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Ken Borland



In praise of the Lions: The John McFarland Column 0

Posted on May 17, 2017 by Ken

 

What a fantastic achievement by the Lions to win all three of their SuperRugby games overseas, for any rugby team to do that is an unbelievable effort and they continue to do really well in terms of the competition standings.

I think this is the first time a South African team have been unbeaten on their overseas tour and the bonus points they gained, to score the tries they did and to defend so securely was superb, and credit must go to the coaching staff as a whole.

Not that long ago, it was virtually impossible for a South African team to win against the Brumbies in Canberra and that could be the result that gives the Lions a great shout of hosting a home final. They can now top the log and go all the way, playing New Zealand sides at 3pm on the Highveld in the knockouts.

It was certainly a memorable moment when they managed to steal the ball for a turnover and what pace Kwagga Smith showed to finish!

For those criticising the way the Lions have been playing, you never play your best away from home, you just have to make sure you win. And you can’t be at your best every week in SuperRugby, it’s impossible, and it’s important to win when you’re playing badly.

This weekend the Lions will look forward to hosting a Bulls team low on confidence and belief at Ellis Park.

The Bulls were certainly better last weekend against the Highlanders. Although the conditions were a great leveller, they showed fight and character and it was a good turnaround which showed what they can achieve when they put their minds to it. There was also a huge improvement in their defence.

The Bulls have so many good players and they will see a chance to play against the Lions as a great opportunity; there is always a bit more passion and intensity in the local derbies. It is a very young Bulls side though, and they will need to match the Lions in the set-pieces. Obviously the scrums are crucial because the Lions will certainly attack them there, and the Bulls will also need to stop the lineout drive. Then they need to deal with the Lions’ game-breaking backs, although the Bulls also have a dangerous backline.

I fully expect the Stormers to beat the Blues back in Cape Town after their rest. The start will be key for the Stormers because they don’t have so much confidence now, but if they can get back to how they were playing before going overseas, then there’s no reason why they can’t beat the Blues. Their biggest challenge is going to be that they have to defend a lot better.

You’ve also got to take your hats off to the Southern Kings, who have no budget but are certainly playing with high confidence at the moment, and it was a really good performance to beat the Sharks with four tries to two. It was encouraging to see they’ve got the reward of four guys being named in the last Springbok training squad.

But the only South African team that has really performed to their potential has been the Lions, so you would think they will form the bulk of the final Springbok squad to be announced next week. The Sharks have recently lost to the Kings and drawn with the Rebels, the Stormers have lost four successive matches and the Bulls and Cheetahs are also on big losing streaks, so there is not a lot of confidence amongst the other players in South Africa.

But we’ve been like this before – in 2015 we struggled in SuperRugby but ended up losing by just two points to the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final. The players get excited about being in a different environment and representing their country.

The Stormers locks are world-class and proven Test players need to play, plus there are special considerations around making the squad representative, so there are a lot of variables, one can’t just choose all the Lions players.

The positive, though, is that two of the Tests against France will be played on the Highveld, so it’s an opportunity to pick more Gauteng players who are used to the conditions and the quick tempo of play.

France will bring a gigantic pack and big midfield backs, they certainly like to play ball-in-hand and they have an offload game centred around Louis Picamoles. So Allister Coetzee needs to pick the right combinations to stop that, which is always the challenge in selection – it’s like putting together a fine potjie, making sure the blend is right is most important and you’re always going to use some tried and tested frontline Test players.

It will be interesting to see who Coetzee picks from overseas, some of them have had a very long, hard, arduous season in the French playoffs or the English Premiership. You need continuity and if guys are based overseas it makes it difficult because you have so little time together as a team anyway. For me, I would only use guys who qualify to play after the 30-caps criterion comes into force after July 1.

As far as Jan Serfontein goes, if there’s an emergency then obviously Allister will use him, and the Springboks definitely need size and experience in midfield.

With all the injuries, it looks like Elton Jantjies will get an extended run at flyhalf, and it will be a make-or-break series for him.

 

 

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.

John McFarland Column – Stormers’ turn to show they can bounce back 0

Posted on April 25, 2017 by Ken

 

SuperRugby is such a tough competition that every team at some stage will experience a crisis and it’s now the Stormers’ turn to face a test of character as to how they bounce back from their heavy defeat at the hands of the Crusaders in Christchurch.

