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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.

Improvement needed if today’s pride & joy is to remain 0

Posted on December 06, 2016 by Ken

 

The Standard Bank Proteas need to continue improving if the sense of pride and joy that surrounds the team today is to remain in the long-term, coach Russell Domingo said upon the squad’s victorious return from their Test series triumph in Australia.

The Proteas not only became only the second team in over a hundred years to win three successive Test series in Australia, but they also completed an amazing turnaround in fortunes from last season’s woes, beginning with the series win over New Zealand and then the historic 5-0 whitewash of the Aussies in the limited-overs series. But Domingo, who has come through a tough time personally with many calling for his head, wants the Proteas to keep pushing on.
“The team is in a good space at the moment and we have to treasure and nurture that because things can change very quickly in this game. The belief is slowly coming back into the team, but we are not yet where I feel we could be, although we’re heading in the right direction,” Domingo said.
Chief among the coach’s concerns is the inconsistency of the batting. Although South Africa’s batsmen scored five centuries and five half-centuries during the three-match series, only Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis averaged over 40.
“The batting, in particular, is an area we need to improve. We were 40 for three a lot and even 150 for six in the last game. Players are putting in big performances, but not consistently. A guy would score a hundred and then have a couple of Tests with no runs. Quinton was the one guy to find a rich vein of form, but for the rest there was no follow-up after they scored big runs. We’ve identified that and will work hard at it,” Domingo said.
Australia scored just one century in the series, by the impressive Usman Khawaja in the final Test in Adelaide, which Australia won by seven wickets. But that defeat was more about the Proteas having just run out of legs and intensity, having given their absolute all in winning the first two Tests.
Although the chance of an historic double-whitewash passed the Proteas by, captain Du Plessis said he was more than satisfied with a 2-1 series win.
“We set high standards and obviously we wanted a 3-0 win, but I’m exceptionally happy with a 2-1 win. If you had offered me 2-1 at the start of the series, I would have bitten your whole arm off for that result. If there was one specific incident that was more important than any others in winning us the series, it was the turnaround in Perth.
“The belief that the team took from that session, sparked by resilience, was out of this world and it took the team to a new level of confidence. It’s probably the best session I’ve been part of on a cricket field, the way everyone stood up after losing Dale Steyn, which was incredibly hard, the whole team felt it, but somehow they just made it possible to bounce back.
“After Dale’s injury, everyone thought we were out of the contest and I think we shocked Australia by playing some scarily good cricket,” Du Plessis said.
Despite the magnitude of the triumph, South Africa are still only fifth in the Test rankings, with Australia third, and the Proteas are going to have to keep winning if they are to return to the number one spot, preferably starting with a 3-0 victory over Sri Lanka in December/January.
“Going up the rankings is a goal of ours but it won’t just happen, we need to take really small steps to get back to number one. But all the signs are there that we can get back there; Sri Lanka are a good team, they’re playing well, but if we beat them then I reckon we’ll be close to number two,” Du Plessis said.
When Domingo and Du Plessis were asked to come up with reasons for the remarkable resurgence in the Proteas’ fortunes, the coach came up with “unity” and “resilience”, while the skipper mentioned “energy” and “vision”.
“It’s been a combination of things and getting a few players back that we have missed a lot, like Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, has made a massive difference. But the unity amongst the guys and the realisation of how important it is to play for your country has been very important. A few players have also come back into form, the team as a whole has got their confidence back. This team prides itself on their resilience,” Domingo said.
For Du Plessis, it goes back to the culture camp the squad had in August.
“We made some obvious goals because we weren’t happy with where we were as a team. We had that weekend away and we took a hard look at ourselves with brutal honesty. Ninety percent of our success is due to the rebirth in energy and vision from that camp and the results speak for themselves. We wanted to make sure our team culture was strong, that all of us were on the same boat and making sure we are going in the right direction,” Du Plessis said.
The Proteas captain will now await the date for his appeal hearing for ball-tampering, which is expected to be confirmed this week, but Du Plessis maintained his strong stance that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Whatever the outcome of that hearing, at which Du Plessis will now have proper South African legal representation, it will not detract from the fact that he led South Africa to one of their greatest triumphs – beating Australia in Australia is the stuff childhood dreams are made of.

http://sponsorships.standardbank.com/groupsponsorship/News-and-Media/Proteas:-Improvement-needed-if-today’s-pride-&-joy-is-to-remain

Attack will be at the forefront in new expanded SuperRugby 0

Posted on February 19, 2016 by Ken

 

The Jaguares of Argentina were at the SuperRugby launch at the SuperSport studios in Randburg on Thursday and, despite their loss to the Stormers in a warm-up game, everyone expects them to continue with the attacking, ball-in-hand approach that took them to the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup.

Then again, all of the South African teams have also committed themselves to a more positive, expansive brand of play, with some coaches intimating that local rugby is standing at a crossroads.

