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Ken Borland

Former Bok defence coach John McFarland on why the bench will be crucial in Brisbane 0

Posted on September 08, 2016 by Ken


The impact of the Springboks’ 6-2 bench is going to be of the utmost importance in their Rugby Championship Test against Australia in Brisbane on Saturday, because of a combination of who the referee is and who they are playing against.

Nigel Owens is a fantastic referee and there tends to be a very high ball-in-play figure whenever he’s in charge. Australia have also always had a very attacking mindset in all the games against the Springboks and with their two flyhalves, they will also want to keep the ball in play.

So the ball-in-play figure could be 40-45 minutes, which is the norm against Australia when Owens is the referee but about 20% more than average, which is the reason why Allister Coetzee has gone for six forwards on the bench.

If you look at our recent Test matches against Australia, the Springboks have been comfortably in front for 60-65 minutes but have not finished the job because of a lack of bench impact.

So it’s obvious that having impact players on the bench will be vital and the bench this year has definitely added value– guys like Jaco Kriel, the two props and Pieter-Steph du Toit have provided real grunt up front.

The key for the Springboks is to have 23 players to play for the full 90 minutes. Three forwards will possibly play the full 90 minutes – Strauss, Whiteley and Etzebeth, for whom it is a tremendous achievement to reach 50 caps so young.

Victor Matfield made a very relevant point on SuperSport when he said that the Springboks didn’t have a single driving maul in Salta. Their lineout is so dominant that they must use their maul. Even the Lions do – they have a strong set-piece and maul, it’s a very solid part of their game.

Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel will make quite an exciting centre pairing. It’s a bit harsh though on Damien de Allende and Lionel Mapoe because they’ve seen very little ball on the front foot, but obviously Allister has decided that it’s time for a shake-up. It’s especially difficult at outside centre if the midfield is not operating and you get the ball up against a defensive wall, you’re very influenced by what happens on your inside.

The advantage of Juan and Jesse is that they are better communicators in defence and attack, and both have amazing sidestepping ability and run hard reverse lines against the defence. Jesse scored two wonderful tries stepping from centre in last year’s Rugby Championship and they will pose a different attacking threat against Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley.

Allister has obviously also gone for this pairing because Australia don’t have the same size in the midfield as other teams like New Zealand do. Australia will have a very small midfield, which provides the Springboks with the opportunity to run at them and expose their defensive weaknesses.

Australia mix their backs around defensively, they are not always in the channel you’d expect them to be, for example Cooper does find himself at fullback or blind wing sometimes on defence, so then you can use the high-ball kicking game on him from lineouts.

The obvious reason for Australia to go with two flyhalves is that it puts a lot more width on their passing game and they can use a lot more second-man plays from wide channels. The other advantage is they can split their backs on a middle ruck and have two sides to attack.

The other big selection issue has been Adriaan Strauss. Allister obviously wanted his experience and wisdom  and Adriaan is a quality Test performer. His accuracy at the lineout is second to none as is his scrummaging, so his set-pieces are always at a high level and he contributed around the park.

I guess the results haven’t been as he would have expected and it’s been a difficult year. But he cares deeply about the game. He’s not a tub-thumping sort of captain, but he speaks intelligently and demands high standards.

The Springboks have just not been able to get their all-round game going but the set-pieces have been really solid, so he has done his job.

For Saturday, the defence of the Springboks really has to improve. The work-rate has to be a lot higher to set the breakdown pillars properly before the attack gets in place. The ability of the defence to force turnovers will be crucial because Australia will take the ball at the Boks in hand. The side they have picked is very attack-minded.

The other really huge battle of the game will be the lineout.  New Zealand really exposed flaws in the Australian lineout in the two Bledisloe Cup Tests and the Springboks definitely have an advantage having picked four lineout jumpers to combat three.

I would expect us to continue to produce good ball on our own throw and hopefully disrupt their lineout to give them poor set-piece ball to attack from.

In 2013, the Springboks broke the Brisbane hoodoo, scoring four tries to zero. Hopefully on Saturday they can do the same again.

