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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Let’s get real about the Currie Cup 0

Posted on November 02, 2017 by Ken

 

The Currie Cup final was a real spectacle, but it is a competition that SA Rugby really needs to sort out and it doesn’t any longer have any real bearing on Springbok selection for the end-of-year tour.

The Currie Cup staggered to the playoff rounds, when there was far more interest, but the competition cannot overlap with SuperRugby, teams can’t be playing three games in a week and we can’t have the situation we had this year with the Free State Cheetahs starting with a team on fire, winning five of their first six games, but then having to go and play in the Pro14.

SA Rugby needs to get the crowds back to the Currie Cup, it is the most traditional South African tournament and every player and coach, when they set out on their career, they want to win it. The basis of South African rugby is unions, not franchises, that’s how they run it, so the Currie Cup should be SA Rugby’s main competition.

One must commend the two smaller unions, the Pumas and Griquas, for showing how much they belong in the tournament. The Pumas hammered the Blue Bulls by 50 and Griquas beat eventual champions Western Province, and both teams gave some of the other sides real frights.

The Springboks have shown good continuity in their selection – Lukhanyo Am has been recalled after being in the squad in June, Louis Schreuder was there already and Warrick Gelant has been part of the training camps. You don’t want to keep starting again with new players and you don’t want the situation where guys have to fly in and out because of the game against Wales on December 2 falling outside the international window.

Allister Coetzee has been pretty consistent in selection this year and the players have responded because it shows the coach has belief in them, after a good run in which the only team to beat them has been the All Blacks.

Ireland, they’re first up, will be the toughest game for the Springboks on their tour, because of where they are after a stellar year, but I expect South Africa to beat France, Italy and Wales. If the Springboks can win all four tour games, it would be a very good year indeed.

Against Ireland, the Springboks will need a solid lineout and a bit of size around the field, which is why I think Pieter-Steph du Toit will be chosen as a back-row forward from now on. They will need to dominate the set-pieces and have a good kicking game on those fields. The back three will need to absorb pressure and put it back on Ireland because Conor Murray kicks 70% of the time for Munster and kicking from scrumhalf, there’s always a good chase.

The Springbok team is always chosen before the Currie Cup final so that you don’t make emotional decisions, so there are no late inclusions and no outsiders suddenly selected. International rugby is really high-pressure and you need guys who have played well consistently.

Curwin Bosch showed some great moments of class in the final, especially with his kicking game – that drop goal was particularly brilliant. But he’s been in the system since he was 16, part of South African rugby’s elite programs, flagged as a major talent. But it’s obvious he has a weakness in defence, in fact it’s his only real weakness.

This will obviously have to be worked on during the end-of-year tour, but why hasn’t it been worked on already? There are no small centres in international rugby anymore and if he’s going to play in the flyhalf channel then he has no choice – he has to fix his defence or move to fullback.

Robert du Preez certainly put his hand up in the final and I am sure he will get his chance with the Springboks. He now needs a good SuperRugby season.

In the game itself, the other big defensive lapse came when Nizaam Carr picked up against the wheel of the scrum and there was very poor defence by the Sharks flank, it was their dominant scrum but he still allowed the Western Province eighthman to get around him and set up the try.

The final showed the value of a great set-piece and forward-dominance. Western Province were completely in charge from the time their front row was dominant.

The Sharks were maybe a little over-confident after their scrum demolished the Blue Bulls in the semi-finals, but hats off to Wilco Louw and JC Janse van Rensburg.

Wilco has received plenty of deserved plaudits, but hats off to JC as well, who is a real stalwart, especially at the scrummage. Many a tighthead has come off second-best against him and he is unfortunate not to have a Springbok cap, although he did go on tour with us to Great Britain in 2012.

It was a clear turning point in the game when Western Province scored a try just before halftime, with Damian Willemse having the vision to evade Kobus van Wyk’s spot-tackle. There are always risks to rushing out like the Sharks wing did, and Western Province kept the ball for a number of phases after the break by their fullback and the try left them only five behind going into the second half, when Western Province just completely pegged down the Sharks through the dominance of their pack and set-piece.

The Sharks were probably the better team in broken-field play, they have quite exciting backs, and they got a lot of mileage from the kickoffs. That’s a basic thing, but it seems most locks in the Currie Cup were not able to catch the ball! So that’s a work-on for South African teams ahead of SuperRugby.

For the Sharks, they can still approach 2018 with some confidence. They chose not to pick the experienced Chiliboy Ralepelle in their squad for the final, and they’ll have him and Beast Mtawarira back in the front row. They’ll also have some nice physicality in the backs with Robert du Preez arriving at flyhalf and Andre Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw and Louis Schreuder around 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.

There’s 1 positive from T20GL collapse, but will we get the answers? 0

Posted on October 31, 2017 by Ken

 

The only positive to come out of the T20 Global League fiasco right now is that all the best players in South Africa will be available for the domestic T20 competition that will fill the gap created by the collapse of the ambitious but overhyped get-rich-quick scheme.

