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Ken Borland



Anxious times for Coetzee as his plans are undermined 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken

 

The way his plans for his crucial second year as Springbok coach are being undermined by injuries and overseas departures, Allister Coetzee could be forgiven for starting to take Valium as his appointment with the feisty French looms ever nearer.

Coetzee was spared the axe by SA Rugby after a 2016 campaign that had most Springbok fans in need of post-traumatic stress drugs, and he has also been given more support in terms of more experienced assistants and training camps during SuperRugby.

But there is little doubt that Coetzee needs to produce a series win from the three Tests against France in Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg in June if he is to still be Springbok coach for the Rugby Championship. There are ongoing shadowy moves involving Rassie Erasmus that will have Coetzee perpetually looking over his shoulder.

But the problems Coetzee already faces in terms of selecting his squad would be enough to send someone of less tenacious character running for the hills.

A run of injuries has sidelined his two most capped local flyhalves and his first three choices for inside centre. Another midfield star has decided to pursue his career overseas as has a potential scrumhalf candidate, a position in which Coetzee has real problems.

In fact, if you run through the list of names of local players currently available for the backline, it makes gloomy reading.

And thus we come to the thorny issue of overseas players. The new 30 caps criterion of SA Rugby only comes into effect from July 1, so there are obviously going to be a bunch of foreign-based players included for the French series.

If one had to pick a backline only from the ranks of the SuperRugby franchises, it would be sorely lacking in the experience which is so important at Test level.

On current form, the uncapped Ross Cronje should probably be the starting scrumhalf, but Faf de Klerk, although suffering from the vagaries of form at the moment, must surely feature somewhere, especially since he played in 11 of the Springboks’ 12 Tests last year.

Cobus Reinach is the scrumhalf heading overseas and will be ineligible after July 1 because he only has 10 caps.

At flyhalf, Coetzee is faced with a repeat of last year’s problem when he was without Pat Lambie and Handre Pollard. The Bulls man is a non-starter for the French series, leaving the coach to gamble between a rusty Lambie or a frustrating Elton Jantjies, a man who looks top-class in SuperRugby but has been as hesitant as a vegan in a butchery at Test level.

But hopefully there will be a change in approach from the Springboks this year, a move towards the up-tempo, ball-in-hand style of the Lions, and Jantjies will surely feel more comfortable in that sort of environment.

The Springboks have a history of throwing Lambie into battle when in need of a rescue act, but it would surely not be fair on the 26-year-old to toss him back into Test action after probably just three SuperRugby games.

Curwin Bosch has burst on to the scene for the Sharks, but it would be heaping too much pressure on to the 19-year-old’s shoulders to expect him to play flyhalf for the Springboks, especially when you have Jantjies to call on.

Bosch could well be selected at fullback for the Springboks, however, with Jesse Kriel and Warrick Gelant only producing glimpses of form for the Bulls.

Lwazi Mvovo is likely to be on the one wing for the Springboks and Courtnall Skosan certainly looks like someone who can be relied upon if called to make the step up. The local depth at wing is not great, with Ruan Combrinck out with a long-term injury and Seabelo Senatla and Sergeal Petersen battling to get on the field.

One does not like to dwell on the defensive frailties of players, but for all their brilliance with ball in hand, Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ismaiel, Dillyn Leyds and Cheslin Kolbe have all shown weaknesses in defence that Test opposition will definitely focus on.

Lionel Mapoe and Francois Venter have put their hands up for the outside centre berth, but Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh, the last three players to wear the number 12 jersey for the Springboks, are all currently injured.

De Allende and De Jongh might return to action just before the June international window, but the confirmation last week that Jan Serfontein has given in to the agents flashing lots of numbers on their calculators and will head overseas is most untimely.

While Serfontein can still play against France, will Coetzee be willing to make an investment in a player who will be stranded on 29 Tests, if he plays all three internationals in June, and therefore won’t be eligible for selection for the Rugby Championship?

While I fully understand the reasons players leave to perform overseas, I have it on good authority that Serfontein is managed by an agency that only gets a commission if they land the player an overseas deal.

So obviously his agent was unlikely to recommend the improved contracts that were on the table from both the Bulls and SA Rugby. In fact, there was an unconfirmed report from France that Serfontein had already signed a three-year deal with Montpellier back in January.

Surely SA Rugby could have a case for negotiating in bad faith against the Essentially sports management company and cancel their agents’ licence? This same company hardly covered their names in glory with the way they handled the departures of SA cricketers Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott on Kolpak deals earlier this year …

That leaves someone like the uncapped Burger Odendaal as the frontrunner for the inside centre position and as tempting as it may be to pick a backline purely from SuperRugby players, their total number of caps might then amount to less than 50.

Which means there is the likelihood that the likes of Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar and Morne and Francois Steyn will be winging their way back to South Africa in an effort to make up for their undistinguished recent efforts for the Springboks.

