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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Tremendous effort by the Springboks 0

Posted on June 29, 2017 by Ken

 

For Springbok captain Warren Whiteley to be ruled out on the morning of the third Test against France would definitely have been quite upsetting for the guys, because it is difficult to lose your captain and leader when they thought that he would play.

So to score those tries and get the points they did at Ellis Park last weekend was a tremendous effort by the Springboks and Allister Coetzee will be really pleased with the defence and work-rate of his team.

There are many ways to score tries in rugby and it was great to see some inventiveness from the Springboks, for example when Jan Serfontein jumped at the front of the lineout and then sent the ball down to Eben Etzebeth, for them to maul the space defended by the scrumhalf, which is so difficult to defend. So credit to the coaching staff for the ideas they came up with.

The first try, by Jesse Kriel, just shows how hard the Springboks were working off the ball, which was one of the most impressive aspects of their performance, it shows the culture of the team. The kick-chase induced an error from the French back three, there was a wild pass and it was pounced on, giving Kriel an easy run-in for what we call a “culture try”.

You can see that the players are in such a good space and it is evident that they enjoy each other’s company. The players have all been so positive about their experiences with the Springboks this year and you can see their happiness by the way they celebrate their tries, for example the Rudy Paige effort off the back of a well-worked lineout drive.

So you have to credit Allister Coetzee and all the coaching staff for how far they have come and how they have turned things around. Warren and Allister and the assistant coaches deserve credit for the culture they’re building.

The country also got behind them and there was a steady increase in the crowd until there were 55 000 people at Ellis Park, which was great.

The Springboks ticked so many boxes in the series against France and they should be full of confidence now for the Rugby Championship. If one compares them with the way Australia and Argentina have performed, then the Springboks are definitely in with a real shout in the Rugby Championship.

The Springboks will have had even more time together before they play Argentina home and away, and they should enjoy the continuity of two-and-a-half months together in one block, which is a major positive.

The big thing for the Springboks will be the three away games in the middle of the tournament, which are always hard. But if they can get two wins on the road, then they’ll definitely be in with a shout. The Lions won all their games on tour and the Sharks won a match as well, while all our SuperRugby teams have done well in Argentina, so that’s encouraging.

The real ones to win though are the New Zealand Tests and I just hope the tournament is not over by the final game as it normally is because the draw usually really suits New Zealand. Let’s hope it all comes down to the Test in Cape Town between the Springboks and All Blacks on October 7.

Some combinations really put their hands up, such as the two locks, with Franco Mostert really announcing himself as a player at this upper level. The quality of his work-rate, tackling and cleaning out was phenomenal and he would certainly have been one of the contenders for man of the series.

As was Jan Serfontein. We’ve always known his ability but he has had a fair amount of injuries over the last few years. He’s such a quiet, down-to-earth guy, but against a player like Gael Fickou, who is a real big unit, Jan put in some massive tackles.

The balance of the back row was also very good and Siya Kolisi had the best three Tests he has managed to string together in his career. He was world-class and not just at the things we know he can do – he always carries well and we know he can stop momentum, but his work on the floor and his effort and skill to get up for that intercept in Durban were exceptional.

Malcolm Marx also really announced himself, he was outstanding in all three games, a beast with ball in hand and his basics were so good too.

Although it was a real advantage for the Springboks to play at altitude, those were three quality wins. France did not really click in the last Test, they obviously had the mindset to try and out-play the Springboks, but the home side’s defence was really, really good. One can say that the French were at the end of a long season, but they were well-beaten in each Test.

To average more than 36 points per game takes some doing at Test level and they scored tries through their defence, set play and kicking game, which was great to see.

The Springboks will be a little riled, however, that the lineout was not at its best at Ellis Park, but again, the late change due to the withdrawal of Whiteley left them with less jumping options. But the lineout did really well in the first two Tests.

Allister could have picked some of the old guard, but he was very consistent in his selection and backed the guys in South Africa, the players who had been at the camp in Plettenberg Bay, and his systems. He also backed key members of his team. For instance, Lionel Mapoe was very good in Durban, but he then rewarded Jesse Kriel for his very good display in the first Test.

