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Ken Borland

It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup 3

Posted on August 08, 2016 by Ken


It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup – a 124-year-old South African sporting institution and one of the most famous competitions in the game – but the South African Rugby Union, the custodians of this treasured tournament, are pulling off this dubious feat with scarcely-believable efficiency.

A crowded schedule and the growth of SuperRugby, both in terms of size and importance, has put the squeeze on the Currie Cup in recent years, but in 2016 Saru have taken the self-sabotage to a whole new level.

The build-up to this year’s tournament can only be described as a fiasco – from a largely pointless qualification competition to the scheduling of the fixtures, the Eastern Province Kings saga and the decision that match-day squads will only feature 22 players, it has been a litany of mistakes by Saru.

Griquas, Boland and the Pumas all finished in the top five of the qualifying tournament and their involvement in the Premier Division is a fine idea. But the Kings are likely to be an absolute shambles given that they have been liquidated and almost all their SuperRugby players have left. Their second-string players could only win two of their 14 qualifying games.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, itself about to undergo a change of leadership, has temporarily bailed out Eastern Province with a R20 million support package, but that’s not going to fix their tight five or their defence.

Everyone knows that the Kings are going to be a disaster but a Saru vote, thanks to their archaic governance system, has kept them in the Premier Division. Instead of a path being chosen for the benefit of South African rugby as a whole, the decision was made by the general council of the 14 union presidents and it needed to be unanimous for the dysfunctional, bankrupt team to be booted.

Of course one could guarantee self-interest would win the day and the Griffons vetoed the scheme. Apparently they agreed the Kings shouldn’t be in the top division but they didn’t want the Leopards to replace them. Talk about childish petulance and abysmal leadership, and we have seen the same outcome in many other issues Saru have voted for over recent years.

No wonder so many sponsors run a mile when Saru come knocking on their doors, because who wants their brand to be associated with a bunch of dinosaurs who are busy presiding over the extinction of the once mighty and proud Currie Cup?

The scheduling has also been poor with the opening round of the main event taking place in the same radius as the SuperRugby final and one of the biggest stories in the local game for many years, the possibility of the Lions winning that trophy. So nobody really cares that the Currie Cup is starting.

The final is scheduled for October 15 and the Springboks only play their first end-of-year-tour match on November 5, so the Currie Cup could easily have started a week later, out of the shadow of SuperRugby.

The vexed question of the Kings’ participation has also led to a dizzying array of fixture changes, but even before that the Lions were scheduled to play this weekend, even though the attentions of the defending champions were clearly going to be on SuperRugby.

Saru are certainly not putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to the Currie Cup and the lack of resources for the competition is also shown by the decision that teams can only have 22-man match-day squads, instead of the 23 with a full front row on the bench that is used now in all other high-level rugby.

This will not only affect the quality of the competition – expect more uncontested scrums – but obviously affects the preparation of the Springboks because they will have to use 23 players at international level.

No wonder the Springboks have struggled in recent years when their support structures and their pipelines are like an IOU from Cheeky Watson blowing in a Port Elizabeth gale.

Things have obviously changed in KZN rugby 0

Posted on July 18, 2016 by Ken


I can remember well covering Natal Sharks rugby in the 1990s – they were the team of the decade with four Currie Cup titles – and how we used to tut-tut at teams like the Lions because down in Durban we were the best both on and off the field, in terms of administration and brand marketing.

Things have obviously changed and the Lions are leading the way for South African rugby, while the Sharks don’t look like adding to their 2010 and 2013 Currie Cup crowns any time soon, never mind claiming that elusive Super Rugby title. And they are embroiled in the unseemliest of off-field squabbles, one that is straight out of the Louis Luyt book of skulduggery.

The actions of KZN Rugby Union president Graham Mackenzie would appear to be obvious grounds for his removal from his post. This week it was revealed that he was involved in a dirty tricks campaign that included trying to get journalists to publish a prepared article he or someone close to him had written discrediting former CEO and major critic Brian van Zyl under their own bylines. Unfortunately a blogger eventually took the bait and has subsequently been exposed and disgraced.

It would be premature to suggest Mackenzie is another Cheeky Watson waiting to happen because there is no proof of any financial impropriety. Then again, we can’t be entirely sure because for the first time in the KZNRU’s history the financial statements were not ready to be presented to the board or the clubs at the AGMs in April.

