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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column – the Rugby Coaching Indaba 0

Posted on October 18, 2016 by Ken

 

The Rugby Coaching Indaba this week will not make any difference in the short-term, but that does not mean it’s a bad thing for Springbok rugby.

Brendan Venter is a superb facilitator, he will ask questions and get the involvement of all the coaches, while Pieter Kruger is highly professional and used to dealing with these sort of gatherings. So I’m sure they will get to where they want to, I’m confident they will go in the right direction.

There will be discussions about a national philosophy of playing, the way Allister Coetzee envisages the Springboks should play and the skill set that needs to be developed to go with it.

Skill sets are what I feel should be discussed most. It’s what we as the Springbok coaching group between 2012 and 2015 felt was lacking at national level – things like high-ball work, box-kicking, lineout throwing, goalkicking etc.

We desperately need an individual skills programme for elite performance and high-quality skills coaches. Maybe we need a director of rugby, but without the right contractual model he can’t prescribe to the franchises, he can only influence the contracted Springboks. And Allister Coetzee did not get the job until mid-April, so what went on between last year’s World Cup and then?

I know Johann van Graan, who is the one assistant coach who remained in place, did go to the SuperRugby franchises to see what was going on there, but how New Zealand rugby works is that the national coaches even work with the franchises regularly.

In Heyneke Meyer’s time we had a good relationship with all the SuperRugby unions and we would pay two two-day visits to each franchise every year. So there was a lot of contact and from my point of view I knew all the defence coaches, how they coached, their strategies and how individuals defended, how they folded, their line-speed etc.

We would share information and how we saw the Springboks going forward, on where we were at that moment, and it was a two-way engagement so we would touch base about individual players and we would hear from them how they felt about certain players. Everyone was very honest about what needed to be worked on.

In 2013 I spent two weeks at the Sharks helping them with their kicking structures and I twice went and helped the Cheetahs, who changed a few things and made the playoffs for the first time.

So there was a good exchange of information and it worked out really well.

But it’s difficult to prescribe set things to the franchises because different teams have different strengths and abilities. If a team doesn’t have a good box-kicker at scrumhalf then they’re not going to spend a lot of time with the wings helping them to compete on the high ball. But every team needs to feel safe under the high ball.

Every coach has his own style and has to do whatever is right for his team. For example, at the Kubota Spears we have a close relationship with the Hurricanes and they play slightly differently to the Highlanders or Crusaders.

What’s really interesting about the Hurricanes is the amount of work done with the individual player and his skill set. New Zealand’s skills are highly developed because the players are helped with their skills, the resources are there for individuals around the country.

But skills work needs to be driven by the coach, he needs to be on top of the players’ individual skills. In 2012, I can remember Malcolm Marx didn’t make the SA U20s and Dawie Theron said to me that his lineout throwing was the major problem. So Malcolm would come through every week with Robbie Coetzee and work with me on that. What work has been done individually with him since then? I don’t know.

For four years we’ve had the High-Performance Mobi Unit in place, but what work has been done on Elton Jantjies’ right foot? He has a tremendous left foot, but it would be great if he could be two-footed like Jonny Wilkinson, it would mean he would not be under nearly as much pressure. Can Rohan Janse van Rensburg or Jesse Kriel kick? What is being done about that?

Dave Alred helped us in 2015 with the fielding of high balls, we put that structure in place.

The major problem is that the SuperRugby teams all play differently and the core of the Springbok team is no longer in South Africa, in the current 30-man squad, not many of them are locally-based all year round. The core values need to be kept the same so that a young player can seamlessly move through the system and be coached in the same fashion. We have to find the right balance in terms of game plan, there’s no point in the SA U20s playing a certain way and defending a certain way that is different to the senior side. Likewise if the SA U20s play a passing game with width and the Springboks are playing kicking and territory.

The coach can have a say in the Springboks and the SA U20s because they are contracted sides, and the higher the stakes, the more pressure there is on those games.

The All Blacks are on a different level to everybody at the moment and the Springboks are ranked fourth, but if we weren’t upset by their performance in Durban, if we just accept that, then there is something wrong with our rugby.

New Zealand played well, and as usual ran away with the game in the last 20 minutes, but what the match really underlined was the Springboks’ lack of ambition. They just relied on their set-piece and Morne Steyn kicking penalties and drop goals. Seeing as the All Blacks average 38 points per game, Morne would have had to break the world record for penalties and drop goals for the Springboks to have won!

But most Springbok coaches have been through something similar, because the expectation is so high for excellence. Hopefully the indaba will result in more excellence in our rugby going forward.

Of course, the disappointment of the Springboks’ performance has been put into perspective this week by the shock passing of Munster coach and former Ireland loose forward star Anthony Foley, and I would like to pass my condolences to his family and loved ones.