The Stormers were fortunate to get out of jail a bit in their previous games with things like intercept tries from their own goal-line, but their luck ran out in Christchurch. Things they got away with in the first few weeks were punished by the Crusaders, who have a much more accurate passing game than most teams, and that exposed the Stormers. They struggled to deal with the width of the Crusaders’ game, they were up against a two-four-two set-up and the likes of Codie Taylor and Kieran Read in the tramlines proved too much for them.

The Stormers’ wings were continually being pressured by the poor defensive spacing on the inside; the main Stormers problem was their spacing around the ruck, there were too many players close to the breakdown inside their own 22. They need to get more players out wide, they were much too compressed in defence at the ruck. They were caught cold by the width of the Crusaders attack.

But for a lot of the Stormers players it was their first time in New Zealand and it takes some time to adjust. Plus the Crusaders are obviously on fire at the moment under new coach Scott Robertson and they were just too good for the Stormers.

I spent time with the Stormers in pre-season and coach Robbie Fleck is determined to play a hugely exciting brand of rugby, which has been successful, but now they’ve just hit a blip.

But the Stormers played quite well in the second half, with two of the Crusaders’ tries coming from intercepts, and they will draw some positivity from that. They obviously need to regroup against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday and having the roof closed will suit their game.

It was encouraging the way they came back against the Crusaders and now they are in Queenstown in a very pleasant part of the world where they can walk to training, so hopefully they will be in a better frame of mind come Friday.

It was a weekend of contrasting emotions with the excitement coming from the Southern Kings. For them to come through the way they did, for their forwards to play so well as they came back from 17-0 down after half-an-hour, and to win so convincingly really takes some doing. Plus any away win is super, so it really was a sensational result in Sydney, to win there without any Springboks (Waylon Murray being injured) was truly remarkable.

The Kings forwards certainly outmauled the Waratahs and the visitors took their chances, a charge-down try getting them back into the game. It was certainly a comprehensive win with the Waratahs scoring on the final hooter and one of their tries was also from an intercept.

The win shows that South Africa still has forwards that are well-drilled and marshalled and you have to credit coach Deon Davids. Sometimes on the third game on tour the players are thinking of going home, especially since you have to leave Sydney very early the next morning so you’re packing and getting ready for the game all at the same time!

You could tell how much it meant to the Kings players at the end of the game and it was the sort of win to resurrect some careers. Someone like Lionel Cronje has played at practically every union and although there is respect for his play, he hasn’t really fulfilled the promise of his SA U20 days. But time out of the game forced him to re-evaluate his priorities and he has come back a renewed guy.

The Lions against the Jaguares was a good game with Harold Vorster once again shining, the try he scored, running the same line as he did against the Stormers, got the home side back in the game.

The variety of plays the Lions have from five metres away from the tryline is impressive and it shows they want seven-pointers instead of three – they have front-peels, back-peels, shift-drives and normal drives.

It was also pleasing to see Elton Jantjies kicking a pressure goal. He’s certainly in the running to be the Springboks’ starting flyhalf, especially with both Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie injured at the moment, and it’s good to see him so composed.

Lionel Mapoe is also hitting some form and his dummy-and-go and finish for his try was first-class and he also put away Andries Coetzee for the final try.

So it will please Allister Coetzee to see those two coming back into form.

Two of the Tests against France will be on the Highveld so they will be quick games, with the Springboks also surely trying to up the pace because the matches are at the end of the French season and there will obviously be some tiredness. For that Allister should choose quick, Lions-type players – those Tests should really suit guys like Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel.

At the end of the day, the Lions are our flagship franchise and that should be reflected in selection.

The SuperRugby quarterfinals will probably be contested by four New Zealand teams, three from South Africa and one from Australia, so the likelihood is that the Lions will play a New Zealand side in the quarterfinal. So it’s important that they keep winning and now that they are overseas, they need to get on a roll. So it was good for them to come through the Jaguares game with a win.

The Hurricanes have still got to tour and the Crusaders are now in South Africa, so let’s hope the Cheetahs and Bulls can do something against them.

 

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.

The John McFarland Column: SA’s SuperRugby downgrade hard to understand 0

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Ken

 

Sanzaar obviously had to make changes to SuperRugby because the crowds were not reflecting the status of the competition, but I struggle to understand why South Africa have to give up two teams.

Our previous wins at the Sanzaar negotiating table have been because we could always use the threat of going to Europe and our TV figures to get our own way.

So why do New Zealand keep five franchises and South Africa have just four, but we’re a much bigger nation! I know the argument based on the performance of the teams, but in 2013 we had four teams in the top eight and in 2012 three sides in the top six. So we have had the strength, and the Bulls were a dominant force in SuperRugby from 2005-2010, which is not so long ago!

