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Ken Borland

John McFarland Column – SuperRugby format definitely needs to change 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken


There has been some real conjecture and speculation about how SuperRugby is going to change in 2018, but the one thing that is clear is that it definitely needs to change – declining viewing figures and attendance at the games proves it.

While the administrators took the wrong direction when they changed the format back in 2015, the move to expand was the right decision. Promises had obviously been made to the Southern Kings and a Japanese team is vital if they are going to maintain the improvement they have shown and grow the sport in that country.

Argentina also now have a great development program and they’re no longer losing as many top players to Europe, so it’s vital they stay in as well.

The problem is I don’t think the administrators knew what they let themselves in for travel-wise. The Sunwolves are 10 hours from Australia so they should be in that conference and then they would travel a lot less.

The Southern Kings are probably going to be judged on the basis of their results, bankruptcy and as money-makers, but they did really well initially in terms of getting numbers to games. They have performed better this year, so credit must go to the coaching staff for that improvement, but they still have not really moved forward, there is still a big difference between them and the other teams.

Normally during the time of SuperRugby negotiations, there are people saying that South Africa will go play in Europe but that hasn’t happened that much this time around so we are obviously committed to SuperRugby and the three conferences.

It will be very disappointing if we lose the Cheetahs, but I expect to see a deal in our favour, especially since last time we managed to get two home semi-finals. The SA Rugby Union negotiators must stand up for what they believe in and push for what they want.

I don’t think the players are averse to travel, but being away for five weeks in Australia and New Zealand as the Bulls were in the past is a heck of a trip and that’s why it was virtually impossible for a South African team to win SuperRugby, having to play five matches overseas.

This weekend we have our first Friday night SuperRugby game when the Bulls host the Sunwolves, which is hard to believe considering the six hours of rugby we’ve had to sit through on Saturdays. People want to watch rugby when they come home on Friday evening around a barbecue, but unfortunately the TV schedules have not allowed it.

On a happier note, I was fortunate to attend the Springbok Sevens training for a couple of weeks and was able to see first-hand what good coaching, spirit and attention to detail there is in that set-up. The Blitzboks’ culture is second to none, the way they back each other, encourage one another and work in the training sessions is outstanding.

That’s their strength as well as continuity. Someone like conditioning coach Allan Temple-Jones has been there forever and does a superb job – the Springbok Sevens are the best-conditioned team on the circuit and they are reaping the benefits of that.

What is most encouraging is that people are talking about Sevens and what the Blitzboks have done, and watching the games.

They are also never scared to use specialists – Richie Gray was brought in to work on the breakdowns before the Olympics and Dawie Snyman, the former Western Province coach, is doing a lot of work on their footwork and coaching them in sidestepping. You can see that coming through in the way they are beating people, so credit to him.

Neil Powell is overseeing it all and is handling the job with great dignity, so I really hope they come through and win the series. England are the only team with the continuity to push them and will be their biggest competition.

Continuity breeds confidence in any high-performance sport.

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.

Sharks denied in controversial fashion 0

Posted on August 10, 2016 by Ken

The Cell C Sharks were controversially denied a famous victory in Wellington on Saturday as a clear try was disallowed and several marginal calls went against them in the final quarter, as the Hurricanes registered a flattering 32-24 victory in their Vodacom SuperRugby match.

The Sharks, despite making some basic errors in defence in the first half, had pushed the runaway SuperRugby leaders all the way in the first hour, and seemed to have taken a 22-21 lead in the 62nd minute when their rolling maul thundered over the tryline.

Even the Hurricanes seemed in no doubt that the try had been scored, but referee Chris Pollock, who has robbed the Sharks in the past, called for the TMO to review any obstruction and then talked him into a ruling that the visitors had “changed lanes”. Neither leading coach John Mitchell, in the television studio, nor referee Jonathan Kaplan, on social media, could see anything wrong with the try.

The Sharks did reclaim the lead five minutes later, the skills and experience of Francois Steyn and JP Pietersen allowing them to attack from deep and easily create space as they caused the usually efficient Hurricanes defence to hesitate, Pietersen’s lovely offload inside to Odwa Ndungane allowing the wing to score.

Steyn squeezed the conversion over to put the Sharks 24-21 ahead, but the extra try would have given them a far more comfortable cushion going into the final stages.

James Marshall, the struggling stand-in for Beauden Barrett at flyhalf, pulled a straightforward penalty wide in the 70th minute, but the relentless Hurricanes attack brought them the bonus-point try three minutes later, the livewire flank Ardie Savea doing brilliantly down the right touchline to stay infield and get the ball inside for lock Jeremy Thrush to crash over.

The Sharks, who defended well in the second half, had played themselves virtually to a standstill and, with two men down injured, flyhalf Lionel Cronje inexplicably kicked the ball back to the Hurricanes. It was not the first time he had booted away possession at the most inopportune moments either. The counter-attack was swift, down the right, with replacement fullback Reynold Lee-Lo and centre Conrad Smith making good ground and forcing a penalty for hands in the ruck.

