out White players happy extremely well.

“I knew it would be a challenge, but I’ve enjoyed it. The emphasis has been on team, there are a lot of stars and great players here, but team is what makes it tick. A lot of players who would play every game with the other franchises have had to sit out and in the limited-overs finals Shaun von Berg and David Wiese had to miss out, which was really hard because they both had very good seasons. But they made good with the time they had,” Boucher said.

The nuggety wicketkeeper/batsman had an inspirational effect on his Proteas team-mates and it seems those qualities have transferred to his new career as a coach.

“Not every good player becomes a good coach but I have always enjoyed working with players. Mickey Arthur said I should go help the bowlers with their batting so they could stick around with me in the lower-order, and I spent a lot of time giving Paul Harris, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn short balls from the bowling machine. They didn’t particularly like it, but it worked!

“So I think there is a bit of that mould in me, but I’m a completely different coach to how I was as a player. I don’t mind using harsh words, but I try to be fair. I had so many coaches in my playing days so my attitude is ‘what would I have liked as a player in this situation?’,” Boucher said.

Surprisingly, he finds the white-knuckle moments the hardest.

“My big challenge is dealing with pressure, it’s twice as bad as the coach because you can’t do anything about it out in the middle! So I have to look in the mirror and tell myself I need to calm down because the players can feed off that. I’m still a young coach and I’m still learning.”

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170520/282497183600083

Relax people, Hashim Amla is back to his best 0

Posted on May 15, 2017 by Ken

 

Proteas batting coach Neil McKenzie said on Monday that people were justified in feeling some concern over Hashim Amla’s batting form, but that they can all relax now because the Bearded Wonder has shown he is back to his best with two centuries in the Indian Premier League.

Amla slammed an aggressive 104 off just 60 balls for the Punjab Kings XI against the Gujarat Lions at the weekend, having two weeks earlier made the same score off the same number of deliveries in an unbeaten knock against the Mumbai Indians. Amazingly, Amla ended on the losing side in both games, the first player to suffer this fate twice in IPL history, while he is only the third batsman after Chris Gayle (2011) and Virat Kohli (3 in 2016) to score multiple centuries in an IPL season.

“Hashim’s form had dipped, he was only averaging 30 in ODIs and Tests over the last 18 months, his form was a little erratic and people aren’t used to that. But you can’t keep a player of his quality down for long. He sets such high standards for himself but this happens in cricket and his returns have not been what he would have expected and it went on for longer than he would have liked. But to score two hundreds in an IPL season is a serious feat,” McKenzie told The Citizen on Monday.

The Highveld Lions and Proteas stalwart disputed the theory that Amla’s dip in form had anything to do with any weakening of the eyes, but put it down to slight changes in the batsman’s approach.

“I don’t buy that business about the eyes going, Hashim’s only 34. But if you look at how he’s been working on being ultra-positive, his power-hitting and the areas he’s hitting the ball, then it’s like a golfer who changes his swing: you sometimes need to go through that little dip, you just need time to work it all out.

“There hasn’t been any drastic change in Hashim’s batting and it’s just a matter of finding the right balance. In 20/20 cricket he’s looking to play some shots, to take it on, and it’s freed him up. Previously he’s just batted normally and he’s been really good for us in 50-over cricket as our banker, batting aggressively but playing his own game and taking us through 30 or 40 overs. That’s worked well and when he scores hundreds for the Proteas, we normally win,” McKenzie, who was still scoring plenty of first-class runs in his 40s, said.

Most pleasingly, it means Amla will now take great form into the Champions Trophy, which starts in England on June 1.

“He’ll be really happy to be taking runs into the Champions Trophy and you want your huge players like him going into tournaments with a lot of confidence, and it gives the team confidence as well. We have a lot of matchwinners and we just need one or two of them to find some serious form. We know we’ve got the players, and now it’s just a matter of timing, form and some luck,” McKenzie said.

 

 

 

Morkel & Titans back in Benoni & in great form 0

Posted on November 18, 2016 by Ken

 

Willowmoore Park in Benoni will play host on Friday night to the top-of-the-log CSA T20 Challenge clash between the Titans and the Knights, with Titans captain Albie Morkel leading his high-flying team at the ground where it all started for him back in 1999, and currently enjoying great individual form.

The Titans have won both their opening games with Morkel playing pivotal roles: first with the ball against the Highveld Lions when he claimed three for 12 in four outstanding overs, and then on Wednesday night with the bat when he steered his team to victory over the Cape Cobras with 34 not out off 16 balls.

“Albie sometimes plays himself down, but he’s a very valuable cricketer and the head of the side. He wants those pressure situations and he showed that again against the Cobras, winning the game for us with the bat, having done it with the ball in the previous game,” Titans coach Mark Boucher told The Citizen on Thursday.

Heinrich Klaasen, who was pushed up the order to open against the Cobras with some success as he scored 46, is likely to be partnered by Grant Mokoena on Friday as Henry Davids has strained a hamstring.

“We’ve been under pressure in both games because we lost a couple of quick wickets up front, but we still managed to get the middle-order firing. So it will be very exciting if we can get a good start,” Boucher noted.

Willowmoore Park has thrown up more than her fair share of tricky pitches for batsmen – in last season’s game in Benoni against the Knights, the Titans could only manage 136 for nine and were beaten by a spectacular all-round performance by West Indian Andre Russell (4-11 & 66*).

Russell is no longer in the Knights team but they have star quality in returning captain Theunis de Bruyn, fast bowlers Marchant de Lange and Duanne Olivier, and middle-order batting star David Miller.

“I just want a good cricket wicket for us to hopefully take advantage of, we’ve got both pace and spin covered. This is one game I’m really looking forward to because the Knights beat us in the four-day competition and they look like a side that will challenge for top spot. So we will be tested and we need good intensity,” Boucher said.

Friday night’s other game is in the fairest Cape, although there will be no love lost between the Cobras and the Warriors as they clash at Newlands.

The embattled Cobras have lost both their T20 games thus far, heaping more pressure on themselves, and they will be desperate to get their first win of the season in any format.



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