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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – How the Lions turned around their SuperRugby semifinal 0

Posted on August 01, 2017 by Ken

 

 

In the last 45 minutes of their SuperRugby semi-final, the Lions beat the Hurricanes 41-7, which is a phenomenal achievement against the defending champions and a truly top-quality side.

Altitude was certainly a big factor and you could see the Hurricanes fading away, but the way the Lions set up their amazing comeback was highly impressive.

There were things they definitely needed to do better from the first half, starting with their first-phase defence. They were caught out with a simple second-man play from a lineout for the Wes Goosen try, when there were a couple of misreads, and the turnovers in their own half also provided the Hurricanes with position and points.

There was a lot of long kicking at the start of the game and very few contestable kicks, so there wasn’t a lot of counter-attacking either, with both teams playing safety-first rugby, and the Hurricanes generally capitalising on Lions’ mistakes exiting in their own half.

When the Lions carried the ball, they generally went close to the ruck, either in channel one or on the blindside, attacking the pillars. This did not give the Hurricanes defence the chance to rush, and even though the Lions did not get much momentum and made a few mistakes and turnovers, it kept the Hurricanes tight five making tackles, and by the end of the match they were stuffed, the wind had been taken out of their sails.

The turning point in the match came when Jaco Kriel made a steal just before halftime on halfway, when the Hurricanes had first-phase ball from a lineout. He got in over the ball, the Lions won the penalty and they went for position.

The previous time they had won a penalty in a similar position, they went for the tap-and-run which in hindsight was the wrong decision. But it came from the frustration the players on the outside would have been feeling because they weren’t in the game and someone obviously felt the space was there to attack. No player takes a tap just on their own volition, there would have been a call from someone else.

Jaco Kriel is such a warrior, he never gives up and he has a really tough streak, which influences the whole of the team. I felt that important steal totally changed the momentum of the game as it gave the Lions field position which led to the try just before halftime. The Hurricanes forwards just could not fold into position after a couple of lineout drives and in the end Jacques van Rooyen barged over to bring the Lions back into the game.

The Hurricanes had all the possession and territory in the first half, but the second half was all Lions. Their scrum was dominant enough to gain penalties to gain field position in the 22 for lineout mauls.

I felt the Hurricanes yellow card was very harsh. Beauden Barrett definitely rolled away, but the ball squirted out on his side and into his legs. It was definitely a penalty, but with their flyhalf and main general off the field, the Hurricanes fell apart and the game really opened up for the Lions.

They converted their field position into points well and were ruthless in terms of their lineout maul. It takes a fair amount of numbers to stop them setting it up and driving, so that opened up other options for them as well off the lineout.

The big thing though was that the belief was there in the Lions team and you have to also give credit to their whole coaching staff. And Cash [Ivan van Rooyen], their conditioning coach, is their real unsung hero. Against the New Zealand teams, it’s always in the last 20 minutes that they come back so strongly, but the Lions actually dominated the final quarter, which shows they are in tip-top shape.

In terms of defence, it was very difficult to go around the Lions with Andries Coetzee coming into the line very early as the extra man. That does leave them vulnerable at the back, but the Hurricanes weren’t able to get kick-passes or grubbers in behind.

And the Lions scored some really well-worked tries. Especially the one where their centres set things up and their loose forwards finished out wide. Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have the size in midfield, and then they have the pace of Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith out wide to finish.

I thought Franco Mostert was immense and is really starting to look like a world-class lock, and his two consecutive lineout steals in the first half were crucial in keeping the Lions in the game.

The biggest compliment one can pay Malcolm Marx is that he did not lose anything to Dane Coles, who is possibly the best hooker in the world. A long Springbok career lies ahead of Malcolm and we are blessed to have someone of that size starting their international career so early.

In the final, however, the Crusaders will be a totally different kettle of fish to the Hurricanes. They have a number of All Blacks, especially in the tight five, and world-class back-row forwards. They have some of the best players in the world in Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Owen Franks, they are second to none and they all play in key areas.

So there’s going to be a lot more pressure on the Lions at the scrum and lineout. While the Hurricanes stayed down against the Lions lineout, which gave them a lot more latitude, the Crusaders will definitely compete.

I thought the Crusaders were very clinical in their semi-final against the Chiefs, even though they also don’t compete much at the breakdown (apart from Ryan Crotty), they concentrate on having numbers of defenders on their feet. That will mean a lot of free ball for the Lions, which is a big risk at altitude.

The key moment in that semi-final was the Tim Nanai-Williams grubber try and a great call by the TMO to cancel out even though Damian McKenzie was shaping for the conversion. It’s important to get those decisions right in matches like that and it was correct.

It’s great that the final will be a sell-out crowd and a great way for Johan Ackermann to finish his tenure at the Lions.

