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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: In praise of the Crusaders, SuperRugby champions 0

Posted on August 10, 2017 by Ken

 

Congratulations to the Crusaders for winning the SuperRugby final and one can only give them credit for an unbelievable season.

They lost just one game, against the Hurricanes in Wellington, and they are the first team to win the final after flying across the Indian Ocean.

Keeping the Lions to just two tries – even with just 14 men – was a heck of a defensive effort, especially with all the flying they had to do.

But the Crusaders are a very experienced group built on a tremendous forward pack. Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Israel Dagg, in the backline, are four world-class players and guys like Matt Todd and Ryan Crotty are really solid players too.

The Crusaders’ set-pieces were very strong and, as predicted, it was a different kettle of fish in the lineouts for the Lions, with Whitelock making some crucial steals, and they negated the lineout drive.

The Lions’ strength is built on forward dominance, at the lineout and scrum, but with four international front-rowers in their squad, the Crusaders stood up very well. They have an international-class tight five, plus Luke Romano off the bench and Kieran Read is one of the best lineout forwards in the world.

You could see how much it meant for the Lions – they really wanted to send off Johan Ackermann on a high – but the red card obviously had a huge effect.

It was the right decision by the officials, there’s no two ways about it.

The decision by Elton Jantjies to send up the high kick would have been because their ball was a bit slow, but then the chaser (flank Kwagga Smith) was sprinting and not even looking at the ball. The rule is quite clear that if you land up under the guy catching the ball – who is now in a very vulnerable position – it’s a red card.

In the Varsity Cup, there is already the rule that if the defending team catches an up-and-under and calls for the mark, then it’s a free kick, which makes teams less prone to try the high kick.

In a lot of situations, you’re dealing with specialists (the wings) doing the chasing and catching, but the problem comes when someone not used to it, it’s not their role, ends up doing the chasing or catching.

But rugby must never lose the contest for the high ball, it’s been part of the game since the 1930s in Ireland when the Garryowen was used in the rain.

If it’s a fair contest and both sets of eyes are on the ball, then all good, but Kwagga probably needed to wait until David Havili had come down before trying to tackle him.

The Crusaders were well in control at that stage, but the Lions are known for their finishing at altitude and it was 14-10 with 14 men in the second half and they were pushing hard.

Defensively, Kieran Read’s brilliant tackle on Elton Jantjies forced the turnover and a 70-metre try as the Lions ran out of width and Ross Cronje had to try and chase the wing; while Read’s own try came when Ruan Combrinck was the last defender at the goalposts, so the Lions were obviously in trouble there.

The Crusaders built up a big enough lead to force Jantjies not to kick for poles, but the Lions need to realise the importance of taking your points in finals rugby. It reminds me of 2012 with the Bulls in New Zealand when we lost 28-13 to the Crusaders in Christchurch. We outscored them two tries to one, but Dan Carter kicked six penalties and a drop goal. That’s always the right mindset in playoffs, especially at altitude because the game can change very quickly.

As the Crusaders coach back then, Todd Blackadder, used to say: “You must take every point,” and the New Zealand side certainly did that in this year’s final.

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: Attitude makes all the difference for B&I Lions 0

Posted on July 06, 2017 by Ken

 

One has to credit the British and Irish Lions for their win over the All Blacks in the second Test, especially after losing the first Test the way they did.

They just brought a harder attitude in Wellington, a desperation to get the win. To keep the All Blacks tryless, even though they only had 14 men for most of the game, takes some doing, and the attitude they showed on the day was top-class.

It was definitely a red card for Sonny Bill Williams, he made no effort to raise his hand or grip Anthony Watson in the tackle, and his shoulder made contact with the head.

The last penalty – for the Charlie Faumuina tackle on Kyle Sinckler while he was airborne – was a little bit harsh though. When a player jumps to catch a pass above his head and it’s a gain-line tackle, the tackler is already committed and in motion, so it is very difficult for there to be any other outcome.

Jumping into a tackle is also a penalisable offence, but sometimes when the pass goes upwards, the player has to take it airborne. So it’s an anomaly that the lawmakers have to look at going forward.

The All Blacks had to play with 14 men for so long, that it was quite heroic of them to stay in the game; they did not manage to score a try, but they kept the scoreboard ticking over with penalties.

If a team fields two openside flanks like the Lions did with Sean O’Brien and Sam Warburton, then the penalty count will be high because they go hard on the ball on the floor and to make tackle attempts to get the All Blacks to bring more players to the ruck. It brings a different philosophy at ruck time, they were trying to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking pattern by bringing more players to the ruck and then the attacking shape won’t be what it should be.

