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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Positive about Bok prospects 0

Posted on August 16, 2017 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has picked the best players for the Rugby Championship based on how well they did in the French series and I am really positive about their prospects, I believe they are in the best position of all the teams.

It reminds me a bit of 2013, when we won 10 of our 12 Tests. There was also a British & Irish Lions tour that year – to Australia – and we had time to bed the players in.

The Springboks played really well against France, who were a full-strength side that came out with tremendous intent. The fact that their coach Guy Noves is now under pressure to keep his job if they don’t improve in November shows how good the Boks were, in terms of attack, defence and the way they created a new team culture.

Meanwhile, Argentina were losing 3-0 to England, Australia lost to Scotland and only just beat Italy, and the All Blacks could only draw with the British & Irish Lions.

With some of our SuperRugby teams falling out early, the Springbok coaches were given extra preparation time and I think we all see that there is definitely a new culture about this Springboks group. You can see that the positivity and confidence is back, both in terms of the public and the players, after a disastrous 2016.

This has been built on respect for each other and there is a high energy within the group on the field. Their return-to-action time and kick-chase were both very good and the improvement under the good doctor, Brendan Venter, on defence was obvious. They only conceded four tries in the three Tests against France and they got off the line quickly with intensity, intent and attitude.

Return-to-action time is one of the keys for any side to succeed in the modern game. A player is likely to have to get up off the floor after a carry or cleaning at the ruck about 40 times per game and it is very hard to do this after hard contact. The standard figure in international rugby is to be off the ground in three seconds so it offers you more numbers on attack, to get your shape, or on defence to ensure your line has width. The Springboks did incredibly well with this and it is the basis of their defensive system.

The Springboks are now employing a far more aggressive line-speed, similar to what the British Lions used and it definitely gave New Zealand problems: they weren’t able to play with their normal width and freedom because they were worried about making mistakes on attack, and turnover ball is the most lethal in the game.

The architect of that defence was Andy Farrell and he worked under Brendan Venter for a few years at Saracens, so I think there will be a lot of similarity in the defensive system the Springboks employ and I believe they will certainly give the All Blacks problems this year.

Also, due to a loss of form, neither Julian Savea nor Waisake Naholo are in the New Zealand squad, so they don’t quite have the same size out wide as before. In any case, a wing very rarely defends against his opposite wing off first-phase, he’s virtually always on the second-last man, which is the fullback. The All Blacks will have Ben Smith or Israel Dagg at fullback and I’m certain our wings will be of a similar size.

What’s important for a wing these days is his ability to score tries, defend and catch high-balls, and one would never be picked at that level if they can’t catch box-kicks off lineouts.

Coetzee has obviously picked his wings for their finishing ability, work-rate and understanding of the system, and for me, Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule are the incumbents and really showed superb work-rate and an ability to pull off try-saving cover-tackles against France.

The Springboks also employ the defensive system – well, everyone does these days – of the fullback coming into the line very early, so a wing can’t just have the ability to make tackles, he also has to make line-breaks and expose the props acting as pillars round the ruck area, and has a big role in covering grubbers, he becomes the last defender. Modern-day wings will cover an enormous amount of ground in a game.

I wouldn’t rule out JP Pietersen coming back into the mix, especially in World Cup year. His decision-making is so good and he adds a calmness and maturity in the backline. He has, however, recently changed clubs from Leicester to Toulon and we all know how their owner feels about his players taking part in the Rugby Championship …

Anyway, Allister Coetzee has obviously decided to back the home-based players who really performed in the incoming series to see if they can do it as well in the Rugby Championship. Let’s not forget two of the back three played against the Hurricanes for the Lions in the SuperRugby semi-final and gave them 44 points with six tries.

So we must be positive about Allister’s wing selections until we see evidence otherwise.

Argentina showed a lot of attacking intent against England in June, but they were really playing against England B and were well-beaten. Plus the Jaguares were disappointing in SuperRugby, they blew hot and cold.

So Saturday’s Test is a really good opportunity for the Springboks to hopefully get a good win that sets them on the road for the really difficult part of the Rugby Championship – those three away games in the middle that South Africa always get and which are very difficult because of all the flying.

Our best performance in Argentina in the last few years came in 2015 when we trained in South Africa and only left on the Wednesday, arriving on the Thursday evening. We had a captain’s run and then went to Buenos Aires for a convincing 26-12 win.

