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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: Having seen off the Aussies, time for SA franchises to take on the Kiwis 0

Posted on March 23, 2017 by Ken

 

South African rugby will get a good indication of where we’re at this weekend when the Bulls come up against the Blues in the first overseas game for a local side against New Zealand opposition.

Judging by the pace and intensity of the New Zealand derbies so far, they certainly seem to be out in front by comparison, but it’s been pleasant to see the Lions dominate the two Australian franchises they have played against and the Sharks have also beaten two Australian sides.

We’re definitely way ahead of the Australian teams, that’s as clear as day and has been convincingly shown in the first month of SuperRugby.

The one positive for the Bulls starting their tour against the Blues is that they can be quite careless in possession sometimes, they tend to make mistakes, and the Bulls have enough quality Springboks to take advantage of those.

You could see immediately when Adriaan Strauss came on last weekend against the Sunwolves how he tightened up the set-pieces, and people will realise this year how lucky the Springboks have been over the last 15 years to have John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss as hookers – all dead-eye dick throwing in at the lineouts and really good scrummagers.

The Bulls match against the Sunwolves showed the level of improvement by the Japanese side. Last year in Bloemfontein and Pretoria, the Sunwolves lost by a combined 142-20; this year they only lost 72-52, which shows how far they have come. They definitely deserve to stay in SuperRugby.

The Bulls have still to hit their straps, but guys are coming back from injury. Their first two tries against the Sunwolves were very easy – the first coming from a knock-on five metres from the line and the second from a lineout drive. You can be certain the Bulls will maul whenever they have a lineout in your 22, so why did the Sunwolves compete on that throw?

They certainly pushed the Bulls, but you can see a real emphasis from them on offloading in the tackle. It’s a high risk, high reward approach and in the first half the Bulls threw a few 50/50 passes and they never really got going, there was no flow to their game.

But the Sunwolves scrummed relatively well against them and that gave the tourists energy. The Bulls struggled because of a combination of the scrums, their own mistakes and some cracking counter-attacking tries by the Sunwolves.

It was great to see Jan Serfontein play so well. He’s a former World U21 Player of the Year and also played for the Springboks while he was still U21. It was a special try he scored running that inside line from a lineout and then around the wing. Jan has reached maturity now, having first played for the Springboks in 2013, but he was unlucky with injury last year.

The Bulls have a quality midfield unit and in fact we are really lucky in South Africa with very good, quality centres, especially at number 13 – Jan, Lionel Mapoe, Lukhanyo Am, EW Viljoen and Francois Venter. At inside centre we have Damian de Allende, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Juan de Jongh.

It was only the third week back from long-term injury for Handre Pollard and he still needs to get his kicking rhythm back, but that’s just practice.

The Lions’ performance last weekend was a definite positive, against a Reds team with so many Wallabies, to beat them so convincingly and to play so well. The tightness of their defence, in particular, will give them a lot of satisfaction.

Courtnall Skosan really put his hand up with four tries. He has a very high work-rate off the ball and always backs up his players in the middle of the field, he doesn’t just stay in the tramlines. Courtnall is always supporting with great lines and has always had a great sense of space. When he was at the Bulls, he wasn’t so quick and I know he’s gone to a speed coach and has got an extra yard or two because of that.

Because of a relative lack of wings in recent times and an over-reliance on JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, with Lwazi Mvovo, the fact that Courtnall played so well is encouraging. Centre is looking very strong, but wings need to stand up and Courtnall did just that.

The Lions’ set-piece is also so strong that they rarely need to kick to exit. They know that if they can get a scrum penalty around halfway, then they’ll be five metres from the line with the kick. For all their great attacking play, the Lions still use traditional South African strengths.

Their forwards are not overly big, but they are very sound technically and credit for that must go to Balie Swart and Johan Ackermann for how well-drilled they are.

Speaking about Ackers, he would not be talking about his Gloucester offer unless he was looking for a counter-offer from the Lions or SA rugby, or was seriously considering taking it. But perhaps he wants to go somewhere outside his comfort zone, where he can work with different players from all over the world. They are players he has not signed, so he would have to impress them and create unity in that new team.

Michael Cheika has coached in a couple of places overseas, Eddie Jones has been all over, Steve Hansen coached for a bit in Wales and Wayne Smith had some time with Northampton, and if you have aspirations to be an international coach then you have to broaden your horizons.

It’s a difficult decision for Johan, but going to Gloucester would certainly improve his coaching set and those sort of offers don’t come around often. But there will be a whole host of factors for him to consider, most importantly his family.

There’s been no word on whether Swys de Bruin would go with him, but as a head coach you need people around you with the same philosophy and drive, who you trust implicitly, and normally the English clubs allow you to bring one assistant with you. You need people who will back you when things are not going so good.

