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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.

Speeding towards the World Cup with an elephant in the dressingroom 0

Posted on June 29, 2017 by Ken

 

Judging by AB de Villiers’ comments after the Champions Trophy fiasco, South Africa could go speeding towards the 2019 World Cup having still not addressed the elephant in the dressingroom which is their continued, inexplicable failure to perform at their best in ICC knockout matches.

The Proteas are scheduled to play just 36 more ODIs before the June 2019 World Cup in England; they have played 36 ODIs since midway through their series in India in October 2015, just to give some perspective as to how quickly time will fly before the next showpiece ICC tournament starts.

And yet De Villiers maintained after the horrible showing against India last weekend that there was no lack of composure and the run outs and batting failures were not due to a mental problem. Given the skill levels of the players involved, it’s difficult to know what else could be the explanation.

It is probably a good thing, though, that the Champions Trophy disaster is still fresh in the minds as CSA begin the process to decide on who will be the Proteas coach that will guide yet another attempt at the elusive holy grail for South African cricket.

Two former Proteas coaches – who were both involved in coaching capacities during India’s memorable 2011 World Cup triumph – in Gary Kirsten and Eric Simons will sit on the five-man committee that will evaluate the applications and both have been outspoken about the problems South African players have in handling the pressures of ICC knockout matches.

It is one of the unwritten laws of sport that the most successful teams are able to shift pressure on to their opposition; sadly for the Proteas, they seem to crush themselves by piling pressure on to their own shoulders. In between ICC events, they are able to play freely and express themselves, at world cups they play totally differently – tentative and fearful cricket. Reading De Villiers’ autobiography, it is clear he has a Moby Dick sized obsession with winning the World Cup, an unhealthy obsession that probably does more harm than good.

The big difference between De Villiers and Virat Kohli is how the Indian captain invariably makes big runs when they are most needed; his 96 not out in the Champions Trophy semi-final was yet another example of that.

Whoever the Proteas coach will be, he needs to be able to free up the players when it comes to the high-pressure situations. The players need to pledge to each other that they will not change their games in knockout matches and it is the captain and coach who have to drive that.

No team plays with a greater burden of expectation than India, and yet Kirsten and Simons were able to get them winning and expressing themselves when they won the World Cup on home soil under immense pressure.

Simons raised some interesting points in the aftermath of the Champions Trophy loss, both in the SuperSport studio and in a subsequent conversation I had with him.

He pointed out that the Proteas never tried to shift the pressure India exerted on them with an excellent display in the field, India were never asked to try anything different.

When I asked him why India are consistently able to handle the pressure and expectation at ICC knockout events, he said he felt it was because their international players had come through a system featuring millions of cricketers so they have spent their entire lives ensuring they are on top of their game, they are always playing under intense scrutiny and, in a developing nation still wracked by poverty, it’s do or die for many of them. Natural selection and survival of the fittest in many ways.

“It’s not just these 11 Proteas players who have had the problem. CSA need to sit down and decide what to do, what do our teams lack? Somehow the players have got to be freed up … we saw them play differently against India. There needs to be a broader conversation about why? The world is asking the question, it’s time we did too,” Simons said.

I have no doubt Simons will bring the same questions to the panel that will decide the coaching situation moving forward.

But the first step in sorting out a problem is admitting you have a problem. As Paddy Upton, who was the mental coach when India, Kirsten and Simons won the 2011 World Cup, has pointed out, it’s part of the South African macho man psyche to never admit our vulnerabilities.

That has to change.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-kzn/20170617/282269550387810

The John McFarland Column: The Springboks’ best performance under Allister Coetzee 0

Posted on June 22, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s self-evident that the Springboks really played well to beat France 37-15 in the second Test in Durban, but I would say it was the best performance of Allister Coetzee’s tenure as national coach by a long way.

It has been so pleasing to see the Springboks put together two quality wins, in which they have scored eight tries, and it is obvious they have found the right balance between attack and defence.