The Lions have now got a lot of belief and confidence and I think they will emerge as the 2017 SuperRugby champions. It has proven nigh-on impossible for a team to win a SuperRugby final outside their own country, never mind crossing the Indian Ocean. I think it will be done at some time, but hopefully not this weekend.

 

 

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.

 

 

Cobras looking to avoid last place after disrupted season 0

Posted on May 19, 2016 by Ken

 

While the bizhub Highveld Lions have secured their position at the top of the Sunfoil Series standings, there will be a fiercely-fought contest at the other end of the log as the defending champion Nashua Cape Cobras look to avoid the wooden spoon in the final round of matches starting on Thursday.

The Cobras, with so many representatives of both the national and SA A sides coming in and out of the team, have endured a disrupted season, but they would dearly like to beat the Sunfoil Dolphins, who are looking to hang on to second place behind the Lions, to ensure they don’t finish last.

Although their hopes of winning the four-day title for the fifth time in six seasons are long gone, the progress of players like Dane Paterson and Omphile Ramela has been a major positive.

“Obviously we’ve spoken about not finishing last, but we’ve gained some things this season in the form of people like Dane and Omphi, and they would like to finish near the top of the leading wicket-takers and run-scorers lists,” Cobras coach Paul Adams told The Citizen on Wednesday.

The depth of the Cobras has always been one of the major reasons for their dominance of franchise cricket in recent years, and Adams will use the match against the Dolphins at the Oval in Pietermaritzburg to give exposure to other players coming through like Matthew Kleinveldt, left-arm swing bowler Mpilo Njoloza and wrist-spinner George Linde.

Stiaan van Zyl is out of action with a thigh strain, but the inclusion of Dane Piedt means the Cobras have one new international returning for another.

“It’s another chance to look at a couple of players, someone like Matthew has done nicely in the three-day competition, with guys like Rory Kleinveldt, Robin Peterson and Mthokozisi Shezi having a break after the long season.

“Players like Paterson and Ramela understand their games better now and hopefully we’ll be back in the running in four-day cricket next season. Despite the results, we’ve had some consistent players who are moving on in the game,” Adams said.

For the Dolphins, the disappointment of losing to the Lions last weekend and therefore ending the title chase leaves them vulnerable against a quality, hungry outfit like the Cobras and coach Lance Klusener has intimated that he might well freshen up the squad by making a few changes.

The Chevrolet Warriors are the other team in danger of ‘winning’ the wooden spoon and they take on the champion Lions at the Wanderers with a slender lead of just 1.22 points over the Cobras.

The Eastern Cape side are also looking to the 2015/16 season according to coach Malibongwe Maketa and the same squad that were beaten in East London by the Chevrolet Knights last weekend will do duty in Johannesburg.

The pressure will be on the Warriors batsmen to score runs in the first innings against the best attack in the competition and Maketa said the inconsistent batting has been the biggest issue for his side this season.

“We haven’t been consistent enough, we haven’t batted well in the first innings and, although we’ve managed to save some games in the second innings, last weekend’s defeat was always coming. But we’re working hard on our young batsmen, we want to test them against the Lions, where they’ll have to score runs under pressure.

“But this is our best side and we have them for the next two or three seasons, so we want to keep playing them and building. We’re not going to be giving away free Warriors caps,” Maketa said.

The Lions will want to complete their superb campaign by beating the Warriors and are likely to name their strongest XI even though nobody can catch them at the top of the standings.

Dominic Hendricks will replace wicketkeeper/batsman Thami Tsolekile, who is being troubled by a finger injury, while the batting will be further strengthened by the return of Alviro Petersen.

The battle for second place also involves the Unlimited Titans, who are 12.16 points behind the Dolphins, and they host the Knights at SuperSport Park in Centurion.

The Titans will be without opening batsman Dean Elgar, who was the star of their draw against the Cobras last weekend with an unbeaten double-century, before being struck on the head by Paterson and suffering a mild concussion.

But Qaasim Adams, who has scored a century for the Titans in both the Sunfoil Series and the Momentum One-Day Cup and was named as the franchise’s Most Improved Player at their awards function this week, returns from injury, and with Albie Morkel and Shaun von Berg both in the squad, the home side could bat down to number nine.

Knights coach Sarel Cilliers is expecting a pitch that will become up-and-down as the Titans need to win the game to overtake the Dolphins and finish second. But victory for the visitors could see them swop positions with the Titans and finish third.

“I definitely think their plan is to use inconsistent bounce and the pitch looks as if it will go up-and-down quite early. So far in this competition we’ve had three losses, three draws and three wins, so I’d really like to tilt the balance in favour of wins by the end of the season,” Cilliers said.

Quinton Friend, who many judges of fast bowling rate as a quality paceman, is back for the Knights and so is Malusi Siboto, an accurate back-up seamer.