The Cheetahs host the Sharks this weekend having struggled in Buenos Aires. To be fair, the Jaguares played very well and got points on the board early on. So the Cheetahs were compelled to play catch-up rugby and they will be a bit upset with the tries they conceded. You don’t want to be chasing the game away from home, especially not in SuperRugby, and the Cheetahs made a lot of errors which put them under pressure, they basically leaked tries.

For one-off trips like to Argentina, the teams are tending to rest guys to freshen them up because it is a long trip. After all, it still comes down to beating the South African sides and then you have a great chance of going far in the competition, particularly since we are guaranteed two quarterfinals.

The Six Nations has come to an end and England’s record of 18 wins in a row was a terrific achievement. That included four wins over Australia, with three in a row Down Under, and a win over the Springboks, so there were top-quality sides beaten in that run.

The Six Nations is such a tribal tournament that all the games are hotly contested and nobody gave England an easy ride. Ireland probably feel the same way about the English as the Springboks do and they showed tremendous passion and fully deserved their win last weekend.

But England have now won two Six Nations titles on the trot, they’ve got the monkey off their back about the successive wins, and now they can get on with their World Cup preparation. The pool draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup takes place in Kyoto, Japan, on 10 May, and with Argentina ranked ninth, there will be a pool of death with them in it. That pool will have three quality teams in it – Argentina, one of New Zealand, England, Australia or Ireland, and one of Scotland, France, Ireland or Wales, so everyone will want to avoid that pool.

There’s a pool of death in every World Cup, with hosts England losing out to Australia and Wales in 2015, Scotland failing to advance ahead of England and Argentina in 2011, and Ireland finishing below Argentina and France in 2007.

PS: Here’s another request to SuperSport to please schedule Friday night SuperRugby games – we’re again left with all the South African games crammed into Saturday!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

John McFarland Column – The intent is obviously there 0

Posted on March 03, 2017 by Ken

 

Judging by the quality of the games last weekend, I am really looking forward to this weekend’s SuperRugby action, with the Stormers, Bulls and Lions looking like South Africa’s three major contenders.

Last weekend we saw very different South African derbies to what we normally see and the will to attack was clearly there. The intent was obviously there to play with ball in hand and the teams played with real speed in terms of tempo, and pace, which made a heck of an impact.

An example of this was when the Stormers took a quick tap and scored seven points against the Bulls; they, in particular, showed more intent than they have in the past.

The effects of the new tackle law, meaning players now have to go lower with their hits, were also evident in that there were more offloads. Attacks can now continue through the tackle because the arms are free and the tall guys can get the ball above the tackle. It keeps the ball alive and it has led to a lot more continuity.

What was really impressive to me was how lean some of the leading Springboks looked. Guys like Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi looked in great shape and the speed they played at was a direct consequence of their fitness levels.

There’s definitely been a huge emphasis on conditioning through the franchises and it could mean the end of the New Zealand and Australian sides feeling that a high ball-in-play figure is their secret to success because the South African teams will tire.

While the Stormers were fantastic, what was encouraging about the Bulls was that they never gave up, which is huge. They denied the Stormers a bonus point, which at the end of the day could be vital; from 24-0 up at halftime, the Stormers really needed to get that bonus point. The second half would have provided a huge swing in confidence for the Bulls.

In the Cheetahs versus Lions game in Bloemfontein, the visitors really got out of jail, but if you can score three tries away from home then you deserve your victory.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg showed his finishing power and speed, while the Lions’ try down the short side to win the match showed again that rugby is about defending the full width of the field, even if you only have two or three metres to touch.

The penalty try given off a driving maul was a game-changer; most referees would have copped out and just given a penalty, but if the maul is set and moving forward then it deserves that decision, so credit to referee Quinton Immelman for his brave call.

The Southern Kings looked better and scored some really good tries, but again conceded turnovers at crucial times. During the first half they were in control for long periods, but a yellow card really cost them and prop Ross Geldenhuys was lucky not to get a red card, which a knee to the back should be penalised with.

The major talking point of the last week in the rugby world, however, was Italy and their decision not to contest rucks against England.

I had lunch with Brendan Venter last week and he mentioned that they were going to do it. Any tactic that is new and innovative has to be applauded and it certainly took England a long time to cope with it, so credit to Brendan and the rest of the Italian coaching staff and players for that.

But I believe World Rugby do need to look at the law. As defence coaches, we encourage players to get back on their feet and in the defensive line, but now teams might just try to herd the attacking team into a small radius of the ruck, which would not be good for the game.

It would take a full week of coaching to get a game plan against Italy’s tactic. It was  a real shock-and-awe strategy and difficult to adapt to on your feet. In fact, England played into Italy’s hands with their counter to it, so it clearly worked as a tactic.

 

 

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.

Ludeke on his way out of Loftus 0

Posted on December 22, 2016 by Ken

It is not yet clear whether Frans Ludeke will be catching the next train out of Loftus Versfeld for a permanent exit, but the Bulls coach has stood down from his SuperRugby and Currie Cup duties with immediate effect after eight years in charge.