The Lions are the team that has been leading the way for South African teams in terms of a new, more high-tempo style of play and they will be the next team to face the Jaguares, albeit in another warm-up game, when they meet at Wits University on Friday night.

And coach Johan Ackermann is expecting a lot from the Argentinians.

“Although the Jaguares lost, Gert Smal of the Stormers told me that they were impressed by them, that they played an exciting brand of rugby. They can all step and offload, they run the ball and really push the pace. It’s basically the Argentina Test side and we couldn’t ask for a better test when it comes to seeing if our players can handle the pressure of SuperRugby,” Ackermann said on Thursday.

That Argentina are now a top-class Test side is beyond dispute, but fielding a team in SuperRugby is a different dynamic for them and flyhalf Martin Landajo says they are treating it all as a learning experience at the moment.

“It was very important for us to have a good World Cup and lots of players from that team are in the Jaguares. But we are just trying to go slowly and try and learn a lot, we must just enjoy it, that’s the most important thing. But the people back home are really happy and we have a lot of support from Argentina rugby fans,” Landajo said.

While the Jaguares will enjoy the lack of expectation that comes with being tournament rookies, the Stormers are always under pressure from their demanding fans, but new coach Robbie Fleck is calling for a “fearless” approach from his team.

“We’ve prepared very well and although we’ve had changes in management and new faces in the team, we still have a quality spine to the side. There are a lot of youngsters, but some of them are 22 or 23 years old and senior players.

“It’s exciting to blood youngsters and develop a new culture, and I feel these are very exciting times for South African rugby as a whole, particularly with all the new coaches on the scene and being in the unique position that we can now really develop players. I want our team to be fearless, even though there is a lot of pressure on them to perform and a lot of pressure off the field,” Fleck said.

The Southern Kings are meeting the Sharks at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on February 27 in their first game back in Super Rugby since 2013 and, despite their tumultuous build-up, captain Steven Sykes says they will be ready come opening day.

“We’ve done enough so that we can compete, it was very tough only starting our pre-season preparation on January 4, but we’ve had six-day weeks and put in a lot of work so we are prepared. I believe we will be fine depth-wise, there are new players coming in every week, and we have a really nice team environment and facilities.

“We’re in the same shoes as the Lions were in a few years ago in that we have a lot of young players who want to show how they can compete. Plus we have a lot more experience than in 2013 and one of our goals is to make a better showing this year. But we have a good mix that I am excited about,” Sykes said.

Up in Pretoria, Nollis Marais is one of the coaches in their first year of SuperRugby and he has already inculcated a more attacking style of play into the Bulls, having brought it into the Currie Cup campaign in which a callow side went down to Western Province in the semi-finals.

Marais is unapologetic that he has placed his faith in youth.

“We’ve lost a lot of top players but it’s time to adapt, it’s time for new blood and that makes it easier down the line because it’s a long competition. We’ve had a lot of senior players leave and it’s time for the youngsters to step up and take their chance, although they still have a couple of guys that have played SuperRugby before who they can learn from.

“But I believe in the Bulls structures, I’ve been part of the system for five years, and it’s important for South African rugby that we develop the players in the pipeline too. The Bulls once had a lot of senior players and the youngsters couldn’t come through, there was no opportunity for them, but we need to keep an eye on them,” Marais said.

In Durban, there is an optimistic mood after two impressive wins over Toulon and Toulose and coach Gary Gold is happy that the pre-season has gone according to plan.

“We had a very clear strategy pre-season in terms of how we wanted to prepare and the two games in France showed us how far we’ve come in certain areas. But we’re being harsh on ourselves and we know that there are other areas we now need to spend time on.

“We’re very satisfied with the things we’ve worked on, we got reward from those, we’ll bank those, but now we need to sharpen the pencil in other areas. We’d be dumb to think we won’t come a cropper if we don’t spend time and energy on those areas,” Gold said.

While the new complex conference system has its detractors, South African Rugby Union CEO Jurie Roux is banning all such negativity from his thoughts.

“It’s a new era, SuperRugby is now almost a global competition, spanning five continents and 16 time zones. And the great positive is that half the South African teams can now qualify for the playoffs. The key things that make it a win-win for South African rugby are that we play less games, and travel used to be a big issue because our teams used to be unfairly treated, but now we have significantly reduced the tour to Australasia.

“People said they wanted a new product, we’ve given it to them and time will tell whether they like it or not. We wanted six franchises, we’ve got it; we wanted less travel and more derbies, we got that; and we’re playing different teams because people didn’t want to play all the same teams all the time,” Roux said.

 

 

Winning Dolphins eager for even more improvement v Titans 0

Posted on December 10, 2015 by Ken

The Dolphins come to Centurion to take on the Unlimited Titans on Thursday fresh off an excellent victory over the defending champion Nashua Cape Cobras and eager to continue improving in their challenge for the Sunfoil Series title.