Our worst display in Argentina was in Mendoza when we drew 16-16 in 2012 and we had to sit in the bus for two hours just to get to practice. I remember there was even a stray dog running faster than our coach was going!

The Springboks have the opportunity this year to play hit-and-run Tests in Perth and Salta and that makes you much more alert. They can stay on South African time and not change their body clocks, like we used to do at the Bulls when we would leave for Australasia on a Tuesday evening, arrive on Thursday morning and usually win our first game. It was definitely a winning formula.

The Springboks have a fantastic record in Port Elizabeth [17 wins & 2 draws in their last 20 Tests there] and I’m looking forward to this new-look side continuing in the same positive manner against Argentina on Saturday and hopefully gaining a really good win.

 

 

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.

The Springboks still believe – Kriel 0

Posted on December 02, 2016 by Ken

 

Springbok utility back Jesse Kriel has implored the South African public to still believe in the national team because the squad themselves are still positive, despite their dreadful results on a torrid European tour.

“The mood is still good in the squad, I know people have been really hurt by the results, but the team has always been positive. They’re still putting their bodies on the line and there are just small things in terms of the game-plan and individual errors that we need to get right,” Kriel said at the Bulls player awards evening, having returned early from the Springbok tour due to a leg injury.

“No-one accepts losing but there have just been small things, little errors, that have led to the Springboks being up against it. For us, winning matches is our pride and joy, our bread and butter, so it’s been difficult for us. We’ve learnt a lot out of this, but there comes a point when you can’t learn anymore, you have to actually start winning.

“Allister has chosen a new-look side for this weekend and it’s a great opportunity for the younger guys who are really hungry, a great opportunity for them to go out and prove they belong there. And having the overseas players back was a massive positive as well, they bring experience and calm heads,” Kriel said.

And captain and Bulls team-mate Adriaan Strauss, who will be playing in his 66th and final Test against Wales, was singled out for special praise by the 22-year-old.

“I just wish people could see behind the scenes because Adriaan has done so much and he never wants any credit or recognition. He’s very humble and full of selflessness and always puts his body on the line, even though I know he has a very sore back at the moment. I can assure people he’s not just selected because he’s captain. I know it would be the last thing Adriaan wants for the team to make this weekend’s game about him, but everyone has so much respect for him that the guys will want to,” Kriel said.

Kriel has now played 16 Tests and 31 Super Rugby matches and is eager to play more of a leadership role himself next year.

“I spoke to Nollis Marais [Bulls coach] and I told him I want to be a big part of the team, I want to contribute a lot to the team. So I want to start the year with no niggles and be in top condition. I still have to chat to the coach about where he wants to play me, but I think it will be fullback, where I started two years ago. I don’t mind that and there’s a lot of competition in the backline, so I have to prove my worth.

“When I started playing for the Bulls, a guy like Victor Matfield was still around and there was a lot of experience in the side, guys you could look up to when things were not going well. I’ve got to be one of those players now when things don’t go well because I’ve got a bit of experience now.

“But it all comes down to performance, we’ve been building a good team and it’s time to get back the glory years. We all get sick of hearing the word ‘building’, we must get results now and trophies, that is what we all want. Talk is cheap and money buys the whiskey.”

 

Former Bok defence coach John McFarland on the BaaBaas game & England coming up 0

Posted on November 08, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s a big week for Springbok coach Allister Coetzee after what was, frankly, a poor performance against the Barbarians, and I find it hard to believe a number of our commentators regarded it as an acceptable display, although it is not a foregone conclusion that England will beat South Africa at Twickenham this weekend.

It was a fantastic comeback against the Barbarians – yet another one!

The Springboks did really well to come back from 19-31 down, but they have to turn over less ball at the breakdown. To concede 25 turnovers is completely unacceptable at this level and if they do that against England then they will be hammered. A Barbarians team without much international experience managed to exploit all that turnover ball and England will have even more speed on the wings.

The Springbok defence has to improve, it was continuously providing overlap situations from middle rucks. There is a need to work a lot harder to set the breakdown ie the defence is ready to go before the attack.

The key at international level is never to lose your width but against the BaaBaas the defence wasn’t set quickly enough and there were too many forwards behind or next to the ruck, which will lead to huge problems for the wings. There were structural weaknesses, but I expect a more experienced Springbok team to play this weekend and they will make better decisions on both attack and defence.