Continuity and consistency in selection builds confidence amongst the players.

It was good that he was able to give Ruan Dreyer a start and some experience at international level, and what a reward he got at his first scrum! Those are the little battles that are great for a pack of forwards, like being able to control the ball at the back of a scrum and then scoring.

I still have not heard anyone from SA Rugby congratulate the players or coaching staff on a job well done, which amazes me! Why has nobody publicly congratulated them on the way they played and the manner in which they brought the public back and reinstored belief in the Springbok brand?

France have a lot of work to do, they definitely have talented players, but they need to look at their game plan and conditioning, which was not up to the level required at Test level. But it’s a very long season in France, they basically play from August to June, so they need to look at their structure and contracting of players.

The British and Irish Lions game against the All Blacks was quite a Test and at one stage the Lions had made it quite a tight battle. They had their chances, but against New Zealand you must finish, especially in Auckland.

The Lions’ try from a counter-attack was absolutely brilliant – the run from the back by Liam Williams and the way it was finished, it was one of the great British Lions tries.

But they will be seething that they conceded a very soft try from a quick tap, to allow such a compressed defensive line meant they did not have time to get any width and it was very dozy. In the biggest Test of their careers, there’s no way they can blame fatigue.

The All Blacks were deadly again off turnover and open-field ball and Rieko Ioane produced two special finishes, showing sheer speed.

The Lions also need a bit more to their play than Conor Murray box-kicking, even though that’s probably their advantage over the All Blacks. They got quite good returns from the tactic at the start, with Ben Smith dropping a few, but they did not take all their chances. New Zealand will score an average of three or four tries per game, so you must score tries to beat them.

The highlight of the first Test was the way the All Blacks played against the Lions’ rush-defence: they used the blind side a lot and played close to the ruck off Aaron Smith. They still scored four tries despite all the disruptions to their backline.

Smith also never telegraphed which side he was going to pass to, which most scrumhalves indicate by their body language or the way they stand, and he was constantly testing pillars one to three around the ruck. Because it was never clear which side he was going to play, it was very difficult for the defence to get set. So the All Blacks were constantly getting momentum and tiring out the Lions forwards, which is why they were so passive in the set-pieces.

There has been a lot of talk about Jerome Kaino preying on Murray’s non-kicking foot and it was a tactic that originated with Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12 League. Teams generally put up a wall on the right side of the maul or ruck in order to protect the kick, but the blindside was not guarded and that would also have been Murray’s blind spot.

Steve Hansen and the New Zealand media have vociferously condemned Warren Gatland’s claims of deliberate dangerous play, but there’s no doubt they wanted to make sure Conor Murray always felt the heat. If they touch him after he has kicked then it’s unfair, you are not allowed to play the kicker after the ball has gone. The All Blacks are not always whiter than white!

I hope the second Test is as good though. The Lions need a more athletic pack, with Maro Itoje at lock, and they should stick with Ben Te’o for longer in midfield, he played well. It will be exciting if the Lions can get the win and set up a series finale back in Auckland, but unfortunately I don’t really see it happening.

For South African rugby, it’s back to SuperRugby now and I hope the country will get behind our most realistic winners – the Lions. After the Test series, they are all full of confidence and they have a wonderful run-in to the final games.

I managed to bump into Rudolf Straeuli while I was in South Africa and he confirmed that he is very much looking forward to hosting the New Zealand teams at 3pm in the afternoon!

 

 


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.

 

The John McFarland Column: A special win for the Springboks 0

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Ken

 

It was really a quite special win for the Springboks over France at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, against a side that definitely turned up, were hard to break down and were the best French side available on that Saturday.

The match was brutal on the gain-line, there were double-hits, they smashed the Springboks and the Springboks smashed them, so it was a great Test for the home side to come through, especially with five debutants in the 23-man squad. It’s a great start to their 2017 season.

The match was in the balance at 16-14 and then came the penalty try. Given how quickly the officials made up their minds, it must have been a clearcut decision.