One cannot blame desperate coaches for trying anything to save their own skins, but bringing back all those former stars would surely be a retrograde step in terms of the future of Springbok rugby.

https://www.alloutrugby.com/euro-boks-retro-injuries/

Last rites for sad Bulls with Matfield last link to glory days 0

Posted on December 14, 2016 by Ken

 

The Bulls will complete another sad SuperRugby campaign in Pretoria today against the Cheetahs and, by the end of the game, Victor Matfield could be the last person remaining at Loftus Versfeld with any link to the glory days of 2007-2010 when they won the competition three times in four years.

The Bulls confirmed yesterday that the match against the Cheetahs will be the last for captain Pierre Spies and flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter as they join the overseas exodus of players that will also include Jacques du Plessis, Flip van der Merwe and Akona Ndungane, while Francois Hougaard is heading for Japan but negotiations are underway for him to return for next year’s SuperRugby tournament.

Matfield is not playing against the Cheetahs because he is being rested as per the agreement with the Springbok management, but he has already announced that his playing days will be over after the World Cup.

But the veteran lock is bound to be back at Loftus Versfeld in the new year because he is the favourite to replace Frans Ludeke as coach. The man who was behind the 2009 and 2010 wins faced the Bulls board yesterday in a last-ditch attempt to save his job, but unless there was a late change in heart, Ludeke is also on his way out.

So there will be a sombre mood at Loftus Versfeld tonight, made worse by the knowledge that even a Bulls victory will do little to change their fortunes in another season that has fallen way short of expectations.

At least the rugby on offer could provide some entertainment.

New Cheetahs coach Franco Smith is preaching an expansive, linking style of play, while Spies has stressed how determined the Bulls are to end on a high.

“There’s plenty of motivation because we want to end on a high. If we can get five points and finish in the top eight on the log then the picture looks a bit better. We want to play a good attacking brand of rugby and hold on to the ball for a few more phases. There should be plenty of broken-field play and the Cheetahs love that as well,” Spies said.

Putting their bodies on the line in defence is probably not going to rank too high on either side’s list of priorities, but the Bulls should have a slight edge in motivation as they look to avoid a third defeat on home soil this season.

 

Morris to join other all-round stars at the Titans 0

Posted on June 01, 2016 by Ken

Chris Morris or David Wiese could be the answer to the glaring absence of an all-rounder in the South African team and they will both be playing for the Unlimited Titans next season after Morris announced on Wednesday that he is leaving the bizhub Highveld Lions.

Morris is coming off a superb season for the Lions, playing a key role in their Sunfoil Series triumph as he topped their bowling averages with 32 wickets at 20.18 as well as averaging 30.11 with the bat.

And the 27-year-old says there isn’t any ill feeling towards the Lions, his decision was motivated by a desire to push himself further as a cricketer. Having played five ODIs and two T20 internationals for South Africa, Morris is clearly someone the national selectors should have in their plans moving forward.

“I’ve spent seven years at the Highveld Lions and it just feels like time for a change of scenery. I feel like I’ve fallen into a bit of a comfort zone at the Lions, apart from when Zander de Bruyn was still playing I’ve always been the main all-rounder and played every game in every format. I always give 100%, but maybe I’m not pushing myself enough.

“They have different methods and a different culture at the Titans, I’ve bought into Rob Walter’s plan and it’s an exciting time to join them. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, they don’t back down in training, but I’m a Pretoria boy originally, so it will be nice to come home. Plus the traffic has been killing me!” Morris told The Citizen.

Any team facing the Titans next season, especially in limited-overs cricket, could have the daunting task of tackling Morris and speedster Marchant de Lange with the new ball, while also having to deal with a lower-middle-order of Albie Morkel, Wiese and Morris.

“We’re very happy that a quality player like Chris is coming home, his family has a proud history with Northerns cricket through his dad Willie, he’s a top performer, he can play in all three formats and, having got to know him while he was in Potchefstroom, I know he has a lot of tenacity,” Jacques Faul, the CEO of the Titans, said.

Morris is happy with the form he showed in the just-completed 2014/15 season, he took 12 wickets in the RamSlam T20 Challenge and had a strike-rate of 173.33 with the bat, but his Momentum One-Day Cup campaign was limited to just three games by injury.

“First it was the ankle op and then the rib-tip fracture, so it’s been nice to be playing, especially in such an excellent unit. With Hardus Viljoen, Kagiso Rabada and Dwaine Pretorius alongside me, there’s been pressure from all sides. Every day is a fishing day but not very day is a catching day, but I felt like I was firing on all cylinders, the Lions had a senior role for me and it was a nice responsibility,” Morris said.

Aggression is a key part of Morris’s bowling and there is no doubt the lanky paceman earned some wickets for his colleagues at the other end with the unrelenting pressure he exerted.

