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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Let’s get real about the Currie Cup 0

Posted on November 02, 2017 by Ken

 

The Currie Cup final was a real spectacle, but it is a competition that SA Rugby really needs to sort out and it doesn’t any longer have any real bearing on Springbok selection for the end-of-year tour.

The Currie Cup staggered to the playoff rounds, when there was far more interest, but the competition cannot overlap with SuperRugby, teams can’t be playing three games in a week and we can’t have the situation we had this year with the Free State Cheetahs starting with a team on fire, winning five of their first six games, but then having to go and play in the Pro14.

SA Rugby needs to get the crowds back to the Currie Cup, it is the most traditional South African tournament and every player and coach, when they set out on their career, they want to win it. The basis of South African rugby is unions, not franchises, that’s how they run it, so the Currie Cup should be SA Rugby’s main competition.

One must commend the two smaller unions, the Pumas and Griquas, for showing how much they belong in the tournament. The Pumas hammered the Blue Bulls by 50 and Griquas beat eventual champions Western Province, and both teams gave some of the other sides real frights.

The Springboks have shown good continuity in their selection – Lukhanyo Am has been recalled after being in the squad in June, Louis Schreuder was there already and Warrick Gelant has been part of the training camps. You don’t want to keep starting again with new players and you don’t want the situation where guys have to fly in and out because of the game against Wales on December 2 falling outside the international window.

Allister Coetzee has been pretty consistent in selection this year and the players have responded because it shows the coach has belief in them, after a good run in which the only team to beat them has been the All Blacks.

Ireland, they’re first up, will be the toughest game for the Springboks on their tour, because of where they are after a stellar year, but I expect South Africa to beat France, Italy and Wales. If the Springboks can win all four tour games, it would be a very good year indeed.

Against Ireland, the Springboks will need a solid lineout and a bit of size around the field, which is why I think Pieter-Steph du Toit will be chosen as a back-row forward from now on. They will need to dominate the set-pieces and have a good kicking game on those fields. The back three will need to absorb pressure and put it back on Ireland because Conor Murray kicks 70% of the time for Munster and kicking from scrumhalf, there’s always a good chase.

The Springbok team is always chosen before the Currie Cup final so that you don’t make emotional decisions, so there are no late inclusions and no outsiders suddenly selected. International rugby is really high-pressure and you need guys who have played well consistently.

Curwin Bosch showed some great moments of class in the final, especially with his kicking game – that drop goal was particularly brilliant. But he’s been in the system since he was 16, part of South African rugby’s elite programs, flagged as a major talent. But it’s obvious he has a weakness in defence, in fact it’s his only real weakness.

This will obviously have to be worked on during the end-of-year tour, but why hasn’t it been worked on already? There are no small centres in international rugby anymore and if he’s going to play in the flyhalf channel then he has no choice – he has to fix his defence or move to fullback.

Robert du Preez certainly put his hand up in the final and I am sure he will get his chance with the Springboks. He now needs a good SuperRugby season.

In the game itself, the other big defensive lapse came when Nizaam Carr picked up against the wheel of the scrum and there was very poor defence by the Sharks flank, it was their dominant scrum but he still allowed the Western Province eighthman to get around him and set up the try.

The final showed the value of a great set-piece and forward-dominance. Western Province were completely in charge from the time their front row was dominant.

The Sharks were maybe a little over-confident after their scrum demolished the Blue Bulls in the semi-finals, but hats off to Wilco Louw and JC Janse van Rensburg.

Wilco has received plenty of deserved plaudits, but hats off to JC as well, who is a real stalwart, especially at the scrummage. Many a tighthead has come off second-best against him and he is unfortunate not to have a Springbok cap, although he did go on tour with us to Great Britain in 2012.

It was a clear turning point in the game when Western Province scored a try just before halftime, with Damian Willemse having the vision to evade Kobus van Wyk’s spot-tackle. There are always risks to rushing out like the Sharks wing did, and Western Province kept the ball for a number of phases after the break by their fullback and the try left them only five behind going into the second half, when Western Province just completely pegged down the Sharks through the dominance of their pack and set-piece.

The Sharks were probably the better team in broken-field play, they have quite exciting backs, and they got a lot of mileage from the kickoffs. That’s a basic thing, but it seems most locks in the Currie Cup were not able to catch the ball! So that’s a work-on for South African teams ahead of SuperRugby.

For the Sharks, they can still approach 2018 with some confidence. They chose not to pick the experienced Chiliboy Ralepelle in their squad for the final, and they’ll have him and Beast Mtawarira back in the front row. They’ll also have some nice physicality in the backs with Robert du Preez arriving at flyhalf and Andre Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw and Louis Schreuder around 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.

A simple calculation for WP: Forward might is right 0

Posted on October 28, 2017 by Ken

 

It may not be a straightforward calculation to measure the exact amount of momentum Western Province gained from their pack in the Currie Cup final against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday, but it was simple as anything to work out that it was the visiting forwards who played the key role in their convincing 33-21 victory.