The Springbok attack was definitely based around getting to the middle of the field and there were a lot of tip-on passes from the forward pods, which creates indecision in the defence, one-on-one tackles and lightning-quick ball. It’s quite an effective tactic against a rush defence.

From middle rucks, sometimes the outside back-row forward would come hard off the scrumhalf, who would either play him or go behind his back to Elton Jantjies, which makes the defence sit a bit and creates space.

There was a lot of quality passing from the Springboks, which was not in evidence last year, and there was definitely more attacking understanding and ball-in-hand play.

It was great that Jantjies looked so composed, and he and Ross Cronje, who gave very slick service and was a threat around the edges, directed play well; they always had a couple of options and it created indecision in the French defence. Because Elton is the only specialist flyhalf in the squad, he’s not looking over his shoulder and he feels he has Allister Coetzee’s total backing, he can run the show. It’s the sort of thing a key decision-maker wants.

Andries Coetzee, in his first Test, showed real pace, especially in the outside channels, he showed one or two lovely touches and was willing to run the ball back from deep, he really had a go.

The ball-carries of Malcolm Marx were exceptional and the Springboks made a lot of blindside probes, guys like Marx running a hard line close to the ruck, and he bounced off defenders at will, also creating more space. When was the last time we saw such a physically dominant performance by a South African hooker?

The scrum was very compact, it looked in good shape and form and was used as a good platform. The Springboks had two very experienced props, plus with their locks and loose forwards, there was no shortage of beef behind them.

The lineout also functioned really well, Eben Etzebeth was really good, and the Springboks won most of their pressure throws. There were not many easy balls at number two in the lineout, and it’s very difficult to attack from the front of the lineout. So they were very adventurous with their lineout tactics and Marx’s throwing was spot-on.

It was also a superbly-executed try off a throw to the back, a move which was very difficult to defend against. It’s very special to score those sort of tries at Test level, so credit to the coaches, it takes some doing.

In terms of the kicking game, South Africa cleared their lines very well and were never under pressure from kickoffs, it was just one hit up and then back to Jantjies, who kicked it to halfway. In the middle areas of the field, they would drive to suck in forwards and then Cronje would kick, and there was excellent execution of that too.

It was also a very much improved defensive display from the Springboks, credit to Brendan Venter for the best defensive performance by a South African team this year. There was brutality on the gain-line, great field-coverage and, at the end of the game, their willingness to put their bodies on the line and keep the French out was tremendous.

The defence looked organised and in the French faces for the whole game, and it will only get better as the players settle into the system. What was most impressive was how disciplined they were, so France only had one penalty shot at goal.

A small area of improvement that is needed was that they became a little compressed from wide rucks and were caught a little short on numbers in the outside channels. They came off the line quite hard and if France were able to get the ball behind their first line of attackers then they did find space.

The Springboks also closed very early at fullback, Coetzee came very early into the line, which means you then rely a lot on the scrumhalf for cover. Everyone does it these days, but sometimes perhaps the fullback should not be so quick to come up.

But it was a good start for the first Test and you can see the team is much more bonded, the leadership has set the right tone. Warren Whiteley is so selfless and empathetic, as alluded to in this column when he got the Springbok captain’s job, so he is in tune with his team.

France will obviously be a different animal in Durban, especially because they have just been physically dominated. But the whole Springbok side worked so hard, to keep a Test side pointless in the last 25 minutes at altitude is an amazing effort and it speaks to South Africa having a really strong bench.

It was a really positive start and we hope for more over the next two weeks.

And good luck too to the South African U20s for their Junior World Cup semi-final. It’s going to be a really big challenge against the England U20s, but I hope they can come through.

 

The John McFarland Column: Lions’ efforts deserve Test selection 0

Posted on June 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks are back in camp and it will be interesting to see the team for the French Tests, two of which will be played at altitude, so it will definitely be an advantage to pick players that are full of confidence and successful on the Highveld.

There’s only one team that has been playing with real conviction and confidence, though, and that is the Lions, so I expect a few debutants from them over the course of the series. It will be a well-deserved honour and credit to their coaches, Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.