So I struggle to comprehend how a team like the Cheetahs, who are such a strong rugby region, can be facing the axe. Everyone understands that the Kings will have to go due to their financial woes and because they are propped up by Saru, but it will be very disappointing to lose the Cheetahs after they have been in SuperRugby for so long. And the Free State and Griqualand West region has provided a heck of a lot of players who have gone on to greater things.

What really concerns me is that the Springboks will miss out on an extra 30 players to choose from, while New Zealand will have a pool of 150 SuperRugby players, a 20% bigger selection pool.

And it’s easy to say we will retain more players because we will now have more money, but as Faf de Klerk’s offer from Sale shows, guys can still earn more than triple what they’ll get in South Africa by going overseas. I believe we’ll actually retain fewer players because there will be less opportunity with only four franchises. Our coaching ranks will also be diminished with less opportunity for them too.

The funny thing is, a year ago Sanzaar said everything was fine and a big fuss was made about how the new format would mean much less travel for South African sides – a maximum of two flights overseas.

The tournament did need expansion and Argentina have now been able to keep their best players, they haven’t gone to Europe, because there’s a clear pathway for them to develop and express themselves at the highest level. We’ve seen that with the Sunwolves too.

People say it’s not our job to develop rugby in South America and Asia, but that’s shortsighted. Rugby has to be a global game, if it just stayed within the Commonwealth and Argentina, it would die.

Exposing a team from Japan to higher levels of rugby has certainly brought an improvement to their play. There were 22 000 people at the Bulls game in Tokyo and the excitement was incredible, especially considering that the last game in Tokyo saw the Sunwolves lose 83-17 to the Hurricanes!

But there was a great atmosphere and huge interest in the Bulls game, but more on that shock result later on.

In my view, the SuperRugby format should be a 16-team competition – so five New Zealand and South African franchises, four from Australia and the Sunwolves and Jaguares – with everyone playing everyone else once. You would have two three-week tours as part of that.

Six teams would then progress to the playoffs, with the top two sides initially having a bye straight into their home semis against the winners of the quarterfinals, which would be third versus sixth and fourth against fifth.

This weekend I am really looking forward to the match between the Lions and the Stormers, which should be a high-tempo, all out attacking game, but the side that defends best will win it. For the main Easter weekend game to be between the two conference leaders is going to provide a great spectacle.

The quality and skill level of the Stormers last weekend against the Chiefs shows that they have reached a new dimension and you have to credit Robbie Fleck and his staff, and the players, for their willingness to play like that. It’s really high-risk, high-reward rugby and, believe me, it has to be coached!

What was especially pleasing was the way they really matched a New Zealand team at the back end of the game, when it’s normally been a huge struggle for South African teams.

The Sharks also had a good win, even though they are not scoring a lot of tries. They are playing off the other side’s mistakes, like their spectacular intercept try against the Jaguares.

They hung on in there against the Argentinians and it was an important win for their conference, although they will be a bit disappointed they gave the Jaguares a point. But it’s good that they were able to grind it out, hopefully they can get on a roll and get their confidence going.

The humidity in Durban made the ball very slippery and there were similar conditions for the Bulls in Tokyo, a match I was fortunate enough to attend. It was very wet and the Sunwolves managed the conditions better. The Bulls are not far off but they were simply not good enough last weekend.

They took time to get into their stride, they struggled to get control of the game. But then they had control when they were nine points ahead, they were in the pound seats, but the yellow card obviously had a huge influence.

After that the Sunwolves took a scrum with 10 minutes to go and scored the matchwinning try. The lesson for the Bulls is that when a backline player like Jan Serfontein gets a yellow card, then you must replace him. It’s better to have a full backline because you need that speed on defence. It was standard procedure when I was with the Springboks that if a backline player got a yellow card late in the game then we would take a forward off and replace him. Otherwise you’re defending with six versus seven, which is why the Sunwolves were able to break out so easily.

The Sunwolves were also able to keep the ball in play and did a good job of nullifying the Bulls’ lineout maul threat by standing off. That meant the Bulls had to mostly play from static ball. The home side were also very good with their kicks and chips, while the Bulls could have done much better with their chips, especially the one from their own 22 that led to a try.

The Bulls will be really hurting, but they now have a lot of games at home. No other team in the competition has had such a tough start away from home, and the Bulls will now hope they can get some form and a winning run at Loftus Versfeld.

