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Ken Borland



Sanzaar have forgotten the importance of tournament integrity 0

Posted on July 31, 2017 by Ken

 

There is a forgotten early-1980s pop star by the name of Jona Lewie, a rather avant garde electro-pop musician who just happens to be one of my all-time favourites. Perhaps songs like Stop the Cavalry, You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties and Louise will jog the memory because they were all big hits in South Africa.

But apart from those hits, Lewie also wrote a more classical piece entitled Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Titanic, which is all about making changes to something which are always doomed to be futile.

I was thinking about that piece when SuperRugby’s regular season came to an end last weekend and the Cheetahs and Kings played their final games, while the critically endangered Western Force made a statement of their own by hammering the Waratahs, the favourite sons of Australian rugby.

Sanzaar have not only forgotten the high standards and norms that made Super Rugby the greatest competition in rugby but have also shifted away from one of the cornerstones of any successful sporting endeavour and that is the integrity of the competition.

There is no doubt that the current iteration of SuperRugby is not a hit and it is rapidly losing value, while costs have escalated by bringing in extra teams, especially the expansion sides from Japan and Argentina.

I believe it is always a good thing to be inclusive, though, and the problem with SuperRugby is not so much the number of teams participating but the totally farcical nature of the tournament itself.

It is guaranteed to cause disdain amongst a sports’ customers – the people who watch it – when a team like the Brumbies, who won just six of their 15 conference matches, gets to host a quarterfinal, like they did on Friday against the Hurricanes. Even the people of Canberra didn’t seem enamoured by the idea, given the poor crowd that was present.

There is no integrity to the competition because lesser-performing teams are advantaged and not everyone plays each other – not having to face any New Zealand sides is clearly a massive advantage.

So cutting the number of teams but keeping the same competition format is clearly merely rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic and is not going to stop SuperRugby from sinking into the depths of history.

And, let’s be honest, the axing of teams like the Kings, Cheetahs and possibly Force is not about their competitiveness. Sport is not only about those teams that are consistently winning, part of the romance are the wonderful stories of the underdogs causing shock upsets.

The Kings and Force, having won just as many games as the Brumbies, who made the finals, can argue that they are not even minnows, while the Cheetahs finished above the safe Bulls in the final standings.

The fact that the Kings and the Cheetahs will now ply their trade in Europe will have far-reaching consequences. With much easier travelling schedules and no country as dominant as New Zealand, I’m sure SA Rugby will discover the grass is greener in the northern hemisphere.

If South Africa pull out of SuperRugby entirely, it will definitely hurt New Zealand because it was our viewership numbers that fetched top dollar with the broadcasters, and without their share of that bigger pool, the All Blacks will find it increasingly more difficult to stop European teams from raiding their best players.

If Sanzaar are to have any hope of saving SuperRugby, they have to sort out the format and somehow come up with something that is going to ensure the integrity of the competition as well as be easier to understand for the average fan.

The current format was largely brought in to ensure bigger interest in Australia, but for how much longer will New Zealand rugby be willing to carry their neighbours across the ditch?

John McFarland Column – A great weekend of SA SuperRugby 1

Posted on April 04, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions v Sharks SuperRugby match at Ellis Park was a great game of rugby, so full of intensity, big hits and drama.

Maybe it did not have the accuracy you’d expect, but it was certainly exciting.

You have to credit the Sharks’ improvement, but the way the Lions just always stay in the fight shows they have the squad to win SuperRugby. It will be tough though, especially with the news that coach Johan Ackermann is leaving at the end of the campaign to join Gloucester.

The Lions have become an exciting counter-attacking team but they also set such high standards at maul and scrum time, which is why Johan’s departure is going to be such a massive loss. He’ll be missed not just as a head coach and person, but especially as an expert in the lineout and set-piece.

Nobody stays forever at a union though, whether you’re a player or a coach, and you just try and leave a legacy. Ackers has really done that at the Lions, what more can you say about the man?