Unfortunately Corne Dry and Duanne Olivier are both out injured and Cilliers said they are the sort of bang-it-in bowlers who could have thrived on the SuperSport Park pitch.

“They’ve really struck their straps in the last couple of weeks and their injuries are unfortunate because those youngsters do hit the deck hard. We’ve been capable of containing sides, but wickets have been a bit short and we had three games where we bowled for 140 overs, not being able to bowl sides out in the first innings, and that’s a long time in the field.

“But it was a good turnaround in East London, where we managed to bowl the Warriors out in both the first and second innings, and that was a good performance, especially by the bowlers,” Cilliers said.

 

Sharks end Highlanders’ home run with sheer character 2

Posted on April 25, 2016 by Ken

 

The Cell C Sharks ended the eight-match winning home run of the Highlanders, the defending Vodacom SuperRugby champions, with a gutsy 15-14 win in Dunedin on Friday, in a display that proves there is obviously great character and potential in their side.

The Sharks were helped by the 13th-minute red-carding of centre Jason Emery, who clattered into Willie le Roux while he was in the air fielding a kick, causing the fullback to suffer a horrendous fall on to his neck and head. Fortunately the Springbok was able to return to the field after a concussion test.

The error-rate of the Highlanders was also a major factor, with the home side making numerous handling errors to stymie their often dangerous attacking play, but the scrambling defence of the Sharks was outstanding, deserving some of the credit for forcing mistakes.

The Sharks made the most nervy of starts as they received the kick-off and set a driving maul, but were immediately penalised for obstruction, flyhalf Lima Sopoaga slotting the kick and giving the Highlanders the first three points on the scoreboard.

Flyhalf Garth April, making his first Super Rugby start, then sent the restart too deep and conceded a scrum in centre-field.

The battering for the Sharks started in the seventh minute when Sopoaga was late and led with the shoulder in a tackle on Cobus Reinach. April kicked the resulting penalty to level the scores, but the scrumhalf limped off the field with a leg-injury.

The Le Roux/Emery incident happened six minutes later and the hard-working eighthman, Philip van der Walt, also left the field in the first half with an injury.

In the 11th minute, April kicked a second penalty after the Highlanders collapsed the Sharks’ maul, after a lineout had been won five metres from the tryline thanks to a clever kick by wing Odwa Ndungane.

But despite being reduced to 14 men after Emery’s deserved ejection, the Highlanders dominated the first half. Their superior spatial recognition and the way they beat the Sharks’ first-time tacklers and dominated the collisions meant the visitors were forced to defend for long periods.

That the Sharks went into halftime 6-3 up was only thanks to Sopoaga being short with two penalties, the handling mistakes made on attack by the Highlanders and some heroic scrambling defence.

There was no better example of their courageous defence than in the last three minutes when the Highlanders piled on the pressure and the yellow-carding of lock Stephan Lewies was a potentially crippling development. But the Sharks held on magnificently and twice held the opposition up over the line.

Early in the second half, the Sharks showed some improved attacking ability, their forwards – especially Van der Walt’s replacement Jean Deysel – carrying the ball powerfully and the backline showing super ball-retention, trapping the Highlanders offsides and allowing April to stretch their lead to 9-3 with another penalty.

Lewies returned but the Sharks were only able to enjoy their 15-14 advantage for half-a-dozen minutes as the Highlanders piled on the pressure with good attacking play, leading to two penalties by Sopoaga and a yellow card for outside centre JP Pietersen, who showed ill-discipline in playing, while he was on the ground, scrumhalf Aaron Smith.

The Sharks did regain a 56th-minute lead through another April penalty (12-9), but, two minutes later, wing Matt Faddes managed to stretch his 1.85-metre frame and dot the ball down in the right-hand corner, having evaded Le Roux’s last-ditch tackle.

The Highlanders were 14-12 up going into the last five minutes; as a team, they have an attacking framework, but what followed was utter madness as they tried to run the ball from their own tryline and were forced to concede a five-metre lineout.

They stopped the driving maul and the Sharks, although they enjoyed a dominant scrum in the final quarter thanks to the introductions of Lourens Adriaanse and Chiliboy Ralepelle, were not able to exploit the extra space out wide with the Highlanders missing a centre.

But there was a penalty for them, which April slotted for a perfect five-from-five record with the boot, and a timely, shock victory for the embattled Sharks.

Even then, the Highlanders duffed a chance to snatch the win through a missed drop goal by Sopoaga and then a forward pass as a fitting final act.

There is still a lot of work ahead for the Sharks, even though they have kept themselves in touch with the leaders in the South African Group. But the attitude and commitment are clearly there, and that will be highly encouraging for coach Gary Gold.

Scorers

Highlanders: Try – Matt Faddes. Penalties – Lima Sopoaga (3).