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

 

 

Former Springboks defence coach John McFarland looks at this weekend’s SuperRugby quarterfinals 0

Posted on July 19, 2016 by Ken

I know Johan Ackermann is now coming in for criticism for resting his first-choice players for the game against the Jaguares in Argentina, which saw the Lions lose first place on the log, but I actually think he’s been quite clever and it’s not a bad thing that they finished second.

I know people talk about momentum being crucial going into the knockouts, but sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. In 2007 the Bulls had to win by a huge margin in the last league game and we did it [beating the Reds 92-3] against an Eddie Jones coached team because we wanted to stay in South Africa, we really didn’t want to travel. But in 2010 we played a weaker team against the Stormers in Cape Town and lost, but the next week at Orlando Stadium we beat the Crusaders in the semi-finals and then beat the Stormers again in the final.

The big thing is Ackers has been able to rest his top guys, they’ll be able to have a full week’s training, without any niggles and physically or mentally there won’t be any fatigue. They’ll have a great mindset going into the playoffs.

If they had all gone to Argentina then they would have been back at the hotel after playing around midnight and then woken up at 4.30am for a four-hour flight to Sao Paulo, where you have to wait to fly out again. So they’d only be back in South Africa on Monday morning and they wouldn’t have been able to train or start their preparation until Tuesday.

Instead Ackers has a fresh team, which is a real positive, and there are no injuries.

Looking at the SuperRugby games last weekend in New Zealand, they were like the South African derbies of old in terms of their intensity and collisions.

I say of old because the Lions have been so dominant in the last 18 months, they’ve been winning derbies well by 50 points. Everyone – including here in Japan – has been watching the New Zealand teams with envy because of the intensity and pace with which they’re playing, the skill set is just so high.

But why are the Lions so good?

Because they play with a lot of width, they have game-breaking centres and wings, they really challenge the defensive line – 71 tries is quite a record, they never give up, they have a strong set-piece and an exceptional scrum.

You have to give credit to Ackers for bringing through guys like Malcolm Marx and Rohan Janse van Rensburg this year. It may have been a bit early for the Lions players last year, their roll of dominance in South Africa really started at the end of SuperRugby,  players like Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel now have experience and belief to win playoff games, which began with the unbeaten run in the Currie Cup.

There’s such a belief in the side, they have a tremendous record against South African sides over the last 18 months.

They also have a fantastic back row, Jaco Kriel is a real warrior and leader, and he makes sure the standards are kept, Tecklenburg works all day long and Whiteley, if fit, always puts in an honest shift and sets a real example for his team.

But in knockout games it’s the halfbacks that make the real difference.

Everyone is starting from zero and you have to control the game a bit more tactically. All the great SuperRugby teams had exceptional halfbacks – the Crusaders had Andy Ellis and Dan Carter, at the Bulls we had Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn or Derick Hougaard. You’re not going to win playoff games without great halfbacks, the Highlanders have got Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith and the Hurricanes have TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett. You have to dictate the pace of the game and territory, and those guys can all do that.

So that’s going to be the challenge for Elton and Faf, they’ll have to step up tactically especially in the kicking game, which they didn’t really do in the June internationals. There wasn’t enough distance to their kicks against Ireland, so the Springboks were always under pressure. It’s how you relieve pressure that is so important in the SuperRugby playoffs or in Test rugby.

But I think the Lions will beat the Crusaders, who won’t have Nemani Nadolo or Andy Ellis. Their flyhalf, Richie Mo’unga, is in his first season of SuperRugby and they’ll be playing their second-choice scrumhalf. They lost the territory battle against the Hurricanes, they couldn’t exit and the Hurricanes just put penalties to touch and kept them in their own half defending. The Crusaders had no field position and could not dictate territory.

The Sharks though are facing an altogether different battle against the Hurricanes in Wellington, with no Pat Lambie. Stefan Ungerer and Garth April will find it really hard to relieve the pressure and dictate the territory game, and the Sharks were very unconvincing against the Sunwolves.

The one positive though for the Sharks is that they beat the Hurricanes earlier in the season, they were able to outmuscle them, pile on the pressure, use their maul, win turnovers and scored a great intercept try and they took their points. It was a really good defensive effort, but the Sharks haven’t been that convincing since the break and they were monstered in the scrum in the Lions game.

It’s a hard ask for them, but travelling on Tuesday won’t be so bad, at the Bulls we used to do it and at the Boks last year we arrived in Argentina on a Wednesday. The players just sleep on the flight over and stay on their normal body clocks and it means they can get a lot more quality training at home.