The Lions’ 54-10 win over the Southern Kings showed that the difference in strength is vast between them and the other South African teams and they now have a great run-in towards the SuperRugby playoffs. They deserve it after winning three games overseas and they are reaping the rewards in confidence and the way they are playing.

It’s sad for SuperRugby that the playoff places are mostly already sorted out, especially in South Africa. It always used to go down to the last weekend and a very exciting final day of round-robin play. Anyway, it’s a huge advantage to finish first on the log and the Crusaders are three points clear of the Lions as our pacesetters go into the international break.

The Crusaders have some tough New Zealand derbies coming up though, including having to travel to the Hurricanes.

So I believe Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions CEO, can’t wait to pencil in 3pm playoff games on the Highveld. If you speak to the Highlanders players they will tell you that their legs felt like jelly during their semi-final at Ellis Park last year, they just could not get going, and that’s a side packed with All Blacks that lost 30-42.

The Lions will definitely have earned that advantage via their performances, especially their tremendous run of 15 unbeaten games against South African opposition.

Most of the Lions players have been let go by other franchises or picked up from other unions, so you have to credit their hard work and improvement. Guys like Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan were playing for Tuks in 2012/13, while Franco Mostert was also part of that side and nobody has worked harder for their Springbok opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.

A guy like Ross Cronje has worked really hard on his game, he’s been the second-choice at the Lions a lot of the time, but he kept his belief and keeps producing the goods, so his selection is also fully deserved.

It was really pleasing to see Warren Whiteley appointed as the new Springbok captain, he’s a really honest player and always totally committed on the field. You can never accuse Warren of shirking anything, whether that be in terms of workload or skill.

He was with the Sharks as a junior and was a very explosive, impact player who could really cause damage in the wide channels in the last 20 minutes. He has become a dominant captain who epitomises all that his Lions team stands for in terms of culture.

Warren is a superb lineout option and also has safe hands at the back, which is important because it’s vital these days for eighthmen to be able to counter-attack. He brings his Sevens skills to bear.

His journey to the Springbok captaincy has not been easy, he has worked so hard to get there and thoroughly deserves the honour.

The Springboks are heading into a phase of more inclusive leadership, Warren will take notice of the opinions around him and has great empathy. But he showed when he first came into the Springbok group in 2014 that he is strong enough to have his own ideas, he knows the path forward and will not just follow the party line, he will make sure he drives his own opinions. He’s also a great communicator, with the coaches and the playing group.

I wish him all the success he deserves and wouldn’t it be nice for him to have the Rugby Championship trophy in his hands in October?

And Duane Vermeulen playing at seven will definitely work, in terms of their defensive system, they want a blindside flank who can do a lot more when it comes to work-rate. I think the eighthman will stay at a lot of the set-pieces and save his energy for attack and ball-in-hand play.

Duane of course will be in France for the Top 14 final with Toulon and will only have a couple of days training with the Springboks after flying back to South Africa, which is why Jean-Luc du Preez has been called up.

The Sharks v Stormers game showed the difference in strength between the two conferences. The Stormers just could not get that final pass or offload away, which, given their style of play, is essential for them.

Under new coach Robbie Fleck, they’re always going to be involved in high-scoring games, but they need to convert their chances. One has to credit the Sharks for their defence holding firm, which bodes well for the Springboks.

I felt there was some improvement from the Bulls, they were far more physical at the gain-line. There’s obviously been a change in the coaching staff there, which possibly produced the improved display, but unfortunately it was not enough against a clever team like the Hurricanes.

The Bulls will regret those soft moments in defence when the Hurricanes were able to slice through them like a knife through butter.

The positives for the Bulls were Duncan Matthews, the young wing, who really took his opportunity well, and the way the forwards and inside backs competed on the gain-line against one of the most physical sides in SuperRugby (How we wish for the days when the Bulls were the most physical side in the competition!).

I was fortunate enough to be at the Cheetahs game against the Sunwolves and it’s always nice when the South African teams come to Tokyo – because of our relationships in the past, I get to catch up and spend some time with them. The smattering of survival Japanese I have helps them in the shops and with the very complicated subway system!

