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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – What made the difference for the Lions? 0

Posted on April 21, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions’ win over the Stormers in the weekend’s big game in Cape Town was a fantastic effort.

I predicted last week that whichever side defended better would win the game and that was the case. The key difference was the Lions defence dominated the collisions and were also able to force vital turnovers against the home side.

The Stormers’ defensive policy meant they stayed out of the rucks because the Lions have such width to their game; but that resulted in uncontested, free ball for the Lions and allowed them to build control of the game, and in defence Jaco Kriel and Malcolm Marx were vociferous over the loose ball.

If a team keeps more numbers on their feet in defence then they can build greater width in their defensive line and it is a tactic used by a lot of teams, mainly at wide rucks. With this you should be able to get greater line speed and come harder off the line because of the players on their feet. The Stormers have used this tactic since the Jacques Nienaber era, with the defence outnumbering the attack, and it requires great discipline for players to stay out of the ruck, and so your penalty count will be lower.

If you do defend that way, then you need line-speed and the Stormers didn’t really have that. You need to put pressure on the halfbacks because they are the decision-makers, cut down their space and options, and that was lacking. Elton Jantjies had his best game of the season.

This is completely different to the approach of a team like the Hurricanes, who put pressure on the ball and push the attack backwards, forcing turnovers, which is the hardest ball to defend against.

First prize in defence is to get good tackle contact, maybe a double-hit, and then get over and steal the ball, like Kriel does. The Stormers are lacking a specialist openside flank which means this form of defence suits them, but obviously they need to revisit their recruitment policy and develop or find an openside.

The Stormers were keen on making offloads, getting their hands above the tackle, which means you have to stay up in contact, leaving you vulnerable to the choke-tackle. The Lions were very effective at keeping square and hitting the carrier so that the offload opportunity was nullified or could only be made under extreme pressure. This also resulted in turnovers through the choke-tackle, just like Ireland used in the 2011 World Cup win over Australia.

The Stormers will be disappointed with the blindside try they allowed Sylvian Mahuza to score because the wing should always be up on the short side, Cheslin Kolbe was hanging back which gave space and Harold Vorster ran a wonderful line, through pillar three and four, who were watching the ruck and not him, allowing him to slice through.

It takes a special talent to see the hole in the defence and then to hit it, and Vorster shows how blessed South African rugby is in terms of backline depth. The two leading centres favoured by Allister Coetzee – Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh – are both injured, so the performances of Vorster have been very encouraging.

The Cheetahs were really on fire for the first 30 minutes of their game against the Chiefs and some of the rugby they played, and the courage they showed to run from deep, was a joy to watch. It just shows that the decision to go with only four South African franchises is going to have the terrible consequence of a lot of people, fine rugby players, losing their livelihoods and jobs, or taking the road overseas.

Francois Venter was very influential with his reverse runs and clever lines, and the Cheetahs still use the strength of their maul well and that caused the Chiefs many problems. They run their exits off the restarts, they take you on first and then look for a short kick. They got good reward from chips during that opening period.

There probably should have been more yellow cards in the first half-hour because the Chiefs were really under the pump and they started to concede penalties rather than tries. They knew that even two penalties against one try was a good deal.

The deliberate conceding of penalties really stops the attacking momentum and after a penalty the offending side then gets territory because they kick deep from the restart! It certainly calls for captains to speak to the referees, the captain needs to put the right sort of pressure on the referee.

Some captains are better at this than others – eg one Richie McCaw! – but it’s a vital thing to get that influence. There are never a lot of yellow cards given because referees don’t want to have an overbearing influence on the game, but there’s normally at least one and it’s important teams find the right time to go to the referee by the captain.

For example, Jan Serfontein’s yellow card last weekend for the Bulls against the Sunwolves was for something not much different to what the Chiefs were doing. But the scoreline influences the decision. In that first half-hour in Bloemfontein, the high tackle when it was a one-on-one by Damian McKenzie was a prime example. He was at the last line of defence and such fouls raise the question of a penalty try.

