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Ken Borland



Like Ackermann, Ralepelle is putting those bad days behind him 0

Posted on July 27, 2016 by Ken

 

Sharks hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle’s return to rugby has not been greeted with universal acclaim following his two-year ban for doping, but those who are unwilling to forgive the former Toulouse player should perhaps consider the case of high-riding Lions coach Johan Ackermann.

The former Springbok lock is just about the most popular figure in South African rugby at the moment because of the inspirational job he has done in taking the Lions from the wilderness three years ago and into this weekend’s SuperRugby playoffs, but he too was banned for two years in 1997 for nandrolone use.

Ackermann then made his return to the playing field and even returned to Test rugby in 2001. He made a second comeback in 2006, becoming the oldest player to represent the Springboks at 37 years and 34 days against Australia in July 2007 in Sydney. That record was subsequently broken last year by former Toulon star Victor Matfield, when he captained South Africa to the bronze medal in the World Cup playoff against Argentina aged 38 years and 172 days.

Interestingly, Ackermann and Ralepelle actually appeared in a Test together, back in November 2006 when the Springboks beat England 25-14 at Twickenham. Ackermann started in the number four jersey, while Ralepelle came off the bench to replace captain John Smit.

Those were the days when Ralepelle was a 20-year-old prospect, who was fast-tracked due to political pressure to include more Black African players in the Springbok team, a dozen years after Apartheid had ended. The next week, Ralepelle was named to captain the team against a World XV in Leicester, becoming not only the youngest player to captain the national team but also the first Black. Those of a more cynical disposition were sure coach Jake White, now with Montpellier, was making a statement aimed at the politicians more than anything else.

Ralepelle is not quite 30, so who knows what lies further down the road for him; perhaps he too could make an international comeback. But he is not keen to speak about the past and his indiscretion with drostanolone, an anabolic steroid popular with bodybuilders.

“I’m living a new chapter now, in a new environment. I’m excited and it’s just fantastic to be back playing rugby. I want to seize the opportunity to play the game I love,” Ralepelle told Midi Olympique this week.

Apart from the feeling that he was a political pawn, fast-tracked for reasons of window-dressing, Ralepelle has also had rotten luck with knee injuries.

One game into the 2007 SuperRugby season with the Bulls, he suffered a serious knee injury, which he injured again in the warm-ups for the 2008 campaign. He suffered further knee injuries in 2012 and in 2014 after just 16 matches for Toulouse.

Both the Bulls, based in Pretoria on the South African Highveld, and Toulouse are inland teams and, having served his ban, Ralepelle is now happy down on the coast in Durban, on the Indian Ocean.

“Durban is a lovely city, it has the best weather you could ask for, I can go to the beach any time I like!

“I had wonderful days in Pretoria, it’s where I grew up and first made my mark, and I also had a great time in France. I made great friends there, it’s a good environment and Toulouse is a great team, the home of rugby in France. It was a great opportunity and a great place to play, and I miss the culture and values of that team,” Ralepelle said.

But the Sharks have given Ralepelle a lifeline when perhaps nobody else would, thanks to Smit, who was the CEO when the hooker was signed last November, and director of rugby Gary Gold. It is not the first time the 2007 World Cup winning captain has aided Ralepelle.

Smit contributed some of the school fees to enable Ralepelle to study at Pretoria Boys’ High, which he himself attended.

Ralepelle is determined to be the author of his own success now and has clearly been working hard off the field, given the lean and mean physique he has been sporting during SuperRugby this season.

“It’s been great to get a few games under the belt and I can still improve, which is exciting. Every day I’m striving just to be more on top of my game. It’s a matter of time and it gets easier playing week in, week out. I’m not yet where I should be, but in the mean time I just want to give more and more of a contribution to the team.

“It’s important that I don’t put my body under pressure, so I worked hard before the season just to keep up with the pace of SuperRugby. I worked hard on my conditioning and I am a little lighter, which helps me to move around the park more. I can have an impact that way, it’s not just about strength because if you’re blowing after five or 10 minutes you’re not going to have much strength anyway,” Ralepelle said.

