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Ken Borland



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.

 

Bulls have renewed energy to maintain momentum 0

Posted on February 16, 2016 by Ken

 

The Bulls will look to the renewed energy levels in the camp after the bye week to help maintain the momentum they gained before the break when they take on the Western Force in their SuperRugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Bulls started the campaign with two losses at home in Pretoria but then beat the Sharks and the Cheetahs over the next fortnight to put themselves in the top eight on the log and six points behind the Conference-leading Stormers, with a game in hand.

The Force are the last Australian team to win in the capital, and even though that was way back in 2007, the Perth-based side have traditionally been the toughest of foes for the Bulls to see off, with the average score being 25-22.

“We always seem to be in tight matches against each other. The trick for us will be to play the big moments better and to execute whenever we create scoring opportunities.

“We’ve been quite lucky with our draw, I think the bye came at the right time for us, the week off was very good and the guys have come back energised,” captain Pierre Spies said this week.

The Force come to South Africa in not the best frame of mind, the epic bonus-point win over the defending champion Waratahs in the opening round being followed by four successive defeats, and the coach, Michael Foley, has shuffled the backline, with former Free Stater Sias Ebersohn starting at flyhalf.

The match also marks the return of reserve lock Wilhelm Steenkamp to the place where it all began for the 30-year-old, back in 2005.

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has called for more accuracy in implementing the basic but effective game plan he sponsors.

“The accuracy suddenly changed, then the belief came, and with that the momentum came as well. We would like to continue with what made us a dangerous side before the break, getting into the right areas, converting that opportunity, accuracy on defence and squeezing opportunities, and hopefully winning that field-position battle,” Ludeke said.

Teams

Bulls: 15-Jesse Kriel, 14-Bjorn Basson, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jan Serfontein, 11-Francois Hougaard, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Rudy Paige, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Lappies Labuschagne, 6-Deon Stegmann, 5-Grant Hattingh, 4-Jacques du Plessis, 3-Marcel van der Merwe, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Dean Greyling. Replacements – 16-Jaco Visagie, 17-Morne Mellett, 18-Trevor Nyakane, 19-Victor Matfield, 20-Arno Botha, 21-Tian Schoeman, 22-Piet van Zyl, 23-Jurgen Visser.
Western Force: 15-Luke Morahan, 14-Marcel Brache, 13-Kyle Godwin, 12-Luke Burton, 11-Nick Cummins, 10-Sias Ebersohn, 9-Alby Mathewson, 8-Ben McCalman, 7-Kane Koteka, 6-Steve Mafi, 5-Adam Coleman, 4-Sam Wykes, 3-Tetera Faulkner, 2-Nathan Charles, 1-Pek Cowan. Replacements – 16-Heath Tessmann, 17-Chris Heiberg, 18-Oli Hoskins, 19-Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20-Angus Cottrell, 21-Ian Prior, 22-Zack Holmes, 23-Junior Rasolea.

 

 

 

 



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