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Ken Borland

I know a week is a long time in sport, but … 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken


I’ve always known that a week can be a long time in the world of sport, but I go away for eight nights to the bush of northern Limpopo and return to find rugby’s entire landscape changing with indecent haste compared to the months of feet-dragging that often characterise a game that has been presided over at some stages by dinosaurs or the old farts of the straw-chair brigade.

One of the changes I saw coming before my departure. I always love unintended consequences and it was former Springboks and Bulls defence coach John McFarland who pointed out to me that the rulemakers’ new emphasis on keeping tackles lower, away from the head and shoulders, was at least partly responsible for the sudden rash of offloads we have seen from the South African teams, who have traditionally preferred taking contact and winning some hard-earned, psychologically-meaningful centimetres.

So it’s not just a mindset change amongst our franchise coaches and players, but also that tacklers are now being forced down below the arms, allowing the hands to be free to keep the ball alive.

Time will tell whether that more skilful approach is carried through to the Springboks, but the national team has already had better preparation than last year with a camp and they look better resourced too in terms of coaching staff.

One of those additional resources is Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and it may be just as well that he has earned a promotion because he might be out of a decent Super Rugby job next year. If we believe what the New Zealand media tell us, then the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings will be axed from Super Rugby under the new, hopefully improved format for 2018 that is yet to be unveiled.

Harold Verster, the CEO of the Cheetahs, cheerfully told the world though that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and that the rumbling noise he hears is not a rampaging stampede of buffalo at all, but the sound of the Grey College-Free State-somewhere else in the country pipeline running smoothly. He says the Cheetahs are safe.

You cannot be nearly as optimistic about the Kings, however. They would seem to be sitting ducks as not only are they struggling on the field but they are a financial drain on the South African Rugby Union and money always shouts loudest when it comes to administrators, like politicians.

Speaking of politicians, you cannot escape the irony that Cheeky Watson, the self-proclaimed messiah of transformation, has now left Eastern Cape rugby and has done more damage to the nursery of Black rugby in our country than anything since a Nationalist government functionary.

If you called him a blood-sucking tick you would probably be understating his effect. The man has been a full-blown parasite on the game in that vulnerable region, more like the deadly malaria protozoans that kill half-a-million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Later this year, the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand in what should be the rugby highlight of 2017, but this type of proper tour probably won’t become more common given the news this week that a new global rugby calendar is being introduced. Coming into effect in 2020, it has reducing player workload as one of its main tenets.

Tours by northern hemisphere teams to the southern hemisphere will be pushed back to July, but this will allow Super Rugby to be completed in one fell swoop from February to June. This is a good thing and will come into effect in 2019, because that is a World Cup year.

The 2023 World Cup is another story of course, with South Africa seemingly ranged against France and Ireland for the right to host the tournament. If you can believe what came out of sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s mouth this week, then government is now backing the bid.

Then again, Mbalula might just have been trying to distract from the fiasco that was Durban’s Commonwealth Games bid. The chairman of that bid was Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, but that’s a story for another day.

Too many coaching changes at Sharks – Smit 0

Posted on June 26, 2015 by Ken

Changing coaches at the Sharks has become something that is not even triennial these days but a regular occurrence that has seen three different men in charge over the last three years, which is why chief executive John Smit is adamant that Gary Gold is going nowhere and will continue to coach the team in next year’s Super Rugby competition.

After John Plumtree was let go in 2013, Brendan Venter filled in alongside Brad Macleod-Henderson and Sean Everitt for the rest of that year, before Jake White was appointed for 2014. It was a high-profile signing, but it didn’t last the year amid talk of a player rebellion against the former Springbok coach.

“We were thrown a curve-ball with Jake and his exit last October was like a bride being left at the altar. It was uncontrollable and it’s inconsequential who wanted who to leave. We wanted Gary Gold to fulfil the same role as Jake, but he couldn’t get out of his contract and arrived late, with Brenden running the show until then.

“But there’s just been too much change in terms of coaching, so Gary has to continue. I know there’s been media speculation about him no longer coaching, but that’s only for the Currie Cup. Gary will continue to be heavily involved with the Super Rugby squad and will coach them. The other six months of the year, he’ll be involved in planning and procurement and improving the academy. We are busy finalising a coach to replace Brad Macleod-Henderson for the Currie Cup,” Smit told The Citizen.

While Smit wants a more settled atmosphere in terms of the coaching structure, he says the academy and the pipeline delivering talent to the Sharks team needs to be shaken up.

“In terms of the academy, every other union copied us, but it’s without doubt not performing the way we want it too. It’s a work in progress, we need to tweak it, because that’s the only way we’re going to be leaders. There are 200 students at the academy at any one time and the majority pay for that. They think they have what it takes and they share the fields and the gym with the professional squad.

“We pay the fees for those we decide are worth backing, those we’ve identified with talent. The academy also gives us an unbelievably strong club structure because the players are billeted out to the Premier League clubs and some of those guys will graduate into being part of the Currie Cup now,” Smit said.

The former Springbok captain said he was at peace over the recruitment of players even though the Sharks have been severely criticised for signing veterans such as Matt Stevens and Mouritz Botha.

“The criticism is probably well-founded based on the performance, but I played with Matt, he was contracted while he was on a British and Irish Lions tour, which means he was rated amongst the top three tightheads in the UK. But that form didn’t transfer here and he was particularly poor at scrum time, although his work-rate was still far superior to any of the other number threes. But European champions Toulon are still willing to pay him double what we are paying him!

“Mouritz has come in for unnecessary criticism because there are not many hardened number four locks around and he hasn’t performed that badly. The public perception may be very different, but then television influences that a lot.

“I can’t control that, but the ‘jobs-for-mates’ thing people are so fond of writing about is nonsense. I don’t pick players on my own, it’s decided by a procurement committee, Smit said.


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