As the game progressed, because of this shortage of numbers in defence, Sergeal Petersen would come in and hit the second-last attacker, but he needs to stand wide of a man like Naiyaravoro and wait for the inside players to come and help, hope the numbers arrive to help get him into touch. But he’s not the first big wing the Springboks have played against and I fully expect JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana to be on the wings this weekend and they are used to playing against guys like that.

The positives the Springboks can take into the England match are that their lineout kept them in the game in the first half and they scored a great try through the drive by Pieter-Steph du Toit when the Barbarians stood off, this was a well thought-out tactic and England are bound to do the same as the BaaBaas.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg was quite explosive with ball in hand and finished well, he got over the advantage line well. But he had a lot of space at Wembley which he won’t get at top international level.

Francois Venter showed good hands and support skills for his try, but it will be a difficult decision for Allister Coetzee to choose them against England because Lionel Mapoe and Damian de Allende have been his midfield for most of the year and they are settled together. Maybe he’ll pick the Lions combination of Janse van Rensburg and Mapoe because they know each other and are comfortable together.

Pat Lambie obviously hasn’t played much for a long time and was a bit too deep at times, plus his timing wasn’t quite there. But it was the first time he’s played at flyhalf since June and he just needs game time, we’ll see him at his best only towards the end of the tour. He’s obviously a class act, but it will be interesting to see if Allister goes with him or Elton Jantjies this weekend.

The Springboks have quite categorically stated that they are going to use the kicking game with an attacking line to get the ball back, that is not revolutionary! The accuracy of the kick will be of the utmost importance – is it contestable? – because all of our back three are very good in the air and the forwards will have to have a high work-rate to get underneath the kick and react to the positive tackle from JP or Bryan.

England don’t really play with a sweeper so there is chip space behind the line, especially on box-kicks.

I know people want a specialist at six, but the breakdown is actually the whole team’s job, not just the openside flank’s. The problem against the Barbarians was that too often the carrier would lead with the ball, which allows the choke tackle, and the BaaBaas were destructive with the ball on the floor.

Generally at Test level you want to keep the penalties you concede to less than 10 and your turnovers conceded at around 12, and then you’ve got a chance of winning. But poor technique and knowledge of the game plan and system they were playing meant the players did not instinctively react to where the ball was going. The Springboks did carry the ball more than usual though because they were playing catch-up for most of the game.

England have very good ball-carriers (the Vunipola brothers are quite a handful), their goalkicking is a real strength and their lineout is vastly improved. I think they’ll target having a high ball-in-play figure against South Africa because they will suspect the Springboks’ conditioning may not be at a level to match them at the back end of the year, a few them looked a bit short of a gallop last weekend. Eddie Jones teams tend to play a set way, I think they’ll target our tight five forwards on the blindside with their backs, especially from scrums.

The Springboks have their backs against the wall, but Twickenham has been a good hunting ground especially when South Africa have been under pressure. In 2006, Jake White was under real pressure and won there, and the next year we won the World Cup, while in 2012, under Heyneke Meyer, we came through by a single point after a disappointing Rugby Championship.

The Springboks won there in 2014 as well and the common factor in both those years was that Ernie Els presented the jerseys, he even sat in on the team talks and was at the captain’s practice. He spoke for longer than even Heyneke did and it was one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve heard. He’s always as motivated for this game as the players are and I hope he’ll be in London again for the game!

 

 

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 Springbok defence coach John McFarland’s post-mortem of the SuperRugby final & looking ahead to the Rugby Championship 0

Posted on August 11, 2016 by Ken

 

The SuperRugby final has come and gone and basically the Hurricanes were just too good on the day for the Lions, and Test rugby is now going to be another level above that, but I do believe the Springboks have reason for optimism.

It’s brilliant that we had a SuperRugby finalist, and the Lions gave 110% against the Hurricanes and did South Africa proud, as they have done all season, and their players will be in a strong space going into the Rugby Championship.

It’s easy to say the Springboks must just play like the Lions, but hard to coach. Although, in 2013 we scored a mountain of tries and Johan van Graan is still the attack coach with the Springboks and he’s clever enough to use all the best bits from all the franchises.