But that sort of maladministration inevitably gives birth to speculation and rumours, one just doesn’t expect the president of the union to be involved in spreading misinformation.

The Sharks have been hit by the economic downturn just like all the other franchises, but they have not been helped by the new broom that was wielded by John Smit when he replaced Van Zyl as CEO in 2013 when Mackenzie and chairman of the board Stephen Saad took over control of the Sharks in the boardroom. Some leading Natal rugby figures are apparently still nursing the knife wounds in the back.

While Smit secured several lucrative sponsorships for the Sharks, by getting rid of so many experienced staff members, people who have made an immense contribution to KZN rugby, he caused turmoil in the Kings Park offices. Never mind sacking coach John Plumtree, who it must be remembered had failed to win Super Rugby despite having a powerhouse side full of Springboks, it was the clear-out of people like Piet Strydom, Hans Scriba, Garth Giles and Rudolf Straeuli which raised eyebrows. And inevitably led to allegations Smit was just bringing in his old buddies both on and off the field.

Straeuli was the commercial manager and, ironically, it is the Lions who have now been reinvigorated by his acumen as CEO.

Transparency is the only way to avoid Sharks rugby being plunged into a hole like Eastern Province currently find themselves in, or a scandal like Cricket South Africa found themselves embroiled in during the Gerald Majola days.

SuperSport, as a major player on the Sharks board, have a vital role to play. But so do the clubs, who have a right to hold Mackenzie to account for his actions.

Van Zyl has made a disturbing allegation, however, that Mackenzie has built a devoted power base for himself by adding a raft of smaller clubs to the leagues, leading to a number of mismatches.

Either way, it is time a bright light was shone on the affairs of KwaZulu-Natal rugby to ensure that they can return to being a powerhouse of the South African game.

Fisher on fire in compelling Africa Open triumph 0

Posted on October 30, 2015 by Ken


Trevor Fisher Junior cruised to victory by five strokes in the Africa Open on Sunday, a brand of compelling, positive and precise golf netting him nine birdies in a fabulous eight-under-par 64 at East London Golf Club.

Fisher Junior’s victory maintained South Africa’s stranglehold on the tournament, the trophy staying at home for the eighth successive year as Englishman Matt Ford, who shot a worthy five-under-par 67, was kept in second place by the sheer brilliance of the winner.

“I only had three bogeys for the week which is quite an achievement, that’s how you win tournaments by keeping bogeys off your card. My mindset was great, I didn’t let anything faze me, and I hit my long irons very well. All you want to do is give yourself a chance,” Fisher Junior said after a remarkable round that took his weekend tally to 17-under-par after a 63 on the third day.

It was the 129th South African triumph on the European Tour, which will now have a new – and very popular, judging by all the congratulatory messages on social media – member as the victory gave Fisher Junior the card he has long been striving for.

Ford, who was in the lead for the first two rounds, did little wrong as he also went in search of his maiden European Tour win, with a bogey on the ninth, when he missed a six-footer for par, the only blemish on his card.

The European Tour rookie made birdies at the first and third holes, but these were matched by Fisher.

The Modderfontein golfer’s only dropped shot came at the short par-four fifth, when he was short of the green with his approach after his tee-shot stopped under the lip of the fairway bunker just before the crest of the hill. From there he three-putted, but he rebounded with birdies at the sixth and seventh holes, before making an excellent par save on eight when his drive was way left.

“I don’t want to define myself through my golf, so I tried to be myself whether I’d played a good shot or a bad shot, just be a happy guy. I actually felt very comfortable out there, although I was a bit nervous towards the end,” Fisher Junior said when explaining how he brushed off the adversities that inevitably come in a final round.

The back 10 at East London Golf Club features a zoo-full of wildlife that is astonishingly tame – including Nyala, Impala and Blue Duiker – and Fisher Junior has tamed the second half of the old-style course throughout the week, not dropping a single shot in his four rounds coming in.

The back 10 starts at the ninth at East London Golf Club and this was the key hole in deciding the Africa Open.

Fisher Junior, who was firing his long-irons at the flags with superb precision, stuck a four-iron 10 feet from the flag and drained the birdie putt; Ford made bogey after missing a six-footer for par.

“The ninth-hole was a nice swing, I was suddenly three ahead. I hit a two-iron off the tee and then the four-iron was probably my shot of the week,” Fisher Junior said.

Last year’s Chase to the Investec Cup champion then made swift work of the last nine holes, picking up four more birdies for an astonishingly easy win.