While French rugby still involves plenty of driving play and is extremely physical, SuperRugby is changing, according to Ralepelle, who returned to the Southern Hemisphere competition in April after three years away.

“There’s been a big change, mostly because of the laws. With the speed of the game, players really need to be fitter and stronger. It’s an amazing competition,” Ralepelle said.

How fortunes change in rugby is also amazing and, if Ralepelle, who remains both mobile and good in the loose as well as proficient in the set-pieces, needs any encouragement, he only needs to look at how Johan Ackermann has not only restored his reputation but has grown it exponentially.

SACA MVP top-ranking will keep Van der Merwe warm through winter 0

Posted on May 18, 2015 by Ken

The winter break is often a good time to consider the talent that is coming through at franchise level, who the players to follow are as they bid for national recognition, and the South African Cricketers’ Association’s MVP Rankings are perhaps the most accurate measure of just who the most valuable stars are just one step below the Proteas.

The franchises play in three very different formats these days, of course, so comparing players can sometimes be a confusing, almost impossible task.

But this is where the Saca MVP rankings are so good: They take into account the four-day Sunfoil Series, the 50-over Momentum One-Day Cup and the RamSlam T20 Challenge. And the points are awarded based on a complex calculation that takes into account far more than just the number of runs scored or wickets taken.

The Saca MVP rankings are weighted so that those performances that really matter in terms of influencing the result of a game earn more points.

“What sets our rankings aside from other rankings or stats is that the MVP rankings take both the stats and the match context into account. For instance, a batsman scoring 100 not out in a total of 634 for three declared is going to earn way fewer points than one who scores 100 out of 150.

“Similarly, a bowler who gets the top-order out will earn more points than someone who gets nine, 10 and jack out.

“There are also different weightings depending on the format. For instance, economy rate and strike rate are more important in T20 cricket. Plus there are more points on offer if your team wins and for the captain of winning teams.

“It’s all about who performs in clutch situations, who pulls the team through and is also a consistent performer,” JP van Wyk, Saca’s player services manager, told the Daily Maverick.

And the 2012/13 rankings tell us that Titans all-rounder Roelof van der Merwe, famed for his tenacity in just those sort of pressure situations, was the most valuable player of last season.

The mere statistics inform us that Van der Merwe scored 515 runs in the Sunfoil Series, the most for the beleaguered Titans, with five half-centuries and he took 12 wickets. The left-arm spinner has always been a top-class performer in the limited-overs formats and 58% percent of his 473.47 points came from the 50 and 20-over competitions.

Van der Merwe was the leading spinner in the One-Day Cup, taking 22 wickets at an average of 19.95 and economy rate of just 4.69, taking five wickets in an innings twice. In the T20 Challenge, he took nine wickets at a good economy rate of 7.09 and his 208 runs were the second-most for the Titans, at a handy average of 23.11 and a strike rate of 107.

The 28-year-old is hardly a promising youngster though, but rather a renowned competitor who revels in the nickname “Bulldog”.

Instead of trying to break into international cricket, Van der Merwe is trying to get back there. The Waterkloof product has played in 13 ODIs and 13 T20 internationals, but has not represented South Africa since June 2010 in the West Indies. He was outstanding in his last game, taking one for 27 in 10 overs and then scoring 10 not out off seven balls to clinch a thrilling one-wicket victory in Port-of-Spain, but was then strangely dropped.

“I don’t think anything went wrong, it was more a case of different combinations being used and different times. Over time we’ll see if those combinations work out… ” Van der Merwe says phlegmatically from Delhi, where he is playing for the Daredevils in the IPL. “You never know in terms of a comeback in international cricket, but I’m not too worried about it. If I perform well, then it has to happen.”

Van der Merwe has been included in South Africa’s preliminary 30-man squad for the Champions Trophy in England in June and it must be a good omen that some of the strongest early challengers for the MVP crown – Kyle Abbott, Rory Kleinveldt, Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock – all found themselves in the national team before the end of the summer.