You put the game plan in place according to the players you have and Test rugby is a step above SuperRugby, you need guys who can get on the front foot on the gain-line, in the heat of battle. Players like Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager and Adriaan Strauss have done it, they’ve proved it at that level, they can gain metres whether in attack or defence.

Damian de Allende was outstanding in 2015 so I can understand why Allister Coetzee has gone with him again, as was Jesse Kriel. I can remember the New Zealand coaches telling us last year that with those young midfield backs they were expecting a real battle against us in the next three or four years.

I believe we should do well in the Rugby Championship, I look forward to it with optimism.

The All Blacks side has changed a lot from the World Cup semifinal which we lost by just two points, they’ve lost a mountain of caps and experience in Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Conrad Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks and Richie McCaw.

The big thing for the Springboks will be to manage the three away games on the trot, which is very hard. They go from Salta to Brisbane to Christchurch and to win the Rugby Championship they’re going to have to win those away games, which is flippen tough. And their hardest game will be at the end of that tour, against New Zealand in Christchurch.

But the squad is in good health, as Allister himself has said Heyneke Meyer left him with a good legacy, and we came very close to winning in Wellington in 2014, losing by four points, in Auckland in 2013 we had Bismarck du Plessis sent off which was cruel, and in 2012 in Dunedin it was close until Dean Greyling got a yellow card, plus Morne Steyn only kicked at 33%. So we have been competitive in New Zealand in recent years.

But the All Blacks and Australia only really play two away games in the Rugby Championship every year, that’s why they can waltz through and why it’s so tough for us.

To win in New Zealand, you have to be 100% on your game and they have to be at 90%, as the Lions discovered too in the Super Rugby final in Wellington against the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes were just too strong and too smart on the day, they were at full-bore from the first minute.

Conditions also played a huge role, it was very rainy and cold and you could see the Lions players shivering at every stoppage, so it was obviously a factor and a disadvantage for them because they played most of their games on the Highveld where it’s sunny and dry.

The Cake Tin has a swirling wind and it’s not easy kicking in that wind, but Beauden Barrett does it week in and week out and you could see the difference in the kicking games.

Against the Highlanders, the Lions were able to move the ball in the red zone with their backs and they made some wonderful exits, but that was just not on in Wellington last weekend. The Hurricanes monstered them in that first channel, with their line speed and aggressive defence, and I felt sorry for Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk because nobody likes playing with back-foot ball.

The Lions’ two big weapons are their scrum and lineout, but the Hurricanes stood up to them and Dane Coles was inspirational. I think the Lions wanted to use the scrum to gather penalties and points, but the Hurricanes scrummed so well, especially that important one in their own 22 when they were only 10-3 ahead.

In the lineouts, I thought Malcolm Marx did exceptionally well with his throwing in those conditions and Franco Mostert made good calls, but their drives could neither get distance nor momentum.

In fact, the Hurricanes defended so well that the Lions couldn’t get momentum the whole game. Faf de Klerk tried to probe with runners but they got smashed back. Rohan Janse van Rensburg did well to get over the advantage line at times, but Elton was always on the back foot, which meant the backline was static and they just couldn’t get going.

And the tries the Lions conceded were as a consequence of finals pressure, although Corey Jane provided a special moment with that catch.

It’s funny, at the Bulls we used to have a theory that you needed five world-class players and 10 internationals to win SuperRugby, but neither the Hurricanes nor the Lions have that. But they are real workaholics and both have such a good culture on and off the field.

The back-row clash between Warwick Tecklenburg and Brad Shields, the two unsung heroes, was tremendous, they went toe-to-toe all game. Jaco Kriel and Ardie Savea tried to make game-breaking plays, but the space and time just weren’t there.

The Hurricanes’ tactical kicking was also so good, they would just stab the ball in behind the wings and put the pressure on, making the Lions try to exit.

It was a foretaste of the challenges ahead in Test rugby but none of our other teams exactly covered themselves in glory against the New Zealand sides, so they definitely have the upper hand. But it’s Test rugby and you can’t write off Australia either, they’ll be a different kettle of fish with Matt Giteau and Will Genia back, they’ll have more rhythm to their game.

Finally, let’s wish the Blitzbokke good luck. Neil Powell and his staff have assembled a great squad, they’re very hard-working, they have a fantastic culture and they work hard for each other. They thoroughly deserve whatever accolades come their way.

 

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.



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