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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Positive about Bok prospects 0

Posted on August 16, 2017 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has picked the best players for the Rugby Championship based on how well they did in the French series and I am really positive about their prospects, I believe they are in the best position of all the teams.

It reminds me a bit of 2013, when we won 10 of our 12 Tests. There was also a British & Irish Lions tour that year – to Australia – and we had time to bed the players in.

The Springboks played really well against France, who were a full-strength side that came out with tremendous intent. The fact that their coach Guy Noves is now under pressure to keep his job if they don’t improve in November shows how good the Boks were, in terms of attack, defence and the way they created a new team culture.

Meanwhile, Argentina were losing 3-0 to England, Australia lost to Scotland and only just beat Italy, and the All Blacks could only draw with the British & Irish Lions.

With some of our SuperRugby teams falling out early, the Springbok coaches were given extra preparation time and I think we all see that there is definitely a new culture about this Springboks group. You can see that the positivity and confidence is back, both in terms of the public and the players, after a disastrous 2016.

This has been built on respect for each other and there is a high energy within the group on the field. Their return-to-action time and kick-chase were both very good and the improvement under the good doctor, Brendan Venter, on defence was obvious. They only conceded four tries in the three Tests against France and they got off the line quickly with intensity, intent and attitude.

Return-to-action time is one of the keys for any side to succeed in the modern game. A player is likely to have to get up off the floor after a carry or cleaning at the ruck about 40 times per game and it is very hard to do this after hard contact. The standard figure in international rugby is to be off the ground in three seconds so it offers you more numbers on attack, to get your shape, or on defence to ensure your line has width. The Springboks did incredibly well with this and it is the basis of their defensive system.

The Springboks are now employing a far more aggressive line-speed, similar to what the British Lions used and it definitely gave New Zealand problems: they weren’t able to play with their normal width and freedom because they were worried about making mistakes on attack, and turnover ball is the most lethal in the game.

The architect of that defence was Andy Farrell and he worked under Brendan Venter for a few years at Saracens, so I think there will be a lot of similarity in the defensive system the Springboks employ and I believe they will certainly give the All Blacks problems this year.

Also, due to a loss of form, neither Julian Savea nor Waisake Naholo are in the New Zealand squad, so they don’t quite have the same size out wide as before. In any case, a wing very rarely defends against his opposite wing off first-phase, he’s virtually always on the second-last man, which is the fullback. The All Blacks will have Ben Smith or Israel Dagg at fullback and I’m certain our wings will be of a similar size.

What’s important for a wing these days is his ability to score tries, defend and catch high-balls, and one would never be picked at that level if they can’t catch box-kicks off lineouts.

Coetzee has obviously picked his wings for their finishing ability, work-rate and understanding of the system, and for me, Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule are the incumbents and really showed superb work-rate and an ability to pull off try-saving cover-tackles against France.

The Springboks also employ the defensive system – well, everyone does these days – of the fullback coming into the line very early, so a wing can’t just have the ability to make tackles, he also has to make line-breaks and expose the props acting as pillars round the ruck area, and has a big role in covering grubbers, he becomes the last defender. Modern-day wings will cover an enormous amount of ground in a game.

I wouldn’t rule out JP Pietersen coming back into the mix, especially in World Cup year. His decision-making is so good and he adds a calmness and maturity in the backline. He has, however, recently changed clubs from Leicester to Toulon and we all know how their owner feels about his players taking part in the Rugby Championship …

Anyway, Allister Coetzee has obviously decided to back the home-based players who really performed in the incoming series to see if they can do it as well in the Rugby Championship. Let’s not forget two of the back three played against the Hurricanes for the Lions in the SuperRugby semi-final and gave them 44 points with six tries.

So we must be positive about Allister’s wing selections until we see evidence otherwise.

Argentina showed a lot of attacking intent against England in June, but they were really playing against England B and were well-beaten. Plus the Jaguares were disappointing in SuperRugby, they blew hot and cold.

So Saturday’s Test is a really good opportunity for the Springboks to hopefully get a good win that sets them on the road for the really difficult part of the Rugby Championship – those three away games in the middle that South Africa always get and which are very difficult because of all the flying.

Our best performance in Argentina in the last few years came in 2015 when we trained in South Africa and only left on the Wednesday, arriving on the Thursday evening. We had a captain’s run and then went to Buenos Aires for a convincing 26-12 win.