Marshall slotted this one to stretch the Hurricanes’ lead to 29-24 and, in the final minute, he kicked the penalty that denied the Sharks a well-deserved bonus point, after the referee had harshly penalised Kyle Cooper, a hooker playing as replacement flank, for going off his feet at a ruck.

The other marginal call by Pollock in the final quarter came when abrasive hooker Motu Matu’u crashed into Ndungane after the wing had kicked but the referee ruled no sanction was necessary.

But it was a gallant effort by a Sharks side for which nothing has gone right this season and they showed they were up for the contest when they opened the scoring in the seventh minute with a try that followed some tremendous attacking play.

They showed great ball-retention, pace on the ball and, with wing S’Bura Sithole and Pietersen making strong runs, they were deep in the Hurricanes’ 22. The home side had a lineout five metres from their own line and Sharks captain Marco Wentzel, the stalwart of that set-piece, slapped the ball out of Thrush’s hands and Bismarck du Plessis drove over for the try.

The Hurricanes were quickly level, however, the sneakiest attacking side in Super Rugby holding the ball through 20 phases and then seizing the opportunity when the Sharks’ defence became too narrow. The sight of Cronje running all over the place indicated there was disarray and centre Ma’a Nonu, a constant threat, produced a lovely long pass out wide for wing Cory Jane to score.

The Sharks were rewarded with a penalty by Steyn (10-7) for their own excellent period of ball-retention, bashing the ball up for 23 phases as props Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira were prominent on the drive and Pietersen was once again direct and effective.

But the Hurricanes were back in front just three minutes later as they reopened gaping holes in the Sharks’ defence. After a lineout, Nonu put left wing Matt Proctor through the gap with a super inside ball and then Smith went through Pietersen’s feeble tackle to score.

Marshall’s conversion put the home side 14-10 up and, when flank Etienne Oosthuizen was yellow-carded for the Sharks’ third high tackle in the opening quarter, the embattled visitors looked as if they might be buried.

But their rolling maul was a good attacking weapon and their pack fronted up in fantastic fashion at the collisions, also winning several turnovers. One of these led to a penalty for the Sharks from halfway in the final minute, but Steyn made a hash of it with a poor strike.

At 10-14 down at the break, the Sharks were still in the game, their simple but effective approach working. At halftime they had used 25 pick-and-goes to zero by the Hurricanes.

The Sharks kept at the Hurricanes in the third quarter, led by Bismarck du Plessis, who at one stage picked scrumhalf Chris Smylie up and carried him back several metres, won successive turnovers and even put in a clearing kick.

The hooker followed that kick up and won the turnover again, the Sharks beating the Hurricanes at their own game as Cronje exploited the space well to send Sithole racing over out wide.

The lead changed hands again in the 53rd minute when the power of Nonu, after eighthman Victor Vito had burst off a scrum, took the Hurricanes into the shadow of the Sharks’ poles and the South African-born replacement flank Reggie Goodes barged over the line.

The conversion was good, but the Sharks fought back once again and surely secured the moral victory, for what it’s worth.


Sharks – Tries: Bismarck du Plessis, S’Bura Sithole, Odwa Ndungane. Conversions: Francois Steyn (3). Penalty: Steyn.

Hurricanes – Tries: Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Reggie Goodes, Jeremy Thrush. Conversions: James Marshall (3). Penalties: Marshall (2).

Bulls on top but trio chasing hard in SA Conference 0

Posted on June 17, 2015 by Ken

This year’s SuperRugby competition is just past the halfway stage and it’s clear that this season’s South African Conference winner could easily be one of four teams.

The current leaders are the Bulls, but just four points separate them from the fourth-placed Stormers and third-placed Sharks, while the Cheetahs are just a point behind.

The Bulls, Cheetahs and Stormers all won this weekend, while the Sharks lost 37-29 to the Chiefs in Hamilton, but collected a bonus point for scoring four tries.

This will be regarded as something of a success for the Sharks, especially since they were 24-0 down after just 17 minutes, and went into the match against the defending champions with several first-choice players out injured or on the bench.

And they could easily have picked up a second bonus point, were it not for a last-minute penalty conceded to Aaron Cruden.

The Bulls maintained a narrow lead at the top of the conference by beating the Waratahs 30-19 at Loftus Versfeld.

The match was a lot tougher than the scoreline suggests, but with the Bulls enjoying in the region of 60% of possession and territory they were clearly the better side, whatever sore loser Michael Cheika might have said after the game.

Waratahs coach Cheika had a full go at Argentinian referee Francisco Pastrana after the loss, which was a bit rich after his team had spent most of the match parked offsides, thereby making it much harder for the Bulls to penetrate their in-your-face defence.

But in such situations the Bulls have a tailor-made solution in flyhalf Morné Steyn and the Springbok calmly collected 25 points through six penalties, a conversion and a try. He looked like he was having a stroll in the park at times, and it was fantastic to see the hero of the 2009 season back at his best.