Cell C Sharks: Penalties – Garth April (5)

http://citizen.co.za/1085900/sharks-end-highlanders-home-run-with-sheer-character/

Cobras confirm themselves as team to beat 0

Posted on February 06, 2016 by Ken

 

The Cape Cobras confirmed themselves as the team to beat in the Momentum One-Day Cup when they hammered the defending champion Unlimited Titans by 113 runs at Willowmoore Park in Benoni on Friday night.

The Cobras had been sent in to bat and struggled along to 83 for two in 22 overs before lightning and then rain forced the players off the field for 75 minutes. The delay served as a major disruption for the Titans, who came back lacking intensity, bowled poorly and saw the Cobras amass 237 for five in the 42 overs now allotted to them.

As poorly as the Titans bowled on a pitch offering substantial assistance to the bowlers, their batting was even worse as they subsided to 133 all out and their biggest ever defeat at the hands of the Cobras.

In retrospect, it was also silly of them to choose eight specialist batsmen and only two fast bowlers in Junior Dala and Lungi Ngidi, with the Cobras’ pace quartet of Beuran Hendricks, Tshepo Moreki, Dane Paterson and Wayne Parnell showing up the opposition with the way they bowled.

Off-spinner Henry Davids produced a top-class spell up front for the Titans, bowling seven overs for 16 runs, and Ngidi and Dala were impressive with the new ball, each claiming a wicket.

Parnell (6) edged a cramped stroke into his own stumps when Ngidi gained extra bounce and nipped one back into the left-hander, while Andrew Puttick (22) was bowled by a tremendous delivery from Dala, beaten for pace as the ball jagged back to hit the top of off-stump.

It was hard going for the Cobras, but Omphile Ramela and Stiaan van Zyl had just raised a fifty partnership off 60 balls when the rain came.

Davids returned with the ball once play resumed and, in his second over back, he claimed the prized wicket of Van Zyl, lbw for 28 as the left-hander was deceived by the flight and missed a power-sweep. Davids finished with one for 24 in his nine overs and was one of the few Titans bowlers who could brag to the wife about his performance.

Ramela found an excellent partner in captain Justin Ontong and was content to go to his half-century in a measured 74 balls, before Dala took a superb return catch, diving forward, to dismiss him for 53.

The Cobras were 149 for four with just eight overs left in their curtailed innings, but that’s when the visitors would break the shackles thanks to Ontong and Dane Vilas.

Ramela’s dismissal would also mark the start of the final powerplay and 88 runs were bashed from those eight overs.

Ontong was particularly mean to medium-pacer Grant Thomson in the 40th over, hitting him for two fours and two sixes, in alternating blows, as he raised the 200, the fifty partnership off just 32 deliveries with Vilas, and his own run-a-ball half-century.

Thomson eventually had Ontong stumped – thanks to brilliant work by wicketkeeper Mangaliso Mosehle standing up – for 65 off 53 balls to end the over, but it would not mean much respite as Vilas finished in style with a six and a four off Dala in the final over as he raced to 46 not out off just 23 deliveries, with three sixes.

The rain delay close to midway through the innings would mean the Duckworth/Lewis equation would adjust the target upwards and the Titans were left with 247 to win in 42 overs.

But left-arm quick Hendricks made huge inroads with the new ball, having Davids caught down the leg-side, thanks to extra bounce, for a four-ball duck and then having Theunis de Bruyn (14) also caught behind with a fine swinging delivery.

The introduction of Moreki in the 10th over was one of those inspired changes that make captains very happy as the nippy 22-year-old bowled Mosehle for 14 with his second delivery.

Dean Elgar (8) and Graeme van Buuren, who was the only Titans batsman to impress, stroking five fours and making 40 off 36 balls, were both caught behind by Vilas off Moreki, giving the former Dolphins paceman three for 26 in seven impressive overs and career-best figures in the Momentum One-Day Cup.

And Hendricks would also claim a career-best as he removed Qaasim Adams (3), Heinrich Klaasen (4) and last man Ngidi (4) and finished with outstanding figures of five for 31, the third-best figures for the Cobras in the competition and best against the Titans, just edging ahead of Monde Zondeki’s five for 32 at Newlands in 2006/7.

Thomson was run out for 13 and off-spinner Dane Piedt chipped in with the wicket of Tabraiz Shamsi (13) as they made their second-lowest total ever against the Cobras.

The Titans are languishing in fifth place on the log, on 13 points after eight games, and they will be reliant on other results going their way, while beating the Dolphins and Highveld Lions in their last two games, if they are to make the playoffs.

The Cobras, with the way the ball talked for their bowlers and their batsmen posted an impressive total in a bonus point win, have no such worries.

http://www.citizen.co.za/979293/cobras-confirm-themselves-as-team-to-beat/



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