The Chiefs knew they would score tries at the back end of the match and the Cheetahs’ conditioning was off so the game followed the traditional pattern of South African teams versus New Zealand sides and they ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes.

I was pleased to see the Bulls get back on track and to see CEO Barend van Graan so publicly back the coaching staff. The reward was a quite convincing win and the best result against the Jaguares by a South African team this season.

Congratulations too to all the schools who took part in Easter festivals in South Africa. These are a wonderful showpiece for the game and a very special part of our rugby itinerary. Long may these traditions continue, it’s just wonderful to see the number of games of such quality over the course of a day and that so many come out to support these festivals.

With SA Rugby’s plan for four Super Rugby sides and eight professional Currie Cup sides, you wonder where these highly promising young players are going to get opportunities to play. Obviously the Varsity Cup will be an entry point, hopefully these players will show patience and remain in South Africa.

 

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 – Defence and touring are the talking points 0

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Ken

 

Two of the main talking points among South African SuperRugby followers at the moment are the apparent slackening in the defence of the local franchises and the resting of players for the away matches against the Jaguares and Sunwolves.

Questions have been raised about the defence of the South African franchises, especially after the Bulls leaked six tries against the Blues in Auckland last weekend. But it’s not just the Bulls – there are a lot more tries being scored this year in general.

The reason is that over the last year the attack has gone a lot wider and there are more players behind the ball. Sure, the rules have changed a bit, like the tackle law favouring more offloads, but the game has changed over the last year with people more willing now to leave forwards in the wide channels.

Most teams now play 2-4-2 or 1-3-3-1 with their forwards spread out across the field, and we are seeing more loose forwards standing in the backline.

In terms of the tries the Blues scored against the Bulls, we often saw two forwards in the outer extremities running against backs. When you have a big man on a smaller man, you’re more likely to be able to get an offload away. The Blues were able to score either because the Bulls simply ran out of numbers or they were able to effect excellent offloads by having support players behind the ball.

Three or four years ago, teams would have their forwards in two pods of four, but now they leave them in channels across the field and you will often see a hooker or back-row forward in the 15-metres-from-touch zone. The All Blacks have been doing this for the last five years and England did it between 2000 and 2003.

The reason it’s being done is because it’s now been proved, thanks to every player being fitted with a GPS that measures how many metres they have run and at what speed, that a lot less energy is used if the forwards are spread across the field than if they follow the ball. That’s how this new trend has evolved.

I actually thought the quality of the Bulls defence was very good in the first half, but they were found out in the second half when they just ran out of steam, too much juice had been taken out of their legs. That meant the Bulls’ backs and wings were always in a numbers situation, they could not get their width back and get back into line, so they were always under pressure.

To be fair though, the try from the restart was because at the kickoff you usually leave players back – the three outside backs and the scrumhalf on the chip-kick – and with four players out of the defensive line you will be vulnerable. But it was a good try and the Blues’ first try also featured fantastic offloads.

It’s difficult to stop offloads in the wide channels because you’re also dealing with footwork because of all the space available out there.

We always faced these same difficulties against New Zealand sides and some days we were more successful dealing with them than on others. The keys are a high level of conditioning, especially amongst the forwards, and to work hard at the breakdown. If you can’t get tacklers over the ball to slow it down, then the opposition just gets quick ball and quicker ball, and momentum, and then it’s difficult to set a defensive line. That’s what happened to the Bulls and it put Jamba Ulengo under real pressure on the wing.

But Pine Pienaar is an experienced defensive coach, now in his fourth year in the job, and he will be very aware of all this and will know how to fix it. After all, the Blue Bulls made the Currie Cup final last year and you don’t get there without having a good defence.

Handre Pollard had a better game and I’m looking forward to him coming through, he’s going a level up every week.