At practically every scrum, the Sharks were going backwards, and even on the one occasion they got the shove on Western Province, it still ended in a try for the visitors as eighthman Nizaam Carr broke blind and set up fellow loose forward Cobus Wiese for the try.

Western Province were also dominant on the gain-line, meeting a Sharks pack, that has powered through most other opposition this season, head-on in a brutal battle.

Western Province flyhalf Robert du Preez was a composed general behind this juggernaut pack, while opposite number Curwin Bosch lost his cool, being exposed defensively and only succeeding with 50% of his kicks at goal.

It took a while for the Western Province ace to be reflected on the scoreboard though, with the Sharks thriving in the first half as they capitalised on soft mistakes by the visitors to run up a 21-10 lead that lasted until the final moments before the break.

The Sharks were tied down in their 22 as the final hooter went and, even though Carr was held up over the line by Garth April, a five-metre scrum resulted in concerted pressure, and eventually wing Kobus van Wyk rushed out of the defensive line, allowing opposite number Dillyn Leyds to go over in the corner.

From that point on, the Sharks were on the back foot; pushed back on the gain-line, unable to get their hands on the ball and condemned to playing in the wrong areas of the field by the tactical nous of on-song flyhalf Robert du Preez.

Wiese’s 51st-minute try brought Western Province practically back on level terms and they took the lead for the first and final time when Bosch went high on wing Seabela Senatla, who brushed him off and was able to offload to centre Huw Jones, who skipped past a few defenders on his way to the tryline.

Western Province then relied on the boot of Du Preez to close out the game and they can justifiably feel proud by how they finished the season as thoroughly convincing champions, having been underwhelming in the opening half of the competition.

No team can expect to win a final with their pack being so badly beaten, but the Sharks certainly made a good fist of it for the first 35 minutes.

Despite being shoved off the ball in the opening scrum to concede a tighthead, it all started so positively for the Sharks with centre Marius Louw slicing through the Western Province defence like a can-opener to set up Odwa Ndungane, in his 251st and last game for the Sharks, with a dream try.

But glory can turn into humiliation very quickly in finals and Jones then stepped inside an on-rushing Ndungane for Western Province’s opening try just four minutes later. The Sharks will be more disappointed that they conceded a five-metre scrum, from which the try came, through players just being in the wrong place at the wrong time at a ruck, resulting in accidental offsides.

Eighthman Daniel du Preez then muscled his way over in the 18th minute, but it would end up as a bad day for the twins as Jean-Luc had to be helped off the field moments later with an ankle injury, and Daniel would be yellow-carded late in the second half for tackling a player off the ball.

Having their most physical forward excluded from the gain-line battle certainly didn’t help the Sharks, but to be fair, Western Province were already dominating the scrums and had kept Jean-Luc in check up until his departure.

The home crowd would have hoped the phenomenal long-range drop goal Bosch fired over off a retreating scrum would mean the youngster was settling into the game, but unfortunately the pressure was inexorably transferred on to him and the Springbok hopeful did not handle it well.

The game-management of Robert du Preez was outstanding, though, and the other chief heroes for Western Province in a fine all-round display were Wilco Louw, the player of the match for the way he provided the foundation for the huge scrummaging display that laid the platform for victory; Jones, the Scotsman who brought tremendous physical presence and great feet to the midfield, and Carr, the workhorse of the team.

The Western Province front row, with Bongi Mbonambi and JC Janse van Rensburg providing powerful support to Louw, is where the victory had its starting point though.

 

The Currie Cup has fallen from its perch 2

Posted on August 22, 2017 by Ken

 

There can now be no doubt that the Currie Cup has fallen from its perch as one of the most respected domestic rugby competitions in the world to an afterthought, something that seems to have become a burden for SA Rugby rather than a jewel in the crown.

While rugby romantics who grew up on the grand old tales of the Currie Cup and its great provincial rivalry will just have to get used to the fact that most of SA Rugby’s resources will now be poured into SuperRugby and the Springboks (and even the Pro14 seems to have jumped the queue in importance), there is one important factor that needs to be dealt with – SuperRugby franchises still get their players from the Currie Cup.

The Currie Cup is still a vital stepping stone from which so many players graduate into the next year’s SuperRugby competition, and most of the franchises will tell you they have half-an-eye on the Sanzaar tournament throughout all their Currie Cup activities.

And, as Jake White has pointed out, what happens now in the Currie Cup affects the Springboks in five years’ time.

“If you look at the kind of players who are playing Currie Cup now, with the Springboks and internationals away, we are saying that the Currie Cup is not what it used to be, and my fear is that we’re accepting mediocrity. When I was a youngster, the likes of Hennie Bekker, Schalk Burger Snr and Henning van Aswegen were playing for Western Province. How many 19-year-olds played then? None. And how many of the youngsters playing today would make that Western Province team? None.

“That’s a worrying sign because whatever is happening now, there’s no doubt it will impact where we will be in the next five years. There are a lot of factors – overseas players, spreading the talent base – but I don’t think people want to admit that the consequences are going to come back to bite us,” White told All Out Rugby.

