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Ken Borland



Sadness as two players leave the Springbok family 0

Posted on January 19, 2018 by Ken

 

Coach Heyneke Meyer likes to talk about the Springbok team as being a family, and there was sadness in camp on Monday when two players left the squad ahead of the Rugby Championship finale against the All Blacks at Soccer City on Saturday.

While Jacques Potgieter, who has an abdominal strain, was a fringe player, Francois Steyn is a key figure in the team, having played 53 Tests despite being just 25 years old, and a senior player.

But his departure from the squad to have ankle surgery is undoubtedly in the long-term interests of both the team and the player.

“Frans has quite a few loose pieces of bone in his ankle and every now and then one of them gets lodged in the joint, causing him excruciating pain. As a long-term solution, we’re sending him for surgery to have it cleaned out on Wednesday. Unfortunately that means he will be out for three months and he will miss the end-of-year tour,” team doctor Craig Roberts said.

Steyn might be missing out now, but the positive side is that he will be able to have a proper rest and pre-season conditioning before starting next year’s SuperRugby competition with the Sharks, hopefully in prime physical and mental state.

Sometimes an enforced break like this one can end up adding years to a player’s career and, as Roberts pointed out, the Springboks are looking for another 60 Tests from the utility back and he will be a vital figure in the 2015 World Cup in England.

A third player could well leave the squad on Tuesday, with prop Coenie Oosthuizen going to see a specialist in Durban about his neck injury. Meyer rushed the versatile Oosthuizen back into the team, naming him on the bench for the Test against Australia despite the 23-year-old having played just 35 minutes for the Free State Cheetahs since injuring his neck during his Springbok debut against England in June.

Sometimes players are rushed back into action too soon and it is a credit to Roberts that he managed to convince Meyer to pull Oosthuizen from last weekend’s game; the team doctor clearly has doubts that the prop has fully recovered.

“Again, we want to ensure we make the right long-term decision and I’m not happy with his neck; he still has some quite significant symptoms, especially stiffness,” Roberts said.

Both the Springboks and All Blacks are coming off impressive weekend victories, setting up another titanic clash between the two great rivals at the iconic stadium in Soweto. New Zealand may have already clinched the inaugural Rugby Championship title, but there is no doubt they will be up for the game against the old enemy.

Apart from notching another victory on South African soil, they would also love to complete the year unbeaten and stretch their winning run to 16 matches dating back to the start of their triumphant World Cup campaign.

“We’ve won the Rugby Championship, but we’ve parked that and we’re now focused on winning in South Africa. If you talk to the older guys, they’ll tell you it’s more rewarding winning here than beating the Springboks at home. The guys that have been around a while really love testing themselves against the best here; it’s one of the toughest places to win,” loose forward Sam Cane said on Monday.

Lock Sam Whitelock also stressed the importance of Saturday’s game.

“It’s really nice that we’ve put the trophy away, but this weekend will be a massive challenge. It would be great to start off a new competition with a clean sweep.

“Last year didn’t go so well for us in Port Elizabeth and South Africa is always hard to beat at home. But that’s the beauty of international rugby; you have to perform week in and week out. All you need is one game to not go well and everything can unravel very quickly,” Whitelock said.

The great rivalry between the two sides will be exemplified in the tremendous physicality of Saturday’s Test, with the Dunedin match two weekends ago being widely proclaimed as a coming-of-age performance by the youthful Springbok pack.

“The Dunedin game was a typical All Blacks/Springboks Test, with massive body collisions. It was quite tight and it took a while for either side to win any dominance. I’m sure it will be the case again this week and the body will take a bit of a hammering,” Whitelock said.

The Springboks are obviously not going to make the same mistake that Argentina did in trying to match the expansive, fast-paced game of the All Blacks.

“Playing at home, there’s always more pressure to run the ball, but that’s what New Zealand likes because it gives them turnovers and they punish you. You will never beat New Zealand at their own game, you’ll never out-run them. You have to put pressure on them, especially at the breakdown, in defence and with your kicking game,” Meyer said.

The Springboks are well positioned to do this if they can produce a repeat performance of their Loftus Versfeld heroics against the Wallabies.

For all the elation of the five tries scored, it was a top-class defensive effort in the trenches that set up a morale-boosting win.

“It was a good performance, definitely the most satisfying of the year, and our defence was also the best it’s been the whole year. We made 178 tackles compared to their 109, and we had a 96% completion rate, we only missed seven tackles. Plus we only had 45% possession,” Meyer said.

A win over the in-form world champions would ensure Meyer gets a positive review after his first year in charge.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-10-02-rugby-tough-calls-for-the-springboks/#.WmHcfK6WbIU

 

The John McFarland Column: Lions’ efforts deserve Test selection 0

Posted on June 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks are back in camp and it will be interesting to see the team for the French Tests, two of which will be played at altitude, so it will definitely be an advantage to pick players that are full of confidence and successful on the Highveld.