But it’s an horrendous draw for the Bulls to have all those away games up front, it’s the hardest draw in Super Rugby because you can never get on the front foot. Even a brilliant coach like John Plumtree was let go by the Sharks in 2013 after that sort of draw, and Allister Coetzee also had a season starting with numerous away games with the Stormers.

So it can happen that you get on a downward spiral. Super Rugby is such a tough competition that you always go through crises, but it’s how you deal with them that counts.

There have been suggestions that South African teams are concentrating more on attack to the detriment of their defence, but they will always get enough time during the week to work on their defence, that will never change. Generally teams train for 50 minutes on the Monday, then Tuesday is virtually a full session, the major day for defence, with contact. Then on Thursday attack will be the focus, but it’s not true that teams are concentrating too much on attack!

Each coach will have equal time to work within that on their area, teams split their time evenly between attack and defence.

In terms of weakened teams going to play the Jaguares in Argentina, that would have been pre-planned. Teams have to rest their frontline players in accordance with the Saru guidelines and it’s a helluva trip. You leave on the Sunday morning, flying 10-11 hours to Sao Paulo, where you have a three-hour wait before flying for four hours to Buenos Aires, only arriving on Monday afternoon, so you can’t train then. Teams will have a light practice on the Tuesday, with just one major session on the Thursday.

And coming back from Argentina is even worse!

What coaches like Johan Ackermann and Franco Smith have done is look at their next games and those have been vital, the problem with travelling to Argentina is always the game after that one, but that’s just the nature of the competition.

Singapore is also 10 hours away and it’s very humid and hot there. The Stormers took it as a chance to get some fringe guys some rugby.

Teams are merely following medical advice on how to keep their players fresh and get their best rugby out of them, plus players are more susceptible to ailments on these long trips.

The Lions proved last year that you need home advantage to win SuperRugby, but they needed to be at their best in the knockout games, hence their decision to rest players for their last round-robin game in Argentina.

 

 

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.

Handling & defence chief concerns for Nollis 2

Posted on March 27, 2017 by Ken

 

Handling errors and poor defence were the chief concerns of Bulls coach Nollis Marais following their dismal display in Albany which saw them being belted 38-14 by the Blues at the weekend.

Despite having their fair share of possession and shading the territory battle, the Bulls were outscored by six tries to two and fell apart badly in the second half after going into the break level at 7-7.

“We were very competitive in the first half but we didn’t take our chances in the second half. We made too many errors with our handling and we couldn’t convert from the lineout. We gave them too many opportunities and obviously the defence is definitely a concern.

“We conceded too many points in the second half and we will have to look at that, re-visit our defence,” Marais said.

The Bulls allowed 13 linebreaks and missed 24 tackles against the Blues, and have now conceded 17 tries in four matches.

The Blues had won just one of their four matches prior to their meeting with the Bulls, who now face far tougher opposition in the form of the unbeaten Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.

“There will definitely be one or two changes to the team, but we’re not going to change structurally, we have to make sure everything is in place for next Saturday,” the coach said.

The scrums were perhaps the only area where the Bulls did themselves justice.

“It was a great performance in the scrums, Trevor Nyakane did really well at tighthead, and we were dominant there, so that was a very good positive,” Marais said.

“But we didn’t take our chances in the second half, we wasted too many opportunities. A couple of times we were in their 22 but we didn’t convert that into points either.”

 

Bulls romp to victory because of aggressive defence 0

Posted on July 11, 2016 by Ken

 

The Vodacom Bulls overwhelmed the Sunwolves 50-3 in their SuperRugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, running in seven tries without reply, but it was more because of their aggressive defence than any scintillating attacking play that the bonus-point win was recorded.

The Sunwolves had enough of the ball, especially in the second half, to have troubled the Bulls, but the home side, probably playing their last match at Loftus Versfeld this season, were fired up in defence and dominated the gain-line, as well as scrambling well and generally looking eager to make an impression.

The attacking work of the Bulls was by no means bad, but at times there was a lack of fluency and a few mistakes as well.