The British Lions’ set-piece was of a high standard and their forward effort was built on the success at Saracens, the pack had a very high work-rate.

But whether the Lions can back up that performance with another one at Eden Park in Auckland this weekend will be a hard task. They will need the same desperation and, at the end of a long season, will they be able to produce that again? They will need extra effort on the gain-line once again.

In SuperRugby, the Gauteng Lions basically had a game of touch rugby, but I thought the Bulls played well against the Sharks.

I’m a little worried by the inconsistency of the Sharks, they have been poor at home in too many games and I can’t see them winning on the road in New Zealand, so it’s definitely a problem. For Robert du Preez to so publicly take on his players shows that something is not right.

But the Bulls have clearly gained confidence in the break, they won the Mauritius 10s with their SuperRugby team and played some good rugby.

I’ve been quite impressed with how they have blooded youngsters and someone like Duncan Matthews has really come through.

It’s also very encouraging to see Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel play so well, and they have obviously gained confidence through their time together with the Springboks for the June Tests and they are both starting to show leadership.

Jesse is such a strong character and his enthusiasm rubs off on the players around him, and he is a big part of the new era at the Bulls.

When Jan decided to leave the Bulls, he was recovering from a long-term injury. But he’s been on the Springboks’ radar since 2012 and has never let them down. He has gained experience since being named World Junior Player of the Year in 2012 and the Test series against France saw him fulfil his potential.

One needs to look at Brendan Venter’s influence on him and you can just see the confidence and belief is there right now. Jan was backed at the start of the series and knew he would play all three Tests.

It always takes five or six weeks after long-term injury for a player to rediscover their form and then they really hit their straps in weeks eight to 10. It’s unfortunate that Jan is leaving, but I really hope he stays fit and can get to the 30-Test cut-off mark in the Rugby Championship.

It begs the question whether SA Rugby have made the right decision when it comes to the 30-Test cut-off for overseas eligibility, especially if a player gets injured (e.g. Marcell Coetzee, who is short of 30 caps because of injury), and how will it work going forward with Jan, who has signed to play in France but currently only has 29 caps?

The Springboks cannot ignore Jan’s form nor talent, or the impact he had on the series against France.

That being said, the success of the series was Allister Coetzee’s decision to pick mostly home-based players, which led to a great series win.

 

 

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.

Ackers deserves enormous credit & support 0

Posted on May 01, 2017 by Ken

 

Johan Ackermann deserves enormous credit for the way he has transformed the Lions team over the last five years but he also deserves the public’s support for the tough decision he has made to further his career overseas with Gloucester.

Coaches always have a shelf-life with a team and guys like Alex Ferguson or Ian McIntosh staying for many years at one club are the exception rather than the rule. Ackermann has been the provider of so much to the Lions – rebuilding their culture after their morale was shattered during the John Mitchell years; up-skilling them such that they now lead the way in South Africa when it comes to the most progressive brand of rugby; helping to build Springboks who will surely do the country proud if trusted by Allister Coetzee in future; and giving them steel, not only up front amongst their highly impressive pack but also in the way they are now able to win the tight games, as they did against the Sharks last weekend.

So who can begrudge Ackers the chance to advance his own career a bit?

There is no doubt the 46-year-old would never be wrenching himself away from his Lions family and the Ellis Park supporters – the way he broke down while making the announcement of his departure makes this clear – unless he believed a move was essential to further his own highly-promising coaching career.

Ackermann has rightly been spoken of as a future Springbok coach, but there is no top-level international coach at the moment who has been employed in just one country. Steve Hansen coached Wales before joining the All Blacks staff; Eddie Jones was involved with the Australian, Japanese and South African sides before rejuvenating England; Michael Cheika coached Leinster and Stade Francais before getting the Wallabies job; Joe Schmidt is a Kiwi who coached in France before taking over Ireland, and Scotland coach Vern Cotter has the same story.

As brilliant as Ackermann has been, he has no real experience outside of coaching the Lions to a Super Rugby final and one Currie Cup crown. It can only be good for South African rugby that one of its most promising coaches spreads his wings and enjoys new horizons.

There also should be no panic at Ellis Park with the departure of their much-loved coach. As far as a replacement goes – the successor will take charge for the Currie Cup later this year – there is no need for the Lions to look further than what they already have.

The fact that the Lions have someone like the highly-rated Swys de Bruin – who has done well as a head coach before with Griquas and will undoubtedly build on the legacy of the last five years, providing great continuity – means president Kevin de Klerk and CEO Rudolf Straeuli, who have both also played key roles in the Lions’ resurgence, can kip easy when it comes to Ackermann’s successor.