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.


Punda Maria, Pafuri & Crooks Corner 0

Posted on May 21, 2015 by Ken

Crooks Corner - the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers

Crooks Corner – the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers

Crooks Corner, which provides an amazing diversity of birds thanks to the combination of tropical riverine forest and sandveld, is one of those mystical, frontier places where you expect anything to turn up and is the north-eastern tip of Kruger National Park, at the end of the S63 Luvuvhu River Drive.

The confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers is called Crooks Corner because it was here, where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet, that scoundrels and rogues of a century ago would hide out and merely skip across the sandbars into another country when justice came a-looking.

There’s always something interesting in the dense forest or along the rivers at Crooks Corner, but the surrounding area is also great for birds and having that sense of expectation that something unusual is lurking just around the next bend is always exciting.

Heading back from Crooks Corner, away from the rivers in the direction of the Pafuri Border Gate with Mozambique, the road goes through an area of open Lala Palm savanna and then into Mopane forest that is fringed by Fever Trees.

Some little pools had formed below these Fever Trees which I initially drove past. But a hunch – you must always follow them! – made me go back and study the inundated areas more closely.

There were some baboons foraging on the ground and there, perched on a stick rising about a metre above the ground, was the distinct shape of a tiny heron.

Closer examination revealed the scarce Dwarf Bittern – only the second one I’ve seen. (The first was at Ndumo, also on the edge of a quiet pool in a well-wooded area).

The Dwarf Bittern is famous for its nomadic lifestyle, arriving in a place after good rains have led to local flooding, having an uncanny ability to find such areas within days of them being inundated.

It’s an enigmatic, secretive bird – partly nocturnal – and a much sought-after but seldom-seen tropical visitor.

Being mid-January, there were plenty of other pools scattered around the sandveld and the sweetveld grasslands on basalt, and just before the S63 Luvuvhu River Drive, Yellowbilled and White Storks, Water Dikkop and Little Bee-Eater were congregated around the water-filled depressions.

Turning on to the S63, the hundreds of Whitebacked Vultures either in the trees or circling in the sky soon became evident. There were 66 in two adjacent dead trees alone, with a few Lappetfaced Vultures among them.

Lappetfaced Vulture on the S63

Lappetfaced Vulture on the S63

Longtailed Starlings scratching around, Whitefronted Bee-Eaters swooping off the banks of the river, the odd Whitecrowned Plover on the sandbanks and Greenbacked Heron are the other typical birds of the S63, while a juvenile African Hawk Eagle was flying above the riverine forest.

The grassland around the Lala Palm savanna boasted Whitewinged Widow and a Steelblue Widowfinch was in a Fever Tree on the fringes of the forest, where a group of stately Ground Hornbill were strolling along and a Gymnogene was quartering nearby.

The viewpoint at Crooks Corner offered up Pied Kingfisher and Greenshank, while a Giant Kingfisher was hunting in front of the Pafuri picnic site and a Great White Egret was in the Luvuvhu River. Looking over the river from the main bridge, Rock Martin (and not Brownthroated as you’d expect over water), Little Swift and Wiretailed Swallow were all zooming about, while a Tropical Boubou was on the bank.

The beautiful Melba Finch was in the Acacia thickets as I was leaving Pafuri, the road back to Punda Maria passing through undulating grasslands studded with Baobabs, where all sorts of interesting sightings have been made.

Klopperfontein is always worth visiting and there was a solitary Hippopotamus lying in the dam, while a male Knob-billed Duck and a younger bloke had some territorial skirmishes. Ruff, Redbilled Teal and African Jacana were the other waterbirds present, while European Roller, Swainson’s Francolin, European Bee-Eater, Longtailed Shrike, Pintailed Whydah and Redbacked Shrike are common in the grassland around the dam and drift.

The Amur Falcon is the most common raptor in this habitat and one was sitting quite low down doing some serious maintenance on its heavily-barred tail.