I thought the Cheetahs ran a very smart week in terms of preparation. Often when a team is coming off a massive losing run (nine games), the temptation is to go harder at the players in training. But the Cheetahs did not do much in Tokyo and Franco Smith ensured the players were very fresh, and they reaped the reward.

The match was quite tight until just before halftime when the Cheetahs scored a killer try to leave the Sunwolves 14-0 down.

I was impressed by the way the Cheetahs played, they kept their shape and Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen were always a big danger on the wings.

It was a big event in Tokyo, because they only get to host a handful of games every season. It’s a huge thing for Japan to have a SuperRugby team.

We need a global game and we should get teams from the USA and Canada involved as well, it has to happen eventually. Look at the improvement in the Argentina team from having the Jaguares involved in SuperRugby – they have been exposed to a higher level of rugby and it has paid dividends.

The biggest drawback is the travel for the Sunwolves and Jaguares, they do nearly twice as much travel as anyone else. It’s always a great feeling going to a new country when you win, but the worst thing is then losing.

So I hope they change the conferences, but who knows because there has still been no clarity from Sanzaar.

 

 

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 – SuperRugby format definitely needs to change 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken

 

There has been some real conjecture and speculation about how SuperRugby is going to change in 2018, but the one thing that is clear is that it definitely needs to change – declining viewing figures and attendance at the games proves it.

While the administrators took the wrong direction when they changed the format back in 2015, the move to expand was the right decision. Promises had obviously been made to the Southern Kings and a Japanese team is vital if they are going to maintain the improvement they have shown and grow the sport in that country.

Argentina also now have a great development program and they’re no longer losing as many top players to Europe, so it’s vital they stay in as well.

The problem is I don’t think the administrators knew what they let themselves in for travel-wise. The Sunwolves are 10 hours from Australia so they should be in that conference and then they would travel a lot less.

The Southern Kings are probably going to be judged on the basis of their results, bankruptcy and as money-makers, but they did really well initially in terms of getting numbers to games. They have performed better this year, so credit must go to the coaching staff for that improvement, but they still have not really moved forward, there is still a big difference between them and the other teams.

Normally during the time of SuperRugby negotiations, there are people saying that South Africa will go play in Europe but that hasn’t happened that much this time around so we are obviously committed to SuperRugby and the three conferences.

It will be very disappointing if we lose the Cheetahs, but I expect to see a deal in our favour, especially since last time we managed to get two home semi-finals. The SA Rugby Union negotiators must stand up for what they believe in and push for what they want.

I don’t think the players are averse to travel, but being away for five weeks in Australia and New Zealand as the Bulls were in the past is a heck of a trip and that’s why it was virtually impossible for a South African team to win SuperRugby, having to play five matches overseas.

This weekend we have our first Friday night SuperRugby game when the Bulls host the Sunwolves, which is hard to believe considering the six hours of rugby we’ve had to sit through on Saturdays. People want to watch rugby when they come home on Friday evening around a barbecue, but unfortunately the TV schedules have not allowed it.

On a happier note, I was fortunate to attend the Springbok Sevens training for a couple of weeks and was able to see first-hand what good coaching, spirit and attention to detail there is in that set-up. The Blitzboks’ culture is second to none, the way they back each other, encourage one another and work in the training sessions is outstanding.

That’s their strength as well as continuity. Someone like conditioning coach Allan Temple-Jones has been there forever and does a superb job – the Springbok Sevens are the best-conditioned team on the circuit and they are reaping the benefits of that.

What is most encouraging is that people are talking about Sevens and what the Blitzboks have done, and watching the games.

They are also never scared to use specialists – Richie Gray was brought in to work on the breakdowns before the Olympics and Dawie Snyman, the former Western Province coach, is doing a lot of work on their footwork and coaching them in sidestepping. You can see that coming through in the way they are beating people, so credit to him.

Neil Powell is overseeing it all and is handling the job with great dignity, so I really hope they come through and win the series. England are the only team with the continuity to push them and will be their biggest competition.

Continuity breeds confidence in any high-performance sport.

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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