Our worst display in Argentina was in Mendoza when we drew 16-16 in 2012 and we had to sit in the bus for two hours just to get to practice. I remember there was even a stray dog running faster than our coach was going!

The Springboks have the opportunity this year to play hit-and-run Tests in Perth and Salta and that makes you much more alert. They can stay on South African time and not change their body clocks, like we used to do at the Bulls when we would leave for Australasia on a Tuesday evening, arrive on Thursday morning and usually win our first game. It was definitely a winning formula.

The Springboks have a fantastic record in Port Elizabeth [17 wins & 2 draws in their last 20 Tests there] and I’m looking forward to this new-look side continuing in the same positive manner against Argentina on Saturday and hopefully gaining a really good win.

 

 

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: Attitude makes all the difference for B&I Lions 0

Posted on July 06, 2017 by Ken

 

One has to credit the British and Irish Lions for their win over the All Blacks in the second Test, especially after losing the first Test the way they did.

They just brought a harder attitude in Wellington, a desperation to get the win. To keep the All Blacks tryless, even though they only had 14 men for most of the game, takes some doing, and the attitude they showed on the day was top-class.

It was definitely a red card for Sonny Bill Williams, he made no effort to raise his hand or grip Anthony Watson in the tackle, and his shoulder made contact with the head.

The last penalty – for the Charlie Faumuina tackle on Kyle Sinckler while he was airborne – was a little bit harsh though. When a player jumps to catch a pass above his head and it’s a gain-line tackle, the tackler is already committed and in motion, so it is very difficult for there to be any other outcome.

Jumping into a tackle is also a penalisable offence, but sometimes when the pass goes upwards, the player has to take it airborne. So it’s an anomaly that the lawmakers have to look at going forward.

The All Blacks had to play with 14 men for so long, that it was quite heroic of them to stay in the game; they did not manage to score a try, but they kept the scoreboard ticking over with penalties.

If a team fields two openside flanks like the Lions did with Sean O’Brien and Sam Warburton, then the penalty count will be high because they go hard on the ball on the floor and to make tackle attempts to get the All Blacks to bring more players to the ruck. It brings a different philosophy at ruck time, they were trying to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking pattern by bringing more players to the ruck and then the attacking shape won’t be what it should be.

The British Lions’ set-piece was of a high standard and their forward effort was built on the success at Saracens, the pack had a very high work-rate.

But whether the Lions can back up that performance with another one at Eden Park in Auckland this weekend will be a hard task. They will need the same desperation and, at the end of a long season, will they be able to produce that again? They will need extra effort on the gain-line once again.

In SuperRugby, the Gauteng Lions basically had a game of touch rugby, but I thought the Bulls played well against the Sharks.

I’m a little worried by the inconsistency of the Sharks, they have been poor at home in too many games and I can’t see them winning on the road in New Zealand, so it’s definitely a problem. For Robert du Preez to so publicly take on his players shows that something is not right.

But the Bulls have clearly gained confidence in the break, they won the Mauritius 10s with their SuperRugby team and played some good rugby.

I’ve been quite impressed with how they have blooded youngsters and someone like Duncan Matthews has really come through.

It’s also very encouraging to see Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel play so well, and they have obviously gained confidence through their time together with the Springboks for the June Tests and they are both starting to show leadership.

Jesse is such a strong character and his enthusiasm rubs off on the players around him, and he is a big part of the new era at the Bulls.

When Jan decided to leave the Bulls, he was recovering from a long-term injury. But he’s been on the Springboks’ radar since 2012 and has never let them down. He has gained experience since being named World Junior Player of the Year in 2012 and the Test series against France saw him fulfil his potential.

One needs to look at Brendan Venter’s influence on him and you can just see the confidence and belief is there right now. Jan was backed at the start of the series and knew he would play all three Tests.

It always takes five or six weeks after long-term injury for a player to rediscover their form and then they really hit their straps in weeks eight to 10. It’s unfortunate that Jan is leaving, but I really hope he stays fit and can get to the 30-Test cut-off mark in the Rugby Championship.

It begs the question whether SA Rugby have made the right decision when it comes to the 30-Test cut-off for overseas eligibility, especially if a player gets injured (e.g. Marcell Coetzee, who is short of 30 caps because of injury), and how will it work going forward with Jan, who has signed to play in France but currently only has 29 caps?

The Springboks cannot ignore Jan’s form nor talent, or the impact he had on the series against France.

That being said, the success of the series was Allister Coetzee’s decision to pick mostly home-based players, which led to a great series win.