Their structures are clearly in good nick – part of the wonderful legacy Ackermann has left – with both their U19 and U21 teams winning their respective provincial championships last year, so if someone has to move up from that level it should not be so high an elevation as to cause a ricked neck.

In fact, Straeuli used the terms “continuity” and “stability” several times while responding to questions about the road forward for the Lions, so it is not unreasonable to expect De Bruin, JP Ferreira (defence) and Ivan van Rooyen (conditioning) will continue in their roles and have more responsibility.

For those who believe Ackermann has turned his back on the Springbok coaching job, it seems clear that both Allister Coetzee and Rassie Erasmus are in his way for the foreseeable future.

The SA A job is an indication that he is somewhere on Saru’s radar, and he is still willing to coach the second-stringers when SuperRugby breaks for the mid-year internationals, but new challenges and experiences await overseas and it is exciting to think just how good a coach Ackermann will be when he returns to these shores.

http://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170408/282621737571662

Bulls earn credit, but still lose 0

Posted on April 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Bulls will earn deserved credit for their improvement, but the end result was still the same as they went down 28-12 to the Chiefs in a bonus point defeat in their SuperRugby match in Hamilton on Saturday.

A superb first-half display by the Bulls in which intensity crackled through everything they did – in attack they were direct and handled superbly, while their defence was physical and uncompromising – saw them claim a deserved 9-3 lead at the break.

But the Chiefs showed their class as they stayed composed and were able to pull away from the 50-minute mark, scoring three tries in an ultimately impressive victory.

The Chiefs had a terrible time in the first half trying to contain superb Bulls inside centre Burger Odendaal, who led the visitors’ resurgence with some powerful ball-carries and excellent midfield defence. It led to the home side having missed an awful 15 tackles by halftime.

But the Bulls just lacked the attacking incisiveness to convert their gains into points on the scoreboard.

When centre Jan Serfontein went inside instead of pinning his ears back on the outside following some storming runs by Odendaal in the fourth minute, it was one of many moments when the Bulls were left wondering what might have been.

The Chiefs had been caught offsides in the build-up, however, and flyhalf Handre Pollard was at least able to kick a penalty for an early 3-0 lead.

More superb carries and direct running by the Bulls, and a determined rumble forward by prop Trevor Nyakane, led to another Pollard penalty in the 10th minute, but the Chiefs dominated the first scrum four minutes later, earning a penalty kicked by flyhalf Aaron Cruden (3-6).

But the Bulls had the final say in the first half as the Chiefs tried to run the ball out of their own 22 after conceding a free kick, but were turned over, allowing the Bulls to string several phases together and earn another Pollard penalty for not releasing at the ruck.

But the tide began to turn in the 51st minute as wing Jamba Ulengo suffered another horrible moment in defence, wing Shaun Stevenson leaving him flatfooted as the Chiefs attacked off a lineout, and then grubbering through and regathering the ball for the first try of the match. Cruden converted to give the Chiefs a 10-9 lead.

That was quickly stretched to 13-9 with another Cruden penalty after Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss stupidly went off his feet at a ruck in front of his own poles, but the visitors had a stroke of luck in the 62nd minute when a dominant Chiefs scrum was penalised for illegal wheeling, Pollard’s long-range penalty closing the gap to one point (12-13).

But it was all the Chiefs in the final 15 minutes as the Bulls suffered another late-game fade.

The Bulls lost a four-man lineout in their own 22 but a superb tackle by lock RG Snyman prevented fullback Damian McKenzie from knifing through to score. But an earlier infringement allowed Cruden to kick a penalty and stretch the lead back to 16-12.

A lovely 71st-minute move from a scrum saw scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow running at the line before putting a grubber through that McKenzie raced on to and dotted down.

Another slick backline move with two minutes remaining saw different angles of running and McKenzie bursting through, before replacement prop Atunaisa Moli charged through and reached over the line for the bonus point try.

The scrums were hard-fought transactions, but they did allow the Chiefs to release some of the pressure on them as they had the edge in that set-piece. Nyakane’s move to tighthead was again a talking point.

Lock Lood de Jager was a hardworking – if not always accurate – member of the pack, with partner Snyman also shining, while Jannes Kirsten came off the bench after 20 minutes to replace eighthman Arno Botha and made his presence felt. He should be in the starting line-up next week.

Jesse Kriel was impressive at fullback and halfbacks Rudy Paige and Pollard were on the same page.

But while the Bulls were much-improved, being gutsy losers is not a tag they or their supporters will take kindly to.

Scorers

ChiefsTries: Shaun Stevenson, Damian McKenzie, Atunaisa Moli. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalties: Cruden (3).

BullsPenalties: Handre Pollard (4).



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