Fisher Junior said it was not the first time he has gone really low on this coastal links-type course.

“A few years ago I went seven-under and seven-under here to lead after the first two rounds, but Charl Schwartzel won. This year I thought it was my time and I had confidence because I’ve done it before on this course,” he said.

Third place was shared by two Spaniards – Eduardo de la Riva and Jorge Campillo – and Denmark’s Morten Orum Madsen, who all shot 66s to finish on 16-under, while John Parry and Jaco van Zyl shared sixth on 14-under.

Van Zyl had started the day four strokes behind Fisher Junior, and also had high hopes of securing his first European Tour win. But he endured a mediocre day, especially with the putter, and could only post a two-under-par 70.

For Fisher Junior, the father of two daughters, the victory brings with it a European Tour exemption until the end of 2016.

“I’ve tried so hard to get that European Tour card, for so many years. Obviously it’s a massive step for my career because that’s where all South African golfers want to be,” Fisher Junior said.

Even more success and glory could lie ahead for the ever-smiling golfer because the Investec Cup finale, with its R3.5 million bonus pool prize for the winner, is less than two weeks away and Fisher Junior is in pole position to win one of the biggest prizes in South African golf once again.



Strength of squad demands Sharks are attacking – Gold 0

Posted on December 05, 2014 by Ken

The Cell C Sharks will play an attacking brand of rugby in next year’s SuperRugby competition because the strength of their squad demands it, new director of rugby Gary Gold told The Citizen yesterday.

Gold will continue the Sharks’ elusive search for a maiden SuperRugby title after one season under Jake White that saw them lose in the semi-finals but also alienate many supporters with a conservative game plan.

The former Springbok assistant coach says, with the talent at their disposal, the Sharks will simply have to be more ambitious. Gold inherits a mighty pack featuring half-a-dozen Springboks and an exciting backline bursting with playmakers like Cobus Reinach, Pat Lambie, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo.

“One of the characteristics of a winning team is that they score tries and we’re not going to beat New Zealand teams 9-6 with three penalties, so we have to score tries. It’s easier said than done and I’m not a rugby romantic, but the Sharks are lucky to have a great squad of players so we can aspire to a brand of rugby that means scoring tries.

“We’ll still look to play in the right areas of the field, there will be a level of pragmatism, but our starting point is that we’re going to put a lot of time and energy into our attack so we can score tries. You have to tailor-make your game-plan to the players at your disposal, but with this great squad we simply have to embrace more attacking skill,” Gold said.

Gold, who was appointed by the Sharks two weeks ago, said all the pre-season planning for SuperRugby was in place, with the squad training from November 17-December 17 and then gathering together again on January 5. While the experienced Currie Cup, Premiership and Japanese league coach is inheriting a star-studded squad, he said he will be looking to make small-scale changes.

“There won’t be much recruitment, but there are two or three positions we’ve identified where we need more strength in depth, which will be important when you consider the demands of the competition. Another of the reasons champion teams are successful is that the difference between their first-choice and second-choice player in any position is not so big that it makes a difference to the performance of the team,” Gold said.

The 47-year-old is also a proponent of a rotation policy, which should avoid the burnout that seemed to afflict the Sharks towards the end of this year’s SuperRugby campaign.

“Another characteristic of successful SuperRugby and Premiership sides is that they embrace a rotation policy. A first-choice player can start for three weeks and then you can give him three days off because he knows he’ll be coming off the bench for 30 minutes the next weekend. He knows he’s still the number one in his position but he’ll appreciate the break and will be a better performer when he comes back because of it. I’m personally not a big believer in playing people into the ground,” Gold said.

The new director of rugby confirmed that the three coaches who guided the Sharks through the Currie Cup – Brad Macleod-Henderson, Sean Everitt and Paul Anthony – would serve as his assistants before taking the reins again for next year’s Currie Cup.

With Brendan Venter on board as a consultant and plans to bring an overseas attack consultant to Durban for a short while later this year, Gold is keen on getting different ideas into the system.

“As the director of rugby, it’s very difficult to coach and deal with recruitment, agents or budgets towards the end of the year and I also want to support the junior team coaches. Hopefully I’ll get a really good working relationship going with Brad, Sean and Paul in SuperRugby and I want us to get together with all the coaches, as a group, and shoot the breeze or share ideas. The U19 coach might have ideas that will work with the senior team … ” Gold said.


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