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.

Markram hits record score as Titans hammer Lions 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken

 

Aiden Markram hit the highest individual score in competition history as the Titans hammered the Highveld Lions by 169 runs in their Momentum One-Day Cup derby at the Wanderers on Friday night.

Markram belted 183 off 138 balls to steer the Titans to 415 for three after they had elected to bat first, beating the previous record for the highest total ever – the 400 for five they had made against the Cape Cobras at Newlands last month.

The previous highest individual score was the 181 Reeza Hendricks had scored when he was playing for the Knights against the Dolphins in Bloemfontein in 2014/15; it was a bad night in general for the Lions opener as he was dismissed first ball as the home team’s run-chase never really took off.

Markram and in-form fellow opener Henry Davids put on 222 off 203 balls for the first wicket, but they took their time at first against some threatening new-ball swing bowling from Beuran Hendricks, whose first five overs cost just eight runs.

But patience is rewarded even in limited-overs cricket and, after scoring just 41 in the 10 powerplay overs, Markram set the early pace, going to 50 for the first time in the Momentum One-Day Cup off 56 deliveries.

But Davids is a vastly experienced batsman and he weathered some early storms and struggles and was soon breezing past his partner with some impressive strokeplay.

He reached his century in the 30th over of the innings, with the Titans on 190 without loss, off 94 balls, needing just 32 deliveries for his second fifty. It was important during this stage that Markram, who is way more mature than his 22 years, shifted gear downwards and allowed Davids to prosper during his hot streak.

Markram performed his changing roles to perfection and would bat through to the penultimate over of the innings, but Beuran Hendricks claimed the important wicket of Davids for 128, off 108 balls, as he had him well-taken by cover-sweeper Rassie van der Dussen.

Heino Kuhn came in and ensured that the run-rate never dipped with an energetic 34 off 23 balls, but it was a low full toss from Wiaan Mulder that undid him in the 42nd over.

Markram ploughed on, reaching his maiden franchise 50-over century off 99 deliveries and ensured that he batted practically through the innings, while also showing that he has the ability to collect boundaries, scoring 18 fours and five sixes in all.

His magnificent, record-breaking innings eventually came to an end when he picked out long-off when trying to hit Dwaine Pretorius, who he punished as 80 runs came off the international all-rounder’s 10 overs, over the top.

But you cannot ask for a much better finisher of an innings than Farhaan Behardien and he ensured the Titans made the highest ever total with his tremendous 62 not out off just 31 balls, including 19 off the last over bowled by Beuran Hendricks, ruining the left-hander’s figures.

You always felt one of the Lions openers, Van der Dussen or Reeza Hendricks, needed to go big for the home side to have a chance, but Titans new-ball bowlers Lungi Ngidi and Eldred Hawken removed them both in their opening overs.

Van der Dussen hit the third ball of the innings from Ngidi square through the off side for four, but then had the misfortune to choose an even wider delivery to try and cut, only managing to edge a catch behind to wicketkeeper Kuhn.

Hawken, a useful swing bowler who deserves more opportunity, then struck with his first ball as Reeza Hendricks edged to first slip, a fine delivery angled in from back-of-a-length and then holding its line.

It ended a bad day for the Proteas hopeful, but wicketkeeper/batsman Mangaliso Mosehle was at least able to partly atone for dropping both Markram, before he had scored, and Davids on 36, by lashing a dazzling 74 off 44 balls.

Mosehle was making few friends when it came to the Titans bowlers, being particularly hard on wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, who he swept for fours and sixes and hit back over his head for a magnificent, soaring six that brought up the Lions’ 100.

But Shamsi had the last laugh when he had Mosehle well-caught by Markram at deep square-leg.

Captain Dominic Hendricks went carefully to 21 when he was stumped by precision work by Kuhn off Shamsi, and Wihan Lubbe (31) and Wiaan Mulder (29) added 53 off 41 balls before being removed by seamers Hawken and David Wiese respectively.

It was clearly Markram’s day as he trapped the dangerous Pretorius lbw for nine, the big-hitting all-rounder swinging around a dipping full delivery.

Nono Pongolo impressed as he played some fine strokes for his 35 off 21 balls, but Shamsi wrapped up the tail as he finished with five for 74, conceding runs against some hit-and-hope slogging from the tail.

The Lions were all out for 246 in just 33.5 overs as the Titans completed their biggest ever victory in terms of runs in the competition.

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-cricket/1461445/markram-hits-record-score-titans-hammer-lions/



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