The KwaZulu-Natal side hammered the Cobras by eight wickets at Newlands to rise to second on the log, overtaking the Titans and leaving themselves 17.24 points behind the bizhub Highveld Lions with three rounds of the four-day competition remaining.

The clash at SuperSport Park in Centurion is practically an eliminator to see who will be the Lions’ chasers heading into the final straight of the Sunfoil Series.

“We’ve had some good days and we’ve fought our way through to where we have a shout. But now we need more consistency and if we can put together two good days in a row, that’s generally when you win matches,” Dolphins coach Lance Klusener told The Citizen on Wednesday.

Young pacemen Mathew Pillans and Daryn Dupavillon have responded in excellent fashion to the burden placed on their shoulders, while left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj is fresh off a 10-wicket haul at Newlands.

The batting has not been as spectacular, but Imraan Khan, capped once for South Africa, has accumulated 551 runs this season with two hundreds and three fifties, fellow opener Divan van Wyk is averaging over 40, and Morne van Wyk, Cody Chetty and Daryn Smit are all dangerous with the bat.

The Titans will boast a menacing new-ball attack in the form of David Wiese and fit-again Marchant de Lange, with left-armer Rowan Richards and either Ethy Mbhalati or Junior Dala in support.

While not saying the pitch will be a snakepit, Titans coach Rob Walter is confident there will be a result-wicket at SuperSport Park.

“Neither team wants a dull draw and there aren’t many of those anyway at Centurion. I think it will be a good, even contest that will go four days, hopefully like the last two games of last season,” Walter said.

The Titans finished last season strongly by beating the Knights by 32 runs and the Warriors by 87 runs, and a similar showing now could see them sneak up on the Lions, who are currently 19.22 points ahead of them.

Wiese performed miracles with the ball in those two games, with combined figures of 16 wickets for 204 runs, backed by leg-spinner Shaun von Berg and De Lange.

Von Berg’s current form – 17 wickets at an average of 48.11 – does not inspire too much confidence and he has been serving up runs at 3.5 to the over, but Walter said surfaces thus far this season have not offered him much assistance.

In terms of the batting, Roelof van der Merwe has been inspirational with 657 runs at 59.72, including three centuries, while Theunis de Bruyn is a rising star and Dean Elgar is due a big score.

Walter says his team needs to rectify some sloppiness that crept into their game in their last encounter, a 170-run defeat at the hands of the Cobras in Paarl.

“We had them in the first innings but then we weren’t clinical enough at the end to close out the innings. We also batted very well at the start before falling apart, so we need to be mentally stronger and make sure the opposition has to work hard for anything they get,” Walter said.

While the Highveld Lions are sitting pretty at the top of the log, coach Geoff Toyana is wary of either the Dolphins or Titans creeping up on them and says his team have to keep winning as they travel to Bloemfontein to take on the Chevrolet Knights.

“We’ve played some decent cricket, but we have to keep winning, every game is a big game,” Toyana said.

The Lions could have closed the door on their chasers in their last match, when they were held to a draw by the Warriors, finishing just 17 runs short of a meagre 98-run target, and they will be eager to return to winning ways at this crucial stage of the season.

The Lions went down to the Knights by 143 runs in their home fixture in Potchefstroom, contriving to be bowled out for 137 in their second innings after leading by 101 on first innings.

Off-spinner Werner Coetsee took four for 34 to hasten the Lions’ collapse to their only defeat of this campaign, and the visitors are going to have to adapt better to what Knights coach Sarel Cilliers said would be a dry pitch at Chevrolet Park.

Whatever the result, the Bloemfontein public will be treated to the sight of the best pace attack in franchise cricket with Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada and Hardus Viljoen all in great form for the Lions. Dwaine Pretorius, who took eight wickets in three games before injuring his back, is back in the squad as well.

Eddie Leie is the chief spinner for the Johannesburg-based franchise but has struggled on unresponsive surfaces, taking just six wickets at 55 runs apiece. He will hope to bounce back to top form in friendlier conditions in Bloemfontein.

Cilliers said batsmen not making big scores and missing opportunities in the field were the two factors preventing his team from making a stronger challenge in the Sunfoil Series.

“There are a couple of critical things we need to get right again. We need to score big runs when the opportunity presents itself: We’ve had 22 scores of more than 30 in the last three games but no centuries. And we need to take our opportunities in the field because we’ve bowled with control,” Cilliers said.

The other match of the third-last round is at Newlands, where the Cobras host the Chevrolet Warriors.

The Cobras have struggled with so many players on international duty and are currently bottom of the log, with just one win in seven matches.

Stiaan van Zyl motored to a century in his last innings and if Dane Vilas, Justin Ontong and Andrew Puttick can show their best form, then the Cobras can post the sort of score that their attack, which has shown great potential this season, can capitalise on.

http://citizen.co.za/342224/sunfoil-series-preview-dolphins-vs-titans/

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