I must say that I am a little concerned by the silence from the Saru executive because after two excellent performances with Allister Coetzee under pressure, he clearly deserves the mandate going forward.

Nobody did to France in the Six Nations or the home series last year what the Springboks have done to them over the last fortnight and real credit must go to Allister for the team culture he has instilled and the way it is working – that was a sensational victory at Kings Park.

The defence has been the biggest thing that has changed and the Springboks all work incredibly hard off the ball; they sprint on the kick-chase and they get off the floor so quickly. These are the trademarks of a Brendan Venter-coached team – work-rate and physicality.

Siya Kolisi was obviously the standout player with his intercept try and his ability to win ball off the floor, but the whole team excelled.

When they were on their own line for 25 phases and kept repelling the French side, that showed the culture and relationships between the players; attitude and how players feel about the environment always come out in how a team defends, and that was the best defensive performance by a South African side this season.

In terms of attack, it was pleasing to see some very clever plays, guys running short lines off scrumhalf or off the inside backs. When Raymond Rhule broke through off a lineout, the Springboks were clearly targeting the inside defence. We kept finding props with our wingers or hard-running backs.

It is also clear that a tremendous amount of work has been done on the passing and timing of the runs from first receiver; to be able to do this in the face of a rush defence, for example when Pieter-Steph du Toit passed to Coenie Oosthuizen for a sublime try, shows that the attacking play has definitely gone a level up. So hats off to everybody for a great performance.

The SA A team was a bit of a concern though and their defence was not so good against a scratch French Barbarians side, and they allowed Freddie Michalak to roll back the years at flyhalf.

What’s worrying about the  SA A side is that they have so many players over the age of 30 in key positions. There should be a clear national pathway from the U20s to the A side and then on to the Springboks, but the current selection shows no real growth or development for the future. The SA A side must use guys who have come through from the U20 level, so we can see how they cope outside of their natural SuperRugby environment.

Guys who have impressed at SA U20 level should be chosen because we know what Lwazi Mvovo, Lionel Cronje, who is also going to Japan now, and Jano Vermaaak can do. They need guys like Ivan van Zyl, Curwin Bosch, Burger Odendaal and Louis Schreuder to play – 22 and 23 year-olds with big futures. The SA A team should be about future Springboks and not Springboks of old. They must give young players a go, guys who have big futures and they must be in their 20s. They’ve basically selected this team as a Springboks B side and they must show more foresight.

The SA A side should also give coaches experience and it was pleasing to see JP Ferreira involved with their defence.

The SA U20s finished well, but to lose to an England side shorn of six players and others with the senior side in the semi-final was unacceptable. Then New Zealand klapped England by a long way in the semi-final, which showed South African rugby still has a long way to go to make up the gap.

The SA U20s need more tours against national schoolboy sides, to experience different environments. They will probably have played all the Northern Hemisphere sides in South Africa, where the hosts should win. The boys need to experience different conditions and a crowd that is not behind you. They need to step up and improve and a tour somewhere in November/December would be good.

Finally, it was a great privilege for Kubota to be able to play in the Mauritius 10s last weekend. The Bulls and Cheetahs sent their full SuperRugby sides and it was brilliant for a Japanese side to be involved in that.

The Beachcomber World Club Tens as a format was an eye-opener and I really enjoyed seeing everyone again. I hope the excellent organisation of the tournament can now be brought to South Africa, in either pre or post season, that would be fantastic. Mauritius was really enjoyable for everyone who was involved

Well done to the Blue Bulls for winning the tournament, although it’s fair to say they do need a few cups.

 

 

 


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 John McFarland Column: A special win for the Springboks 0

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Ken

 

It was really a quite special win for the Springboks over France at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, against a side that definitely turned up, were hard to break down and were the best French side available on that Saturday.