There’s only one team that has been playing with real conviction and confidence, though, and that is the Lions, so I expect a few debutants from them over the course of the series. It will be a well-deserved honour and credit to their coaches, Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.

The Lions’ 54-10 win over the Southern Kings showed that the difference in strength is vast between them and the other South African teams and they now have a great run-in towards the SuperRugby playoffs. They deserve it after winning three games overseas and they are reaping the rewards in confidence and the way they are playing.

It’s sad for SuperRugby that the playoff places are mostly already sorted out, especially in South Africa. It always used to go down to the last weekend and a very exciting final day of round-robin play. Anyway, it’s a huge advantage to finish first on the log and the Crusaders are three points clear of the Lions as our pacesetters go into the international break.

The Crusaders have some tough New Zealand derbies coming up though, including having to travel to the Hurricanes.

So I believe Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions CEO, can’t wait to pencil in 3pm playoff games on the Highveld. If you speak to the Highlanders players they will tell you that their legs felt like jelly during their semi-final at Ellis Park last year, they just could not get going, and that’s a side packed with All Blacks that lost 30-42.

The Lions will definitely have earned that advantage via their performances, especially their tremendous run of 15 unbeaten games against South African opposition.

Most of the Lions players have been let go by other franchises or picked up from other unions, so you have to credit their hard work and improvement. Guys like Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan were playing for Tuks in 2012/13, while Franco Mostert was also part of that side and nobody has worked harder for their Springbok opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.

A guy like Ross Cronje has worked really hard on his game, he’s been the second-choice at the Lions a lot of the time, but he kept his belief and keeps producing the goods, so his selection is also fully deserved.

It was really pleasing to see Warren Whiteley appointed as the new Springbok captain, he’s a really honest player and always totally committed on the field. You can never accuse Warren of shirking anything, whether that be in terms of workload or skill.

He was with the Sharks as a junior and was a very explosive, impact player who could really cause damage in the wide channels in the last 20 minutes. He has become a dominant captain who epitomises all that his Lions team stands for in terms of culture.

Warren is a superb lineout option and also has safe hands at the back, which is important because it’s vital these days for eighthmen to be able to counter-attack. He brings his Sevens skills to bear.

His journey to the Springbok captaincy has not been easy, he has worked so hard to get there and thoroughly deserves the honour.

The Springboks are heading into a phase of more inclusive leadership, Warren will take notice of the opinions around him and has great empathy. But he showed when he first came into the Springbok group in 2014 that he is strong enough to have his own ideas, he knows the path forward and will not just follow the party line, he will make sure he drives his own opinions. He’s also a great communicator, with the coaches and the playing group.

I wish him all the success he deserves and wouldn’t it be nice for him to have the Rugby Championship trophy in his hands in October?

And Duane Vermeulen playing at seven will definitely work, in terms of their defensive system, they want a blindside flank who can do a lot more when it comes to work-rate. I think the eighthman will stay at a lot of the set-pieces and save his energy for attack and ball-in-hand play.

Duane of course will be in France for the Top 14 final with Toulon and will only have a couple of days training with the Springboks after flying back to South Africa, which is why Jean-Luc du Preez has been called up.

The Sharks v Stormers game showed the difference in strength between the two conferences. The Stormers just could not get that final pass or offload away, which, given their style of play, is essential for them.

Under new coach Robbie Fleck, they’re always going to be involved in high-scoring games, but they need to convert their chances. One has to credit the Sharks for their defence holding firm, which bodes well for the Springboks.

I felt there was some improvement from the Bulls, they were far more physical at the gain-line. There’s obviously been a change in the coaching staff there, which possibly produced the improved display, but unfortunately it was not enough against a clever team like the Hurricanes.

The Bulls will regret those soft moments in defence when the Hurricanes were able to slice through them like a knife through butter.

The positives for the Bulls were Duncan Matthews, the young wing, who really took his opportunity well, and the way the forwards and inside backs competed on the gain-line against one of the most physical sides in SuperRugby (How we wish for the days when the Bulls were the most physical side in the competition!).

I was fortunate enough to be at the Cheetahs game against the Sunwolves and it’s always nice when the South African teams come to Tokyo – because of our relationships in the past, I get to catch up and spend some time with them. The smattering of survival Japanese I have helps them in the shops and with the very complicated subway system!

I thought the Cheetahs ran a very smart week in terms of preparation. Often when a team is coming off a massive losing run (nine games), the temptation is to go harder at the players in training. But the Cheetahs did not do much in Tokyo and Franco Smith ensured the players were very fresh, and they reaped the reward.

The match was quite tight until just before halftime when the Cheetahs scored a killer try to leave the Sunwolves 14-0 down.

I was impressed by the way the Cheetahs played, they kept their shape and Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen were always a big danger on the wings.

It was a big event in Tokyo, because they only get to host a handful of games every season. It’s a huge thing for Japan to have a SuperRugby team.

We need a global game and we should get teams from the USA and Canada involved as well, it has to happen eventually. Look at the improvement in the Argentina team from having the Jaguares involved in SuperRugby – they have been exposed to a higher level of rugby and it has paid dividends.