A pair of Whiteheaded Vulture flew overhead and Wahlberg’s Eagle was also patrolling around, but the most fascinating hunter in action was a European Cuckoo sitting on top of a low shrub. It somehow spotted a caterpillar at 90° from it, about five metres away, and immediately swooped on to it. From there it flew briefly into a tree to devour its favourite food before making another sortie on to some rocks and boulders to catch another caterpillar. For a normally shy bird, this was a wonderful sighting.

The H1-8 tar road goes through open savanna grassland with stunted Mopane and is good for raptors, with Steppe Buzzard and Brown Snake Eagle prominent on this occasion. A Striped Cuckoo also posed beautifully.

Heading back towards Punda Maria on the H13-1 takes one through mature Mopane forest and Purple Roller and a very confusing juvenile Blackchested Snake Eagle on top of a dead tree were seen. A small flock of Redbilled Helmetshrike flew into a Tree Mopane making their typical growling calls.

There are also patches of mixed woodland along the H13-1 and seemingly in the middle of this forest stood a gorgeous Saddlebilled Stork on an exposed branch. There must have been a spruit nearby, and the threatened member of the Avian Big Six looked mildly embarrassed by how beautiful it was with its combination of black, white, red and yellow.

Saddlebilled Stork up a tree!

Saddlebilled Stork up a tree!

Groundscraper Thrush was another bird which I did not expect to see high up on top of a dead tree, but perhaps the lack of short grass below forced it up into the heavens.

A Bennett’s Woodpecker and an African Hoopoe were together at a dead log, the Woodpecker on top and the Hoopoe at ground level.

A friendly female Bushbuck

A friendly female Bushbuck

Two lovely female bushbuck welcomed me back to camp after an idyllic day and Chinspot Batis, House Martin, Bateleur, Grey Hornbill, Blackbacked Puffback and Greybacked Camaroptera (on the Flycatcher trail behind the reception) are easily seen at Punda Maria, one of the best bird-watching camps in Kruger, an island of sandveld within the sea of Mopane. The camp also has a waterhole just outside the fence which has a marvellous hide overlooking it and Hamerkop, Marabou Stork, Bronze Mannikin and Common Waxbill (both feeding on the seeds of the rank vegetation around the water) were there, along with plenty of Buffalo, a few Elephant and some antelope.

The beautiful Gumbandebvu Hills and their magnificent sandveld woodlands surround Punda Maria and provide great birding. Driving around close to camp provided a flock of 15 Brownheaded Parrot and then numerous others of this threatened gem, indicating that many of the wonderful trees in the area were probably fruiting.

One of the big herds of Buffalo around Punda Maria was enjoying a marvellous mudbath – one individual was having such an awesome spa-day that it had all four feet in the air and was bellowing like a Lion!

The Buffalo having a wonderful spa-day in the mud!

The Buffalo having a wonderful spa-day in the mud!

Redbilled and Yellowbilled Oxpeckers were together with this herd, with the scarcer Yellowbilled tending to be on the young Buffalo and the Redbilled on the adults.

Redbilled Hornbill, Greater Kudu, Plumcoloured Starling, Nyala, Carmine Bee-Eater (using the telephone line in front of the staff quarters), and Blackheaded Oriole are also inhabitants of this beautiful area, which is most effectively explored by taking the circular Mahonie Loop (S99), one of my absolute favourite drives in Kruger.

All sorts of exotic calls ring out from the broadleafed woodland and a Whitebrowed Scrub Robin was on top of a tree, calling away, while a Jacobin Cuckoo was a bit more shy at the Witsand waterhole. Black Widowfinch, Green Pigeon, Browncrowned Tchagra, Paradise Flycatcher and Marabou Stork were also spotted.

The Dzundzwini Loop south-east of Punda Maria (S58) provides a break from the tall stands of Mopane with more marvellous mixed woodland.

A beautiful Woodland Kingfisher was sitting on a low shrub, unusually for a bird that is normally perched on trees, while another tropical intra-African migrant, the equally spectacular Broadbilled Roller, was up in the high branches as one would expect. Continuing the theme of weird birding pairs, a Crested Francolin was sitting in a bush with a whole bunch of Grey Louries!