The Waratahs’ refusal to toe the line when it came to staying on-sides or rolling away in the tackle saw Steyn slot four first-half penalties to put the Bulls 12-5 ahead at the break.

The visitors’ only points in the first half came shortly before half-time when fullback Israel Folau tore through the Bulls’ defences for a brilliant try.

The Bulls generally did a good job in defence, but another lapse four minutes into the second half saw flank Michael Hooper bursting through and replacement prop Paddy Ryan finishing off the try to bring the Waratahs back on level terms at 12-12.

A Steyn penalty, after Ryan had kicked the ball away when miles offside, returned the lead to the Bulls 14 minutes later, but it was clear the persistent offending of the Waratahs was really starting to irk the home side. Captain Pierre Spies had a word with Pastrana, who agreed that Ryan’s offence had been cynical but did not deserve a yellow card because “he’s a front-ranker, you know”, said with a shrug of the shoulders.

The Bulls brushed off Pastrana’s leniency and a compelling mix of forward drives and sending the ball out wide saw them up the intensity on the hour mark. The Bulls were hard on attack, but former Lions star Jano Vermaak then deflected a long pass from Steyn that was intended for the man outside him, and once Folau had pounced on the loose ball, there was little doubt a try would be the outcome at the other end, flyhalf Bernhard Foley getting it.

But with Steyn in regal form and keeping the Bulls going forward, the home side scored 15 points in the last 13 minutes to clinch victory. Replacement scrumhalf Francois Hougaard, who was given a reception worthy of the mayor of Pretoria when he finally returned to action as a 53rd-minute substitute, dived over the side of a ruck to score after Steyn had been stopped just short of the line, before the flyhalf added a penalty and a try of his own.

Cheika may be upset with the referee, but he should perhaps turn his attention to the eight lineouts the Waratahs lost – Juandré Kruger and Flip van der Merwe were superb for the Bulls – and the poor goalkicking of Brendan McKibbin, who succeeded with just one of his four kicks at goal.

The Cheetahs beat the Southern Kings 26-12 but again, the match was tougher than the scoreline suggests.

The Kings had plenty of possession and enjoyed long stints in Cheetahs territory, but they did not have the skill or finishing ability of the hosts on attack.

The Cheetahs were excellent on defence and adept at creating space, and also dominated the breakdowns. Loose forwards Philip van der Walt and Lappies Labuschagne were formidable on defence and also superb on attack, and there is plenty of pace among the backs in the form of Raymond Rhule, Piet van Zyl and Willie le Roux, and turning opportunities into points was the home side’s most notable strength.

It’s always easy to criticise from the comfort of the armchair, but with that in mind, the Cheetahs really should have scored a fourth try in the last 35 minutes for a bonus point that would have put them on top of the conference.

The Stormers saw off the Hurricanes 18-16 in Palmerston North in a game also marred by lenient refereeing.

Steve Walsh should be hauled before the chairman of the referees’ panel to explain why Ben Franks escaped a yellow card, first for punching and then for twice collapsing the Stormers’ rolling maul on his own tryline in the space of two minutes, the Hurricanes having already lost one player for the same offence.

Duane Vermeulen was surely the man of the match as he put in an immense performance at eighthman, making 17 tackles and running 46 bullocking metres with ball-in-hand, the most for the Stormers.

The match-winning try came in the 63rd minute as Gio Aplon ran a fabulous line to back up Vermeulen’s charge off the back of a scrum.

Credit too must go to De Kock Steenkamp for some crucial lineout steals and captain Jean de Villiers for ensuring the Stormers were tactically astute in the way they handled the strong wind blowing down the ground. Hats off too to Bryan Habana for charging down a conversion attempt, those two points being the difference between the two sides in the end.

Sharks coach John Plumtree would have been dismayed by his team’s shoddy start and slack defending in their match against the Chiefs, but the character shown in the fightback and some of the fine attacking play would have pleased him no end.

With the Sharks 24-0 down inside the first quarter, there was fat chance of them getting anything from the game, but the seeds of their revival were sown in the set-pieces, which they dominated in impressive fashion.

Unfortunately, Keegan Daniel seemed to have forgotten this when, 15 minutes before the end of the game, he took a quick tap when the Sharks were awarded a penalty under the Chiefs’ poles, when he really should have called for a scrum, lineout or even kicked the penalty to close the deficit to just five points.

The Chiefs defence scrambled well and loose forward Tanerau Latimer got away with murder when he scooped the ball out of a ruck while on his knee. When the Sharks finally did get back on to attack and Pat Lambie kicked a penalty to make the score 29-34, there were only two minutes remaining.

Daniel then erred again when he went off his feet at a ruck and conceded the late penalty that cost the Sharks a potentially crucial point.

The Sharks also laboured under the burden of having two anonymous wings in Odwa Ndungane and Piet Lindeque, even though their attacking play was much better, forced by the massive early deficit.

Their set-pieces were also excellent, while Lubabalo Mthembu made a highly encouraging first start at eighthman.

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    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm

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