But it was obviously a pleasing evening for the Bulls as they kept the pressure on the Sharks for the last South African qualifying place, gaining a two-point lead over the KwaZulu-Natalians ahead of their crunch game against the Cheetahs in Durban.

It took the Bulls 12 minutes to break down the defence of the Sunwolves, who were fortunate not to be reduced to 14 men early on when outside centre Derek Carpenter received the benefit of the doubt for a trip and was not yellow-carded.

The Bulls’ efforts to bash away at close quarters were nullified by the Sunwolves spoiling their breakdown ball and tackling bravely, and the opening try eventually came when the Bulls were able to exploit the wide open spaces from deeper out. The Sunwolves cleared their lines with a kick, but Jesse Kriel, whose play at fullback was a breath of fresh air compared to his fettered efforts in midfield, took a quick lineout and wing Jamba Ulengo produced a great run from 58 metres out, beating several defenders and then popping the ball up in the tackle to flank Lappies Labuschagne, who was up in support and able to go over for the try.

Unlike the Bulls, the Sunwolves were able to get points from their first visit to the 22, as flyhalf Yu Tamura kicked a penalty after scrumhalf Piet van Zyl spent too long on the wrong side of a ruck.

Bulls flyhalf Francois Brummer, whose kicking game was sharp, added an 18th-minute penalty to his earlier conversion and would eventually finish with a five-from-six record with three more conversions.

The Bulls crossed the tryline again in the 21st minute as Van Zyl detected the space and launched a great counter-attack. Labuschagne was once again up in support and he sent centre Dries Swanepoel over for the try.

Labuschagne was all over the field, linking, tackling and winning turnovers, which suggests his move to Japan after Super Rugby is going to be a major blow for the Bulls. In the 27th minute, he was stopped just short of the line, but fellow flank Jannes Kirsten was on hand to pick up the ball and drive over the line (24-3).

It was one-way traffic in the first half and the Bulls grabbed a fourth try before the break as the Sunwolves tried to run their way out of the 22 – spurning the big boot of fullback Riaan Viljoen – and the ball went to ground in the backline. Brummer pounced, kicked through and had an easy path to dotting down, his conversion making the halftime score 31-3.

The scent of a real thrashing was in the air early in the second half as Van Zyl went on another jet-propelled dash through the defence, captain Adriaan Strauss finishing the move with a bullocking run.

The Sunwolves were 36-3 down, but they did not run out of gas, to their credit. Surviving on scraps up till then, they certainly stretched the Bulls defence in the second half and coach Nollis Marais will be fuming over the penalty count.

But the Bulls are the team with the best tackling success rate in the competition and they kept the Sunwolves out, before adding the finishing touches to their win with two late tries, both by wing Travis Ismaiel.

The Bulls are a skilful side when they get it right and there were some lovely hands involved in the first try, especially a brilliant, long, flat pass out wide from centre Burger Odendaal to Ismaiel.

The Sunwolves then went back on attack but, to their immense disappointment, a grubber through was tidied up by replacement fullback SP Marais, who then broke through and released Ismaiel on a 55-metre open run-in to the line.

The outstanding work-rate of Labuschagne meant he fully deserved the man of the match award, but the other star players were the eighthman Renaldo Bothma, who was at the forefront of smashing the Sunwolves back, and Van Zyl, who sparked much of the attacking play.

Pierre Schoeman’s first start in the number one jersey was also impressive, showing he can ably stand in during the absence of Trevor Nyakane and Lizo Gqoboka through injury, while the midfield pairing of Swanepoel and Odendaal also rose to the occasion.

Scorers

Vodacom BullsTries: Lappies Labuschagne, Dries Swanepoel, Jannes Kirsten, Francois Brummer, Adriaan Strauss, Travis Ismaiel (2). Conversions: Brummer (4), Tian Schoeman (2). Penalty: Brummer.

SunwolvesPenalty: Yu Tamura.

http://www.citizen.co.za/1197645/bulls-overwhelm-sunwolves/

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    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    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".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
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