The match was brutal on the gain-line, there were double-hits, they smashed the Springboks and the Springboks smashed them, so it was a great Test for the home side to come through, especially with five debutants in the 23-man squad. It’s a great start to their 2017 season.

The match was in the balance at 16-14 and then came the penalty try. Given how quickly the officials made up their minds, it must have been a clearcut decision.

The Springbok attack was definitely based around getting to the middle of the field and there were a lot of tip-on passes from the forward pods, which creates indecision in the defence, one-on-one tackles and lightning-quick ball. It’s quite an effective tactic against a rush defence.

From middle rucks, sometimes the outside back-row forward would come hard off the scrumhalf, who would either play him or go behind his back to Elton Jantjies, which makes the defence sit a bit and creates space.

There was a lot of quality passing from the Springboks, which was not in evidence last year, and there was definitely more attacking understanding and ball-in-hand play.

It was great that Jantjies looked so composed, and he and Ross Cronje, who gave very slick service and was a threat around the edges, directed play well; they always had a couple of options and it created indecision in the French defence. Because Elton is the only specialist flyhalf in the squad, he’s not looking over his shoulder and he feels he has Allister Coetzee’s total backing, he can run the show. It’s the sort of thing a key decision-maker wants.

Andries Coetzee, in his first Test, showed real pace, especially in the outside channels, he showed one or two lovely touches and was willing to run the ball back from deep, he really had a go.

The ball-carries of Malcolm Marx were exceptional and the Springboks made a lot of blindside probes, guys like Marx running a hard line close to the ruck, and he bounced off defenders at will, also creating more space. When was the last time we saw such a physically dominant performance by a South African hooker?

The scrum was very compact, it looked in good shape and form and was used as a good platform. The Springboks had two very experienced props, plus with their locks and loose forwards, there was no shortage of beef behind them.

The lineout also functioned really well, Eben Etzebeth was really good, and the Springboks won most of their pressure throws. There were not many easy balls at number two in the lineout, and it’s very difficult to attack from the front of the lineout. So they were very adventurous with their lineout tactics and Marx’s throwing was spot-on.

It was also a superbly-executed try off a throw to the back, a move which was very difficult to defend against. It’s very special to score those sort of tries at Test level, so credit to the coaches, it takes some doing.

In terms of the kicking game, South Africa cleared their lines very well and were never under pressure from kickoffs, it was just one hit up and then back to Jantjies, who kicked it to halfway. In the middle areas of the field, they would drive to suck in forwards and then Cronje would kick, and there was excellent execution of that too.

It was also a very much improved defensive display from the Springboks, credit to Brendan Venter for the best defensive performance by a South African team this year. There was brutality on the gain-line, great field-coverage and, at the end of the game, their willingness to put their bodies on the line and keep the French out was tremendous.

The defence looked organised and in the French faces for the whole game, and it will only get better as the players settle into the system. What was most impressive was how disciplined they were, so France only had one penalty shot at goal.

A small area of improvement that is needed was that they became a little compressed from wide rucks and were caught a little short on numbers in the outside channels. They came off the line quite hard and if France were able to get the ball behind their first line of attackers then they did find space.

The Springboks also closed very early at fullback, Coetzee came very early into the line, which means you then rely a lot on the scrumhalf for cover. Everyone does it these days, but sometimes perhaps the fullback should not be so quick to come up.

But it was a good start for the first Test and you can see the team is much more bonded, the leadership has set the right tone. Warren Whiteley is so selfless and empathetic, as alluded to in this column when he got the Springbok captain’s job, so he is in tune with his team.

France will obviously be a different animal in Durban, especially because they have just been physically dominated. But the whole Springbok side worked so hard, to keep a Test side pointless in the last 25 minutes at altitude is an amazing effort and it speaks to South Africa having a really strong bench.

It was a really positive start and we hope for more over the next two weeks.

And good luck too to the South African U20s for their Junior World Cup semi-final. It’s going to be a really big challenge against the England U20s, but I hope they can come through.

 



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