“When I was 16 I asked Curtly Ambrose about aggression and he asked me if I want to hold the batsman’s hand. He said I must make it as uncomfortable as possible for the batsman. So I’m a firm believer in playing hard, I like to feel that we’re in a battle and I try to hurt the batsman, obviously not badly of course,” Morris said.

The wise counsel of Neil McKenzie, who announced his retirement from four-day cricket earlier this week, has also led to an improvement in Morris’s batting and the use of the short ball is no longer as effective as it was against him.

“I’m very chuffed with my batting this season, I’ve been working with Neil, especially on the short ball which had become a bit of an issue, and I got my confidence back. I think I was over-complicating things, see-ball, hit-ball has always been my natural game.

“Previously, I knew the short ball was coming but now I just play it when it arrives. I’ve also had a bit more responsibility with the bat, but I still try to be attacking. If it comes off great, if not, I can make up for it with the ball,” Morris said.

The lure of a Green and Gold Proteas Test cap is still there for Morris and he is hoping a fresh environment will provide the spark for him to get there.

“I will always push hard to play for South Africa, obviously my ambition is to play Test cricket, but I think I’m still behind a couple of guys. There’s still a way to go, it will take a lot of hard work, but we all know there’s a spot in the Proteas team that needs to be filled. At the moment Ryan McLaren would be the man for me, but it’s a dream of mine as well,” Morris said.

http://citizen.co.za/354957/morris-to-join-other-all-round-stars-at-the-titans/

Le Roux & Vermaak could start the spark for Springboks 0

Posted on April 20, 2016 by Ken

 

Coach Heyneke Meyer knows that he needs to add more attacking spark in year two of his tenure with the national team, and the two new caps chosen for the Test against Italy in Durban on Saturday could be the first steps in that process.

Cheetahs wizard Willie le Roux will start at fullback and Bulls scrumhalf Jano Vermaak in the number nine jersey, with three other uncapped players on the bench in prop Trevor Nyakane, loose forward Arno Botha and centre Jan Serfontein.

By the end of this quadrangular series also featuring Scotland and Samoa, we should know whether Le Roux’s roaming style of play and his dazzling trickery with ball in hand can be successful at Test level. It has certainly sparked something special for the Cheetahs and the 35 tries they have scored so far this season in SuperRugby is the best in the South African Conference and only the Chiefs, Waratahs and Rebels have scored more overall.

It is the Bulls, however, who are leading the South African Conference and it is in no small way thanks to Vermaak’s snappy clearing of the rucks and his speed off the mark on attack that they have 32 tries themselves and have impressed with the balance of their game between penetrative forward runners and a backline that is growing in confidence.

Replacement Ruan Pienaar may have been a star for Ulster again this year, but the 29-year-old has not been part of any of the Springbok training camps and Meyer said he had also gone for the established Morné Steyn/Vermaak combination at halfback.

This means there is no place for Francois Hougaard, even on the bench, with Pat Lambie and Serfontein the other backline reserves. Hougaard would appear to have paid the price for his scrappy service during a slow return from injury, although he was much-improved in the Bulls’ impressive win over the Cheetahs last weekend.

The 20-year-old Serfontein could even be in line for a start, coming in for Jean de Villiers at inside centre if the captain does not recover sufficiently from a hamstring niggle.

Meyer is well-known for his fondness for a big, strong ball-carrier at inside centre, but he has ignored, for the moment anyway, the exciting possibility of having the robust Serfontein at 12 and De Villiers at outside centre.

Instead, JJ Engelbrecht, who the jury is still out on (is he a better centre than a wing?) will wear the number 13 jersey having only played 10 previous minutes of Test rugby as a replacement on the wing against Argentina last year.

Bjorn Basson, so brilliant in the air, makes a return on the left wing to play his first Test since 2011, with the rest of the team pretty much as predicted.

Lourens Adriaanse, Gio Aplon, Marcell Coetzee, Robert Ebersohn, Bismarck du Plessis, Zane Kirchner, Siya Kolisi, Lappies Labuschagné, Lwazi Mvovo and Franco van der Merwe will be twiddling their thumbs next to Hougaard on the side of the field as Meyer goes for some continuity with 10 of the players who appeared in the last Test of 2012, the 16-15 win over England at Twickenham, featuring again this weekend.

The likes of Adriaanse, Aplon, Coetzee, Ebersohn, Kolisi, Labuschagné, Mvovo and Van der Merwe are likely to be given the opportunity of picking up some valuable experience later in the series, but for now Meyer wants to get his 2013 campaign up-and-running with a win over the tricky Italians.

Italian rugby is certainly on the up, as shown by a fourth-place finish in the Six Nations, and their physical pack has the ability to front up to the Springbok forwards.

But how pleasing it would be if it were the attacking skills of a Le Roux-inspired backline that proved the difference at King’s Park.

Team: Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandré Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Arno Botha, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-06-06-springbok-team-the-proven-plus-a-pinch-of-pizzazz/#.Vxos5vl97IU

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    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
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