The biggest drawback is the travel for the Sunwolves and Jaguares, they do nearly twice as much travel as anyone else. It’s always a great feeling going to a new country when you win, but the worst thing is then losing.

So I hope they change the conferences, but who knows because there has still been no clarity from Sanzaar.

 

 

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.

 

A weekend in August the most important in SA cricket’s turnaround 0

Posted on January 01, 2017 by Ken

 

It was the year of the remarkable turnaround in South African cricket and perhaps the most important weekend of 2016 was the one the national team spent at a “culture camp” in Johannesburg in August.

South African cricket was seemingly in freefall before that, the number one ranking in Tests lost due to a series defeat at home to England, yet another disappointment in a major ICC tournament as the Proteas were eliminated in the first round of World T20 in India and their ODI form was also ropey as they failed to make the final of a triangular series in the West Indies.

There was an atmosphere of doom and gloom, as transformation became an easy scapegoat, and national coach Russell Domingo was not expected to survive the year. An independent review was instituted and then scrapped.

Far more importantly, the greater squad got together and pledged that they had to be better, that ProteaFire was being extinguished and the flame needed to be rekindled. The players themselves took the responsibility to challenge each other and be better.

After flirting with the captaincy of Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis taking the reins of both the Test and ODI side was also crucial and, being a more natural captain drawn to the job, he got the team going in ways that have not been seen in the last couple of years.

The Proteas were glorious in the second half of the year, winning their Test series against New Zealand and then becoming the first team to ever whitewash Australia in a five-match ODI series, before going across the Indian Ocean to their great rivals and winning the first two Tests to claim the series and become the first side since the great West Indies outfits of the 1980s/1990s to win three successive rubbers on Australian soil. You have to go back to the early days of Test cricket between 1884 and 1888 to find the only other team to achieve that feat – England.

If the year itself was memorable for the amazing turnaround in their fortunes, then the one match that epitomised the unity of purpose in the Proteas was the first Test against Australia in Perth.

After choosing to bat first, South Africa batted poorly, only reaching 242 thanks to Quinton de Kock’s 84 and a half-century from Temba Bavuma. Australia had raced away to 158 without loss in reply, before Dale Steyn dismissed David Warner but injured himself in the process, a fractured shoulder bone ruling him out of the rest of the season.

But with just two fit pacemen and debutant spinner Keshav Maharaj weighing in with three wickets, they managed to dismiss Australia for just 244. Du Plessis spoke later about the opposition being “shocked” by the comeback and the resolve shown by the Proteas, who dominated the rest of the game and won the second Test in Hobart by an innings.

De Kock was the Proteas’ outstanding player of 2016, scoring 695 Test runs at 63.18, second only to Amla’s 729 at 48.60, and continuing to plunder ODI runs such that he was named the ICC’s player of the year in the 50-over format.

On the bowling front, Kagiso Rabada continues to grow and ended as the Proteas’ leading wicket-taker and amongst the top six globally, while the excellent form of Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott suggests that the end of Steyn’s great career, whenever it may come, will not necessarily leave a vacuum.

AB confident camp will give birth to better fortune 0

Posted on August 17, 2016 by Ken

 

AB de Villiers says he is confident a “culture camp” the wider Proteas squad held last week will give birth to a resurgence in fortunes for the national side, starting with victory over New Zealand in the two-Test series that gets underway in Durban on Friday.

De Villiers is off for six weeks with an elbow injury the most serious of several niggles he is getting right before the season gets into full swing, but he is clearly still playing a powerful leadership role within the team, speaking confidently about how he backs them to beat New Zealand, when he was interviewed at the launch of the series, at which sponsors Sunfoil announced they would be extending their sponsorship of South African Test and first-class cricket for another two years.

“We had a culture camp five days ago where we were brutally honest with each other about where we are as a team and where we would like to see ourselves. We know exactly where we want to go, we had a lot of hard chats about what is wrong, what issues there are, behind our dip in form.

“A big part of our success in the past has been our culture and we revisited our core values, who we play for. I wouldn’t say we’re in a transitional phase because this is still a fantastic team that can beat anyone. I’m really backing our boys, even though the Black Caps are clearly a force to be reckoned with,” De Villiers said.

The Proteas arrived in Durban extra early for the Test and have had twice-daily practice sessions in order to offset their lack of Test cricket, in contrast to New Zealand, who have just enjoyed a convincing 2-0 win in Zimbabwe. De Villiers, however, predicted that it would be South Africa who would set the early pace in the series.

“One thing we really discussed in our camp was throwing the first punch. We’re proud of our ability to come back from all sorts of trouble, but it’s time for us to dominate from the start now and not be scared of being aggressive, of trying things. Hopefully people will get to see that in this series.

“I think New Zealand could be a bit thin in the batting department and if they don’t score big runs they’ll be in trouble. I don’t think they have an advantage from playing Tests recently, all our guys have played enough cricket and it was much more important for us to connect as players at our camp,” De Villiers said.

 



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