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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.

SuperRugby final a benefit for entire city – Lions CEO 0

Posted on August 02, 2017 by Ken

 

Saturday’s SuperRugby final that the Lions will host at Ellis Park against the Crusaders is going to benefit not just the rugby franchise but the entire city of Johannesburg, according to CEO Rudolf Straeuli.

A sell-out crowd of more than 60 000 has already been confirmed for the showdown as the Lions look to complete their fairytale resurgence by beating the most successful team in SuperRugby history and becoming only the second South African side to win the southern hemisphere franchise competition.

“Hosting the final is going to be a huge benefit for everyone who finds value at Ellis Park. It’s not just the union that benefits, it obviously also helps the Ellis Park Stadium Pty and it’s a huge marketing opportunity for the Lions company and a great honour to host the final. There’s the money from the tickets and hospitality and some extra reward in the form of the prizemoney. None of that was budgeted for, so it’s a bonus.

“But it’s also a big positive for Johannesburg, the whole city, and especially the Ellis Park precinct, all our neighbours. We are really blessed to be able to host such great events, we’ve had the All Blacks here before and the Test against France this year was also a big success,” Straeuli told The Citizen on Tuesday.

The Lions have not only established themselves at the pinnacle of South African rugby, but have also had to manoeuvre themselves out of troubled financial waters in the last five years.

“You can’t take anything away from the team because they are our flagship, and our juniors have done very well too with our Craven Week side being the best and our U21s and U19s winning their competitions last year. But a few years ago we were a business that was having retrenchments. But some staff took pay-cuts and simplicity has been key to our operations.

“We don’t have a big staff for the big area we have to manage and we have had to cut our cloth according to our needs. But there’s a really positive mood and success breeds further success. Plus people like Kevin de Klerk (president) and Altmann Allers (vice-president) are serious businessmen. If we didn’t have them behind us and their business acumen and that of the board, never mind their own money they have put in, then we wouldn’t be here,” Straeuli said.

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-rugby/1595200/super-rugby-final-will-be-a-boost-for-joburg/

Bulls kneel in submission to Crusaders at Loftus 0

Posted on May 06, 2017 by Ken

 

The hapless Bulls were forced to kneel in submission to the might of the Crusaders as they were thrashed 62-24, suffering their biggest ever defeat at their Loftus Versfeld fortress, in their SuperRugby match on Saturday night.

It is both the most points the Bulls have conceded at home and the biggest losing margin, worse than their 56-28 defeat at the hands of the Blues in 2003.

As brilliant as the Crusaders were, the Bulls were utterly supine, their defence passive and lacking any of the fire they had spoken of in the week leading up to the match. Their attacks invariably started from so deep that they were seldom any real threat to a Crusaders side that is playing magnificent rugby at present.

There weren’t many lineouts in the game, but scrummaging was once again the bane of the Bulls’ lives, with that set-piece being destroyed with regularity by a Crusaders tight five led by stalwart Wyatt Crockett. Aimless kicking, poor defensive alignment and bad basic skills were some of the other failings to bedevil the Bulls.

As dismal as the Bulls were, the Crusaders deserve huge credit because they are playing proper rugby at the moment – strong in the set-pieces, direct with plenty of pace and power out wide, their execution is immaculate and coach Scott Robertson is clearly getting a new-look side to play with confidence while thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Outside centre Jack Goodhue, a former All Blacks Sevens player and Junior World Cup winner, was the central figure in the Crusaders’ enforcement of their huge dominance of the advantage line. His decision-making was outstanding, knowing exactly when to carry the ball, which he did with pace and great footwork, and when to put through clever grubbers which ripped the Bulls apart. Two tries were just reward for a powerful display.

The soft defence of the Bulls was obvious in the opening minutes when flank Pete Samu, bursting from a scrappy lineout, was tackled but then just let go inside the 22, allowing the Australian to regather the ball and storm over the line for the opening try. The heart of the Bulls has to be called into question because everyone expected them to come out breathing fire, playing with great physicality to at least make the Crusaders’ expected win tough to achieve.

The scrums were a disaster area for the Bulls with the Crusaders employing the tactic of shifting to the left immediately after the hit. Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss admitted after the game that it was a clever strategy and entirely within the law, the home side just not coping with it.

The Bulls attack is running from deep so often that it is always going to be a huge uphill battle for them to get over the advantage line. The Bulls’ backline is certainly a threat on turnover ball but the lack of vision and skill is also so apparent. A key moment in the game came in the 19th minute when the Bulls created space out wide for fullback Warrick Gelant, who raced down the touchline and then fed the ball inside to Piet van Zyl. The scrumhalf had a man on his inside and outside, but held on to the ball too long and the move broke down. Tian Schoeman then missed the resulting penalty. It was the sort of chance that is a certain try for every New Zealand team and it would have made the score 10-14 to the Crusaders.