Normally coaches appointed in England are allowed to take a trusted assistant with them, but in leaving Swys de Bruin behind, Johan has shown he obviously has a strong belief in the Gloucester structures and coaches.

Swys has been a head coach before at Griquas and is a brilliant man, so passionate about rugby, and I’m sure if he’s given the opportunity to succeed Ackers, he will carry that legacy through seamlessly.

But as an assistant coach, you’re focused on your area only and you make suggestions; as head coach you have to make the final decisions. You’re paid to make the right calls and how you recruit, manage people and set up systems in the union is also a big part of the job.

The Sharks were unfortunate to have a couple of TMO decisions go against them and that yellow card just before halftime was crucial. The try that resulted from it brought the Lions back into the game, otherwise the Sharks, if the disallowed try had stood as well, would have had a big enough lead at altitude to hang on, because you will suffer in the last 20 minutes at altitude, as the Sharks did.

Jaco Kriel is in the form of his life, making a nonsense of suggestions that playing in Japan is having a negative influence on his play, while Curwin Bosch was phenomenal, what a performance from the 19-year-old.

His confidence and ability to attempt some of the things he does is really pleasing to see and if you’re good enough then you’re old enough. Mike Tyson was at his best when he was 20 and Curwin sure has stuck his hand up.

If the Springboks want him to play at the 2019 World Cup then they have to get him into their structures now, sooner rather than later. He ticks all the boxes with his nerveless kicking and the range he gets with that right boot of his. And other teams won’t want to kick long on to him because he showed that he can drop-kick from deep as well.

It was a very special display from him and it was also encouraging how physical he was, while he has also proven that he’s a real factor with ball in hand. Curwin is the sort of player who provides game-breaking moments.

I know there has been talk about his defence at flyhalf, but Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett have had the same problems and there’s no way the All Blacks are not going to pick them!

The fact that Curwin can also play fullback is a massive bonus and I hope they get him in the Springbok mix as soon as possible.

The Stormers were magnificent at the weekend, to see the quality of their offloads and their willingness to try things from anywhere was a breath of fresh air. Compared to their mindset before, this was really exciting and you have to give credit to coach Robbie Fleck for giving them the confidence to play that way.

SP Marais is in the form of his life as well, and his ability to take the outside gap and get his nose and hands through the defensive line, putting away guys on his outside, is very pleasing. He didn’t have a contract at the start of the year, so it just shows what a player can achieve with a coach who backs and believes in you.

The Stormers are without three international centres in Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh and Huw Jones, which would knock any team for six, but they have still scored 29 tries in five matches and have been really good to watch.

The Cheetahs were in many ways the authors of their own demise and their defence was really poor. It has been in vogue for teams to hide certain defenders away from where the ball-carries are going to be, but this tactic bit the Cheetahs badly.

Cheslin Kolbe’s chase back on Henco Venter was brilliant to see, at that stage of the game it’s easy just to give up, but Cheslin really showed the spirit and will of the Stormers to play for each other.

I’m very excited for the Stormers game against the Chiefs this weekend and I expect their forwards to cause a lot more damage.

The Chiefs took a while to hit their straps against the Bulls, who were definitely better and forced them into errors. You have to give credit to the Bulls defence and they were very physical.

But like all New Zealand sides, the Chiefs like to keep the ball in play, they play high-risk, high-reward rugby and look to wear you out. They can keep ball in hand and play from all over the field, and they’re definitely one of the better Kiwi teams.

The Bulls were very good for 50 minutes but they just needed some tries from all that pressure. But it was a better performance and it was just a lineout error and then two grubbers when the winger did not come across on defence that cost them.

It’s going to be exciting to see them in Tokyo this week playing against the Sunwolves.

It’s a measure how global SuperRugby is that the Bulls can go from playing in Auckland last weekend to now playing in Japan. It was just a year ago that SuperRugby went to 18 teams, and now just a year later, it seems it will revert to 15 or 16 teams, nobody knows.

So what has happened in one year to necessitate this change and has anybody taken responsibility for what obviously must have been a mistake?

 

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.



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