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Ken Borland



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.

Bulls & Lions get their waggle on 0

Posted on August 03, 2016 by Ken

 

Social media was overflowing with praise for the Hurricanes and the Crusaders after their enthralling match in Wellington on Saturday morning, but the Bulls and Lions showed that evening at Loftus Versfeld that South African sides can also put on a show and both Victor Matfield and Johan Ackermann were waggling their metaphorical fingers at all the prophets of doom over the strength of local rugby.

The Bulls edged out the Lions 35-33 in a scintillating match in which seven tries were scored, several of them dazzling efforts using the width of the field and featuring superb offloading skills and vision.

“I saw the Hurricanes play the Crusaders this morning and I thought ‘what a great game’. But people must have enjoyed this game too, there was a lot of width and ball-in-hand rugby. New players are standing up in South African rugby and I’m sure the senior guys will start hitting their best form too towards the end of Super Rugby,” Bulls captain Matfield said after the win which returned his side to the top of the South African Conference.

“I think we have a different physicality when it comes to the rucks and scrums here in South Africa, whereas it’s more of a free-for-all when they play each other in New Zealand. They have a different mindset over there, the defences aren’t so tight. I still believe the best South African players compare to theirs and especially when you put them in a Springbok jersey,” Lions coach Ackermann said.

The Bulls started the game in exhilarating fashion playing the sort of rugby usually associated with the free-spirited Lions and coach Frans Ludeke said he was delighted with the first half, which ended with the home side 25-13 up.

“The first half was almost perfect and we had those attacking shapes Victor’s been chasing, we were accurate and really put them on the back foot. Getting momentum on the gain-line really helped and Victor has worked really hard on keeping the players on their feet and making good decisions,” Ludeke said.

But the Lions totally dominated the third quarter to snatch a 26-25 lead in the 54th minute and Matfield said the pressure was then really on his side.

“We started well, playing the way we wanted to – with width, but after the break we made mistakes and that put us under pressure. We showed great character to fight back and get the momentum back and I was very happy about the team’s will to win,” the veteran lock said.

Matfield mentioned “needing magic from someone” to get the Bulls out of their hole and that someone was replacement Pierre Spies, who sparked the move that ended with him powering through several tackles to score and regain the lead.

Ackermann bemoaned mistakes that cost his team but was pleased with their overall performance and contribution to a great game of rugby.

“All I ask is for them to play with their hearts and they did. I’m willing to lose if the passion and commitment are there and credit to the Bulls, especially for that first half. They punished every mistake we made,” Ackermann said.

 

Former Springbok defence coach John McFarland on what will be key for the Lions in their semifinal 0

Posted on July 28, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions’ scrum was superlative against the Crusaders in their SuperRugby quarterfinal and I think it will be one of the key things they will use against the Highlanders in their semifinal this weekend.

They really put the Crusaders under pressure in the scrums and that’s against an All Blacks tight five, so that’s very encouraging for the Lions’ championship hopes.

Their scrum is a destructive weapon and it will be one of the keys against the Highlanders, as well as mauling well.

The Highlanders don’t have the same quality forwards as the Crusaders do, but they do have explosive backs and if the Lions don’t kick for distance then there will be problems for them, they will find themselves under a lot of pressure around their own 22.

Ben Smith is so good at counter-attacking, he’s the best in the world at it for me, ahead of Israel Folau. He will run the ball back and he has a tremendous ability to step, find gaps and beat people.

The one negative about the Lions team is the distance they get on their relieving kicks and that’s at altitude, they might have to take that to sea level if the final is in Wellington. You compare their kicking against the Crusaders to the quality of Beauden Barrett’s tactical kicking in a gale in Wellington and you can see that will be a concern in an away final. Every South African will be praying the Chiefs win that semifinal against the Hurricanes.

The Highlanders are a very different New Zealand team in that they have a very strong kicking game thanks to Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith.

Sopoaga is very clever with his little chips which always seem to find space, while Aaron is a superb tactical kicker and takes responsibility for it. Having a kicker at scrumhalf means the chase line is right on top of you, so the kicks are normally contestable. Aaron always kicks off at the restarts and the Highlanders have two big wings who are very good in the air, when Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo are running at you, you know you’re going to go backwards!

So field position still has a huge influence and top teams turn that into points. The Lions got away with not having much territory against the Crusaders because they were very disciplined, they didn’t give a lot away, and they built a score early on so the Crusaders were under pressure. Those two early tries took the wind out of the Crusaders and they had to chase the game from the start.

It’s typical of that Lions team, they have come through such adversity. It’s a tremendous story, most of their players were rejected somewhere else, they weren’t the first choices when they were 19 or 20 years old.

Franco Mostert was at the Bulls for four or five years and didn’t get the opportunity, and now he’s a player the Lions rally around. Warwick Tecklenburg also didn’t make it at the Bulls and he’s really matured as a player.

A lot of them have also spent seasons overseas, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe and Tecklenburg have all played in Japan. So a guy like Elton gets coaching from Swys de Bruin but also from someone like Rob Penney at NTT Shining Arcs, who used to coach Canterbury.

The way Malcolm Marx has progressed is very pleasing for me because I worked with him before. He used to drive for an hour to Pretoria to come throw for an hour and then drive back on his off day, because there was a perception in his junior days that his lineout throwing wasn’t good. He’s worked so hard and that’s what people don’t appreciate about this Lions team.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg is tearing up trees now but he also played Vodacom Cup for the Blue Bulls and look at how he is playing now. Andries Coetzee was also at the Bulls as a junior and was released, even though he had that big left foot even then.

The Lions have played together consistently, they’re very grounded as a group. Most of them actually live in Pretoria and are up at 5.30 every morning so they can be at the Lions by 6.30. Johan Ackermann and JP Ferreira get up at 4.30am! So they are a very hard-working bunch.

But the keys this weekend will be for them to use their scrum and to maul well, and to kick more contestable balls. They can’t give the Highlanders time on the ball, the defence must be on top of them, and the Lions have been defending very well, plus their back row are all stealers of the ball and Malcolm Marx is like a fourth loose forward. The Lions need to raise the tempo, like they did when they carved up the Crusaders midfield.

In terms of the other quarterfinals, the Stormers were such a disappointment and they have lost so many playoff games now, and convincingly at that and at home! So they have to look at their preparation. Their generals against the Chiefs, Robert du Preez and Jaco Taute, just haven’t played enough rugby this year.

To say they were taken by surprise by the extra intensity of the New Zealand sides is a weak excuse. The Stormers should have had that intensity and enthusiasm playing at home in a playoff game and it was Schalk Burger’s last appearance at Newlands.

The Chiefs did play really well, you have to give them credit, but I don’t think not playing a New Zealand side before was that relevant for the Stormers.

The wheels have really come off the Sharks since the June Tests, they’re not the same side they were before that. What was most disappointing about their loss to the Hurricanes was that they showed so little ambition. They just had the maul, pick-and-go and kick, they never used their Springboks back three.

The Hurricanes played well, Beauden Barrett kicked superbly, but the Sharks never fired a shot, that’s what was really concerning.

For the South African teams to concede 17 tries in their three playoff games is a big worry.

I would say the Hurricanes/Chiefs semifinal is a 50/50 game, although the Hurricanes are without Dane Coles, who is their talisman as captain, he’s full of energy and he rallies the team. The Hurricanes lineout will be under intense pressure from Brodie Retallick and Dominic Bird and they don’t have their first-choice hooker. So that game could go either way.

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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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