The bench did at least make some impact for the Bulls, with Jan Serfontein and replacement flyhalf Francois Brummer, in particular, showing that the way forward may well include them in the starting line-up.

 

Points scorers

Bulls – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Jamba Ulengo, Jan Serfontein. Conversions: Francois Brummer (3). Penalty: Tian Schoeman.

Crusaders – Tries: Pete Samu, Tim Bateman, Scott Barrett, Jack Goodhue (2), Seta Tamanivalu, David Havili, Richie Mo’unga, Andrew Makalio, Mitchell Hunt. Conversions: Mo’unga (5), Hunt.

 

John McFarland Column – Stormers’ turn to show they can bounce back 0

Posted on April 25, 2017 by Ken

 

SuperRugby is such a tough competition that every team at some stage will experience a crisis and it’s now the Stormers’ turn to face a test of character as to how they bounce back from their heavy defeat at the hands of the Crusaders in Christchurch.

The Stormers were fortunate to get out of jail a bit in their previous games with things like intercept tries from their own goal-line, but their luck ran out in Christchurch. Things they got away with in the first few weeks were punished by the Crusaders, who have a much more accurate passing game than most teams, and that exposed the Stormers. They struggled to deal with the width of the Crusaders’ game, they were up against a two-four-two set-up and the likes of Codie Taylor and Kieran Read in the tramlines proved too much for them.

The Stormers’ wings were continually being pressured by the poor defensive spacing on the inside; the main Stormers problem was their spacing around the ruck, there were too many players close to the breakdown inside their own 22. They need to get more players out wide, they were much too compressed in defence at the ruck. They were caught cold by the width of the Crusaders attack.

But for a lot of the Stormers players it was their first time in New Zealand and it takes some time to adjust. Plus the Crusaders are obviously on fire at the moment under new coach Scott Robertson and they were just too good for the Stormers.

I spent time with the Stormers in pre-season and coach Robbie Fleck is determined to play a hugely exciting brand of rugby, which has been successful, but now they’ve just hit a blip.

But the Stormers played quite well in the second half, with two of the Crusaders’ tries coming from intercepts, and they will draw some positivity from that. They obviously need to regroup against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday and having the roof closed will suit their game.

It was encouraging the way they came back against the Crusaders and now they are in Queenstown in a very pleasant part of the world where they can walk to training, so hopefully they will be in a better frame of mind come Friday.

It was a weekend of contrasting emotions with the excitement coming from the Southern Kings. For them to come through the way they did, for their forwards to play so well as they came back from 17-0 down after half-an-hour, and to win so convincingly really takes some doing. Plus any away win is super, so it really was a sensational result in Sydney, to win there without any Springboks (Waylon Murray being injured) was truly remarkable.

The Kings forwards certainly outmauled the Waratahs and the visitors took their chances, a charge-down try getting them back into the game. It was certainly a comprehensive win with the Waratahs scoring on the final hooter and one of their tries was also from an intercept.

The win shows that South Africa still has forwards that are well-drilled and marshalled and you have to credit coach Deon Davids. Sometimes on the third game on tour the players are thinking of going home, especially since you have to leave Sydney very early the next morning so you’re packing and getting ready for the game all at the same time!

You could tell how much it meant to the Kings players at the end of the game and it was the sort of win to resurrect some careers. Someone like Lionel Cronje has played at practically every union and although there is respect for his play, he hasn’t really fulfilled the promise of his SA U20 days. But time out of the game forced him to re-evaluate his priorities and he has come back a renewed guy.

The Lions against the Jaguares was a good game with Harold Vorster once again shining, the try he scored, running the same line as he did against the Stormers, got the home side back in the game.

The variety of plays the Lions have from five metres away from the tryline is impressive and it shows they want seven-pointers instead of three – they have front-peels, back-peels, shift-drives and normal drives.

It was also pleasing to see Elton Jantjies kicking a pressure goal. He’s certainly in the running to be the Springboks’ starting flyhalf, especially with both Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie injured at the moment, and it’s good to see him so composed.

Lionel Mapoe is also hitting some form and his dummy-and-go and finish for his try was first-class and he also put away Andries Coetzee for the final try.

So it will please Allister Coetzee to see those two coming back into form.

Two of the Tests against France will be on the Highveld so they will be quick games, with the Springboks also surely trying to up the pace because the matches are at the end of the French season and there will obviously be some tiredness. For that Allister should choose quick, Lions-type players – those Tests should really suit guys like Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel.

At the end of the day, the Lions are our flagship franchise and that should be reflected in selection.

The SuperRugby quarterfinals will probably be contested by four New Zealand teams, three from South Africa and one from Australia, so the likelihood is that the Lions will play a New Zealand side in the quarterfinal. So it’s important that they keep winning and now that they are overseas, they need to get on a roll. So it was good for them to come through the Jaguares game with a win.

The Hurricanes have still got to tour and the Crusaders are now in South Africa, so let’s hope the Cheetahs and Bulls can do something against them.

 

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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