Waterbuck and Tawny Eagle were present at the Dzundzwini Spring, marked by a big Sausage Tree at the base of the hill.

The H1-7 tar road that takes one from Punda Maria to Shingwedzi goes through a mixture of palm savanna and open Mopane shrubveld and a Blackcrowned Tchagra was singing beautifully, as only they can, while just a single Monotonous Lark was also calling away, perhaps trying to hail his mates.

The call of the Tawnyflanked Prinia was also heard all around the wetlands of the Shisha River System but a sighting was proving elusive until I finally spotted one in a Mopane tree.

Thulamila Koppie is a short drive from Punda Maria camp and again offers a mixture of woodland trees. The road to the top of the koppie – at 604m – is quite steep but it had been freshly graded on this day and Jameson’s Firefinch was amongst other finches and waxbills enjoying what had been thrown up by the maintenance team.

Sightings list



House Martin


Grey Hornbill


Rattling Cisticola

European Swallow

Brownheaded Parrot

Grey Lourie

Natal Francolin

Slender Mongoose

Forktailed Drongo

Yellowbilled Oxpecker

Redbilled Oxpecker

Greater Blue-Eared Starling

Redbilled Hornbill


Cape Turtle Dove


Greater Kudu

Plumcoloured Starling


Blackheaded Oriole

Plains Zebra

Common Rough-Scaled Plated Lizard

European Roller

Swainson’s Francolin

European Bee-Eater

Amur Falcon

Longtailed Shrike

Pintailed Whydah

Whiteheaded Vulture

Southern Masked Weaver

European Cuckoo

Redbilled Teal

Blacksmith Plover


African Fish Eagle

Knob-billed Duck

Grey Heron

Marsh Terrapin

Chacma Baboon

Wahlberg’s Eagle

Common Moorhen

African Jacana

Egyptian Goose

Redbacked Shrike

Laughing Dove


Blue Wildebeest

Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting

Steppe Buzzard

Brown Snake Eagle

Purple Roller

Blackchested Snake Eagle

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Saddlebilled Stork


Chinspot Batis

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Spotted Flycatcher

Striped Skink

Blackeyed Bulbul

Carmine Bee-Eater

Lilacbreasted Roller

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill


White Helmetshrike

Groundscraper Thrush

Arrowmarked Babbler

African Hoopoe

Bennett’s Woodpecker

Redbilled Buffalo Weaver

Tree Squirrel

Woodland Kingfisher

Broadbilled Roller

Crested Francolin

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

Whitebacked Vulture

Moreau’s Tropical House Gecko

Blackbacked Puffback

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Yellowfronted Canary

Jacobin Cuckoo

Black Widowfinch

Green Pigeon

Browncrowned Tchagra

Paradise Flycatcher

Whitebellied Sunbird

Blue Waxbill

Marabou Stork

Bronze Mannikin

Common Waxbill

Vervet Monkey


Tawny Eagle

Blackcrowned Tchagra

Tawnyflanked Prinia

Monotonous Lark

Crested Barbet

Striped Cuckoo

Longbilled Crombec

Water Dikkop

Little Bee-Eater

Yellowbilled Stork

Yellowbilled Kite

White Stork

Lesser Striped Swallow

Lappetfaced Vulture

Redeyed Dove

Longtailed Starling

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

Redbilled Quelea

Whitecrowned Plover

African Pied Wagtail

Common Sandpiper

African Hawk Eagle

Greenbacked Heron

Speckled Mousebird

Diederick Cuckoo

Whitewinged Widow

Nile Crocodile


Hadeda Ibis

Threebanded Plover

Steelblue Widowfinch

Ground Hornbill

Pied Kingfisher


Dwarf Bittern

Giant Kingfisher

Great White Egret

Melba Finch

Leopard Tortoise


Helmeted Guineafowl

Jameson’s Firefinch

Van Son’s Thicktoed Gecko

Burchell’s Coucal

Greybacked Camaroptera

Whitefaced Duck

Rock Martin

Little Swift

Wiretailed Swallow

Tropical Boubou


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