The CSA T20 Challenge was going to be played from mid-March, in the middle of the Test series against Australia, and would have ended in mid-April, by which time everyone would probably have been exhausted by cricket anyway after what was going to be the most hectic summer in South African history. The tour by India was going to be sandwiched in between the T20 Global League and the arrival of the Aussies.

But now the domestic T20 will actually have a decent window and the participation of the Proteas, so that is at least some good that has come out of the crater-sized hole that has been left in our cricket, both in terms of the calendar and financial resources.

Given the magnitude of the crisis – it has the potential to dwarf the Gerald Majola bonus scandal – it is only right and proper that Cricket South Africa shares with all their stakeholders – the public, the players and sponsors – just how they managed to get this so wrong.

The South African Cricketers’ Association’s call for an independent review to be set up is exactly right, but after the machinations of the board during the bonus scandal (there were a couple of reviews that were disgracefully lacking in integrity), I have some doubts over CSA’s ability to put all their cards on the table so their stakeholders can get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong.

It is obvious that the CSA board once again, as in Majola’s case, allowed their CEO far too much latitude to just operate on his own, doing what he liked without proper oversight. Another CEO told me that Haroon Lorgat’s sidelining of the chief financial officer from the biggest financial project the organisation has ever undertaken should have set off obvious alarm bells for the board.

The lack of timely action taken by the board (at least they did something before the bleeding became terminal) raises questions over the culpability of their own members in this disaster and that is something that should be within the scope of an independent review.

A more pressing issue is compensation for the players. While CSA are now so financially squeezed that they are like a lemon at a seafood festival, they are going to have to make payouts to the 144 players who were set to play in the T20 Global League.

Many of those had signed on for juicy contracts and have made financial commitments that are now in tatters; many gave up on other opportunities, some of them even at international level. Think of the players who qualified to be rookies this year, but by next year will be 24 and too old.

“The total player loss is very significant and there are many sad stories out there,” SACA head Tony Irish said.

And let’s not forget the bad PR that will follow from many of the top international players who will be spreading news around the world of how disgruntled and let down they feel.

Lorgat used to boast about how CSA were the top sports federation in the country, but after his ignominious fall, they are in the same position they were in when they appointed the former International Cricket Council CEO – desperately trying to win back the confidence of the players and public.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20171014/282445644283171

Pretorius focusing on the long game & Sunfoil Series 0

Posted on October 20, 2017 by Ken

 

Highveld Lions all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius faces stiff competition from all the other all-rounders currently in the Proteas picture, but the 28-year-old says he is going to channel his focus into the Sunfoil Series and try to separate himself from the rest on the basis of his batting.

Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander and Pretorius have all played for the Proteas across the three different formats in the last year, but Pretorius is the only one who has a first-class batting average of more than 40 (42.46).

Last season was his most productive with the bat as he averaged 52.40 in the Sunfoil Series and he is eager to continue that form when the four-day competition starts next week, with the Lions opening their campaign on Tuesday by hosting the Warriors at the Wanderers.

“I would love to play more cricket for the Proteas, especially Test cricket, but I’m just going to concentrate on the Sunfoil Series and hope I perform there. I don’t know Ottis Gibson at all or what sort of players he likes, only time will tell. So I’ll just go back to my processes, if I get those right then I can perform and from there I hope I get selected.

“I was quite pleased with last year’s four-day competition, I batted up the order at six or seven and I was under pressure, basically coming in at 60 for four about a dozen times! But I really liked the opportunity to bat longer, for 80 overs, because normally I come in needing to take the game forward.

“I think I’m more of a 50/50 all-rounder, maybe even more of a batting all-rounder, than a bowling all-rounder, so I want to put myself in a different bracket and replicate what I did in last season’s Sunfoil Series, but keep the same bowling standard. It’s unbelievable to have four other quality all-rounders around and I am close to all of them as mates. But I’m not competing against them, I’m competing against myself because we’re all different cricketers,” Pretorius said.

The Randfontein-born Pretorius, whose consistent accuracy and skilful use of the ball are his greatest bowling attributes, believes the Lions have the resources to lift themselves from a fifth-place finish last season back into contenders for the Sunfoil Series title.

“Things are looking up and guys like Rassie van der Dussen, Reeza Hendricks and Stephen Cook should know that they are close to the national side, so they don’t need any extra motivation. Beuran Hendricks, Omphile Ramela and Craig Alexander have come over to us and will add a lot of value.

“This year there’s competition for batting spots and the older guys know they have to perform or the younger batsmen will come for them. We’ve lost Temba Bavuma, but it doesn’t feel as much of a shock as it would have three years ago and Omphile will add a lot of stability,” Pretorius said.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170916/282333975077119

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.



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