The downgrading of the Currie Cup is a serious concern that is reflected in attendance figures, but how are people meant to get excited about a tournament that started while SuperRugby’s exciting climax was hogging all the attention? Watching second and third-string teams play is really only going to excite the family members and close friends of the players involved.

One of the biggest questions the current Currie Cup breeding ground is not answering is “Where are we going to get all our future props from?”

It is a disgrace that the Currie Cup is practically the only premier rugby tournament in the world that is still using 22-man squads, which forces most teams to choose only one prop replacement. When it happened last year it was almost forgiven because of the chaotic preparation for the 2016 Currie Cup [http://kenborland.com/2016/08/6043/], but making the same mistake again has drawn fully justified criticism from Sharks coach Robert du Preez and Nollis Marais of the Blue Bulls.

The reason for not moving with the times and having 23 players – which allows a full front row of replacements – is apparently financial. But given that it costs probably R6000 per player per match (and only the visiting team needs a flight and hotel), so with three games per weekend, that’s an extra R18 000 for the 23rd player.

With the Currie Cup being played over 14 weeks, that’s an extra cost of about R252 000. Surely SA Rugby can get that money from cost-cutting other areas that aren’t so vital for the welfare of the game?

It also avoids the unsavoury sight of uncontested scrums, which are open to abuse whenever a side is under pressure in that set-piece. The scrums are such a vital platform these days for front-foot ball and earning penalties and uncontested scrums are clearly unfair on the dominant team.

Speaking about the welfare of the game, women’s rugby in this country has taken a knock by it not being involved in the ongoing Women’s Rugby World Cup which has reached the semi-final stage in Ireland. The decision was made by SA Rugby to rather invest in the grassroots of women’s rugby, the U16 and U18 championships, to try and broaden the base, rather than sending a team to the World Cup to finish 10th.

While the reasoning is understandable, the enormous strides made by our national women’s cricket team shows that investing heavily at the elite level can also bring rewards.

SA Rugby needs to weigh up the merits of providing opportunities with the harsh economic realities of our time, but at the moment it seems the money men are calling all the shots.

WP beat Blue Bulls because of 1st-half lead 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken

 

Western Province held on to beat the Blue Bulls 45-34 in their Currie Cup match at Newlands on Saturday, largely because they had built up such a formidable first-half lead that they only needed to add one penalty in the second half to clinch victory.

Western Province produced a superb first half against a Bulls side that simply did not pitch for the first 40 minutes, playing ponderous rugby marked by their inability to hang on to the ball and some extremely soft defence, with the home side racing to a 42-13 lead at the break.

The Blue Bulls came storming back in the second half, largely because they managed to hold on to the ball far better and built pressure. But with such a massive lead, the sting had been taken out of the game for Western Province and they went through the motions for much of the second 40.

The roots of the victory lay up front for Western Province, being based on the wonderful efforts of their pack. They enjoyed obvious dominance in the scrums and even managed to pick off a couple of Blue Bulls lineouts.

While flyhalf Damian Willemse was the choice of the official judges for man of the match, lock JD Schickerling looked a different class in being the focal point of the Western Province forward effort.

Apart from his set-piece prowess, he was constantly in the thick of the action as a ball-carrier and worked hard in defence and at the rucks.

Willemse also had a fine game, highlighted by his 11th-minute try when he ripped apart some flatfooted, ball-watching defence by the Bulls with some amazing stepping. The 19-year-old loves to attack the gain-line and, while one hates to heap the pressure of expectation on one so young, he does ooze class and has ‘future Springbok’ written all over him.

Willemse’s effort will no doubt be a contender for try of the season, but a long-range try by Blue Bulls wing Kefentse Mahlo could also be in the running. It will certainly be one of the most unlikeliest tries of the season.

Blitzbok Seabelo Senatla was racing for the Bulls line in the 57th minute and looked certain to score when he was caught from behind by eighthman Nic de Jager, who has been the object of much derision in the horror season for the Pretoria team.

De Jager kept working hard after bringing down the Stormers wing, counter-rucking superbly. Fullback Duncan Matthews then picked up the ball and counter-attacked, freeing Mahlo for a 75-metre dash to the line.

But the defeat, their second in succession, sees the Blue Bulls, the early pacesetters, falling to fourth on the log, behind the Free State Cheetahs, Sharks and Griquas.

Points scorers

Western ProvinceTries: Nizaam Carr, Damian Willemse, SP Marais, Seabelo Senatla (2), Scarra Ntubeni. Conversions: Marais (6). Penalty: Marais.

Blue BullsTries: Piet van Zyl, Kefentse Mahlo (2), Johan Grobbelaar. Conversions: Tony Jantjies (4). Penalties: Jantjies (2).

 

http://citizen.co.za/sport/south-africa-sport/sa-rugby-sport/1609524/currie-cup-first-half-blitzkrieg-enough-for-western-province/



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