I think the Brumbies v Highlanders quarterfinal will be much closer than people think, but I think the Highlanders will scrape through. The wings will make the difference because there’s no Henry Speight nor Joe Tomane for the Brumbies, their forwards just haven’t been firing recently – especially the lineout maul without Pocock – and the Highlanders’ kicking game is very good. Ben Smith is in the form of his life and the Highlanders forwards always give a great platform and work behind this kicking game.

As far as the Stormers go, I think it will be harder for the Chiefs in Cape Town than a lot of people think. They won’t have Liam Messam and the Stormers’ set-piece is always strong, plus they’ll have a fresh Frans Malherbe and Vincent Koch available. The Stormers also have the best defence in the competition.

The Stormers are in a good space, they’ve been putting sides away and there’s been a definite pick-up in intensity with Schalk Burger as captain. The players respond to him, he’s so calm but he always gives 100%, there’s just an aura about him that says “follow me”.

The Stormers have been in better form since he took over the captaincy, they had really good wins over the Rebels and Force. I think with their set-piece and the passionate Cape Town crowd, the Stormers should be too much for the Chiefs, who have too many injuries especially in the backs.

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

 

 

Player power and perfect storms 0

Posted on June 07, 2016 by Ken

 

I am totally behind empowering players and allowing them to lead the way in terms of the direction and culture of a team, but there are times when too much player power can become a bad thing.

Knowing Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold reasonably well, I know that he is the sort of coach who will look to empower the players, treat them as adults and allow them to plot their own destiny. But it seems the Sharks are embroiled in a perfect storm at the moment and it is showing not only in their results but in the shocking lack of discipline their senior players are exhibiting.

The Sharks are a team dominated by senior Springboks, a lot of older players who are eyeing one last World Cup before earning their pensions in Europe or Japan. This strong core of players totally lost respect for Jake White and it was their rebellion (which probably isn’t too strong a word given the stories I heard this week about what happened on tour last year) that forced CEO John Smit to release the World Cup-winning coach.

Gold will be well aware of his predecessor’s fate but his efforts to refresh the team, bring in some new blood, are hampered by the poor recruitment that has happened at the Sharks in the last couple of years.

Signing players like Matt Stevens, Mouritz Botha and Marco Wentzel merely strengthens the “old boys club” and, people being people, nobody likes the feeling that they’re about to be replaced by someone younger, so they cling on to whatever power or influence they have. Because most of these players spent their formative years elsewhere, their attachment to the Sharks’ brand and badge is perhaps not as strong as that of players like Pat Lambie or Marcell Coetzee, a duo to emerge with credit so far this troubled season.

A major part of the Sharks’ problems is that their academy is not functioning properly, its emphasis is more on making money than providing a pipeline of players for the franchise. Wealthy parents of kids who only played 3rd XV rugby at school are getting entries for their children, which only lowers the standard of the academy.

The Sharks must rediscover their soul, return to their roots and start looking closer to home for their answers. The best Natal/Sharks sides were made up of a core of players who studied in the province – think John Allan, Rod Gould (Glenwood), Mark Andrews, Tommy Bedford, John Smit (Natal University), Steve Atherton (Pinetown), Tim Cocks (Westville), Wayne Fyvie, Gary Teichmann (Hilton), Trevor Halstead (Kearsney), Henry Honiball (Estcourt), Butch James, Keith Oxlee, Joel Stransky, Jeremy Thomson, Craig Jamieson (Maritzburg College), Andre Joubert (Ladysmith), Dick Muir (Kokstad), Hugh Reece-Edwards (Northlands), Andre Snyman (Newcastle) Rob Hankinson (Michaelhouse) and Lood Muller (Voortrekker).

And the standard of schools’ rugby in KwaZulu-Natal has risen considerably in the last 30 years.

The senior players must either buy into the new vision or go elsewhere, but they certainly have roles to play in restoring Sharks rugby to even keel.

The happy days must return to Kings Park and that also involves tough decisions for Smit and the board.

Conversely, a bit more player power would probably be a good thing when it comes to South African cricket.

Although there probably won’t be any clarity on the whole Philander/Abbott selection issue any time soon, the deafening silence of the players has been telling.

If all the speculation that there had been a late, unpopular change to the team for the World Cup semi-final was totally wide of the mark, then surely either Philander or Abbott, AB de Villiers or some other player would have been quick to stand up and say it was absolute nonsense?

As someone very close to the team said to me: “Where there’s smoke there will always be fire”.

The day will come when, with a lucrative IPL contract in his pocket, a player makes a public stand, but at the moment there would be too many repercussions.

The last time a player protested against interference in selection – the courageous Charl Langeveldt – he was mercilessly bullied by the same person who is now the lead independent director of the Cricket South Africa board.

 

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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