Leg-spinner Imran Tahir and fellow orthodox left-armers Robin Peterson and Aaron Phangiso are the other spinners in the squad, but it counts in Van der Merwe’s favour that he is cosy bowling both up front with the new ball and at the death.

“At the death you’re on a hiding to nothing, but it’s all about your attitude. I want to do that job and that helps a lot. I don’t see myself as the most talented cricketer, so I’ve got to have aggression, that Bulldog spirit if you like,” Van der Merwe says.

That same determination has also seen Van der Merwe break out of his pigeonhole as a limited-overs specialist. Having scarcely been used by the Titans in four-day cricket, sitting behind the likes of Paul Harris, Imran Tahir and Shaun von Berg in the queue, he could have fobbed off the longer version of the game, especially since his financial future is secure with his involvement in the IPL.

But the Johannesburg-born fighter played every Sunfoil Series game this season for the Titans (wicketkeeper/batsman Heino Kuhn was the only other player to do so).

“My game has developed the last few years and I’m playing four-day cricket again after a lot of hard work. In the past, the Titans had great longer-form bowlers and I didn’t get much opportunity. But I was told I have to work on my batting if I want to take my career further and being able to bat as well definitely helps.

“Bowling in the longer form also helps my limited-overs bowling. In four-day cricket, there’s a lot more skill involved, you need more pace and variations and that’s what I’m also working on in India,” Van der Merwe says.

Van der Merwe held off a strong challenge from Warriors paceman Andrew Birch (450.89pts) for the MVP title, while De Kock, Hardus Viljoen and Abbott also scored more than 400 points.

The country’s leading players struggle to crack the top 100 because they are off on international duty so often.

The MVP award also comes with the sizeable cash prize of R110,000 for Van der Merwe, with Birch and De Kock winning the runners-up cheques of R66 000 and R50 000 respectively.

The top players in each competition were also the recipients of cash incentives, with Abbott, Johann Louw and Birch being the top three in the Sunfoil Series; Van der Merwe, Richard Levi and Birch dominating the One-Day Cup; and De Kock, Albie Morkel and Sohail Tanvir the pacesetters in the T20 Challenge.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-04-25-coming-up-through-the-rankings-roelof-vd-merwe/#.VVsjOPmqqko

French rugby might not have seen the last of Hernandez 0

Posted on September 01, 2014 by Ken

French rugby might not have seen the last of Argentine backline star Juan Martin Hernandez, with the 31-year-old confirming this week that he will consider returning to European rugby in 2015.

Hernandez left Racing Metro last month despite still having 11 months remaining on his contract, to head back to Argentina to concentrate on Test duty and their looming entry into SuperRugby.

But their participation in SuperRugby only starts in 2016, so Hernandez will obviously have to find a stop-gap club for 2015.

The presence of Ireland and British Lions flyhalf Jonathan Sexton and the arrival of Springbok Johan Goosen may also have prompted Hernandez’s decision.

“I’m only without a club for the Rugby Championship and the Tests in November and then we will see what happens. 2015 is a new year,” Hernandez said rather cryptically last week.

Hernandez, like so many other Argentinians, came to France to develop his game and he said his time at Racing Metro had done much for his career.

“You try to reach a very good level as a rugby player and the standard is more high in France than in Argentina. It was a big step coming to France but 90% of the players in Argentina develop their game in Europe.

“Racing Metro were a very good, strong team and when I joined them they had just gone into the first division. So I was around for the construction of the team. It was my decision to go, but I think Racing Metro will have a great season to come and maybe they will be European and Top 14 champions,” Hernandez said.

The gifted utility back has played a measly 44 Tests in 10 years and the injury curse that has so afflicted his career struck again this weekend when he withdrew from the Test against the Springboks in Pretoria with a groin injury. Some Argentinian journalists at Loftus Versfeld called Hernandez’s injury problems more mental than physical.

The smart money at the moment is on El Mago joining his former club, Stade Francais, because Hugo Bonneval, a player they relied on heavily at fullback last season, is on the injured list.

 

 



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