Nollis Marais, the Blue Bulls Vodacom Cup and U21 coach, will pick up the pieces of the failed SuperRugby campaign and guide the team through this year’s Currie Cup, franchise CEO Barend van Graan announced on Saturday night after the first defeat to the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld in the history of the Sanzar competition.

The 43-year-old Marais has steadily risen up the ranks at Loftus Versfeld, coaching the U21s since 2011 and the Vodacom Cup team since 2013, while also winning the Varsity Cup with Tuks in 2012 and 2013.

Who will coach the Bulls in next year’s SuperRugby competition is still up in the air, however, with Van Graan describing the decision as “an ongoing process”.

Ludeke still has a shade more than a year left on his contract with the Bulls and there is speculation that the two-time Super Rugby winner will move upstairs to take up a director of rugby post.

“It is a big privilege for me, a tough competition lies ahead and I look forward to taking that on. I heard today about my appointment, I’ve been busy preparing for the U21 leagues, so it’s been a very quick five hours in a man’s life.

“As far as my coaching philosophy goes, for me, if you are being paid R1 to play, then you must really play, for the jersey before anything else, but also for the union and the people who come to watch. I will try very hard to bring that attitude to the team,” Marais said on Saturday night.

The Bulls’ reluctance to come out and reveal their long-term plans is mostly because there are still too many variables that haven’t been decided yet. There has been speculation that if Heyneke Meyer does not get an extension to his Springbok contract then the Bulls would be willing to shell out on him as a director of rugby.

His Springbok support team – Johann van Graan, John McFarland and Ricardo Loubscher – could then join him at Loftus Versfeld.

No conversation about the Bulls’ future coaching structure is complete without Victor Matfield joining the debate. The Springbok lock is already part of the coaching set-up and has indicated his desire to succeed Ludeke.

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-rugby/403490/ludeke-on-his-way-out-of-loftus/

Jurassic World at Loftus every Saturday 0

Posted on December 20, 2016 by Ken

 

Jurassic World opened in cinemas across South Africa last night to much excitement but there are many who would say dinosaurs could be seen running around every Saturday at Loftus Versfeld for Bulls fans’ viewing displeasure.

The Bulls are probably the most conservative of all the franchises in South Africa (their daily programme even tells the players and management what clothes to wear!) and innovations such as the offload are still frowned upon there.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t still be a force on the playing field. In fact, things were looking good this season when they sat in second place on the log just before their overseas tour, only for the wheels to come off in Australasia, not for the first time.

There can be no denying that a winning culture is absent from Loftus Versfeld; you can have as much discipline as you want, but unless the players, management and administrators are tightly knit with a single purpose, cracks will grow ever wider and the team will fall apart at the seams.

Where the Bulls have erred most obviously is in the appointment of a High Performance Manager in Xander Janse van Rensburg whose sole achievement so far at the union has been to rip at those seams and drive not one, nor two but three major player exoduses from Loftus Versfeld.

Since Janse van Rensburg’s arrival – apparently he was appointed to replace Ian Schwartz because he was a much cheaper option – hardly a day goes by without talk of a player who wants to leave or a player who is unhappy with broken promises or upset with his team-mates, such is the climate of fear and self-interest at Loftus.

To treat players as dispensable goods creates the sort of selfishness and attitude of self-preservation that destroys team spirit; the Bulls’ decision to send Janse van Rensburg on tour, while scrum coach Wessel Roux remained at home, coincided with the dramatic reversal in fortunes that killed their Super Rugby hopes.

But to lay the blame purely at the doors of the administrators would be wrong and several players are going to have to face their own consciences in the mirror when coach Frans Ludeke pays the price for their failure to step up when needed.

Ludeke’s willingness to shoulder all of the responsibility speaks to the character of the man. While his decision to take on all the media duties himself was well-intentioned, it merely increased the pressure on him. To allow different voices to be heard does not weaken his authority and his failure to spread the load is not going to improve his stress levels or general health.

 

****

South African cricket provided reason to celebrate in the last week via the comments of newly-appointed bowling coach Charl Langeveldt, who said yorkers were something the Proteas bowlers needed to embrace.

Speaking on the SuperSport cricket magazine show Inside Edge, Langeveldt said the yorker was a skill the national team’s bowlers needed to be able to produce three or four times an over if they are to improve the standard of the bowling in limited-overs cricket.

The lack of such skills in the Proteas’ attack was the glaring difference between them and the champion Australian team and the appointment of Langeveldt, one of the most skilful bowlers South Africa have ever produced, is a step in the right direction.

Langeveldt’s story is the epitome of hard work paying off and hopefully he will get the necessary buy-in from the Proteas and the graft required for the up-skilling will take place.

 

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