 

 

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.

Sharks do the job in first half as they romp to victory 0

Posted on May 23, 2016 by Ken

 

The Cell C Sharks did most of the job in a scintillating first half as they romped to a 53-0 win over the Southern Kings in their Vodacom SuperRugby match at Growthpoint Kings Park on Saturday.

Although the Sharks produced some dazzling rugby and were ruthless in punishing Kings mistakes, the sheer lack of nous and effort on defence by the visitors did irk for those who want to see a good contest.

The Kings were much-improved in the second half, but by then, with the Sharks already 43-0 up at halftime, they were left with far too much of a mountain to climb.

The Sharks sealed the bonus point with a devastating burst of three tries in five minutes midway through the first half, and the five points they collected from the game ensures that they stay in touch with the Lions, the pacesetters from Joburg having gained a bonus point win over the Jaguares earlier in the afternoon.

The Sharks’ strategy of avoiding the physical Kings at close quarters and instead attacking them out wide paid dividends because the defence was too narrow and slow to shift across.

And the opening try came in the eighth minute as the Sharks shipped the ball wide and found outside centre Paul Jordaan in space, and then flyhalf Pat Lambie produced a great supporting run on his inside to receive the scoring pass.

Lambie and replacement flank Tera Mtembu then produced good runs to set up a 14th-minute penalty for Lambie (8-0).

Five minutes later, Kings wing Lukhanyo Am roared through the defences and was stopped just short of the line. To the utter frustration of the Kings, possession was then recycled but knocked on, with the rampant Lambie picking up the loose ball and racing away, passing to Jordaan for the pace man to finish off (15-0).

The Kings were not only battling to handle the width and pace of the Sharks game, but they were also being ousted off the ball at scrum time. One such strong scrum by the Sharks in the 22nd minute saw the home side fashion a try any skilful Australian backline would have been proud of – Willie le Roux found Jordaan out wide with a lovely pass, the outside centre then passing back inside for the fullback to storm over for the try.

From the kickoff, a very good interchange between wing JP Pietersen and flank Keegan Daniel saw the Sharks attack down the right before Jordaan was sent racing down the outside for his second try.

Some fine play by the Sharks had been rewarded on the scoreboard as they raced into a 29-0 lead in the first half-hour, but the lovely rugby was not quite over yet as the home side sealed a sumptuous first half with two more tries.

A good run by wing Lwazi Mvovo was followed by Le Roux’s acute vision putting centre Andre Esterhuizen in the gap, and although he probably should have passed, he powered over for the try himself, taking a defender over the line with him.

Lovely hands by the forwards then worked Pietersen over in the corner for the sixth try two minutes before the break, Lambie converting from the touchline to make the score 43-0.

There was no coming back from that awful first half for the Kings, but they did at least restore some pride in the second half.

The Sharks did score in the first 10 minutes after the break, Lambie getting on the end of a chip from Pietersen and running 50 metres to score, but a more sturdy defensive effort from the Kings meant the Sharks only scored again with just three minutes left in the match.

Replacement Odwa Ndungane fielded a kick and launched a superb counter-attack from the back, the kick ahead by Mvovo forcing the penalty inside the Kings’ 22. From the tap and then the ruck, replacement prop Thomas du Toit picked up and rumbled over the line for the eighth and final try.

Lambie, Jordaan and Daniel were the stars of the show for the Sharks, but the scrum laid the perfect platform and the good, clean ball from the forwards was put to fine use by the home side.

Scorers

Cell C Sharks: Tries – Pat Lambie (2), Paul Jordaan (2), Willie le Roux, Andre Esterhuizen, JP Pietersen, Thomas du Toit. Conversions – Lambie (5). Penalty – Lambie.

Bulls retain starting XV that did the job in Perth 0

Posted on May 04, 2016 by Ken

 

Bulls coach Nollis Marais has unsurprisingly chosen the same starting XV that did the job so well in Perth for their SuperRugby match against the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday.

The only change to the 23 that hammered the Western Force 42-20 is on the bench, where Dan Kriel replaces Dries Swanepoel as the reserve centre.

“We’ve gained good momentum from our last time out so I’ve made just the one change, Dan and Dries swopping around because I’ve been rotating them every week and they can both play 12, 13 and wing.

“There are certain things that we will try and improve on, but we’re getting better every game, small things are getting better every week, but it’s really just about winning,” Marais said on Tuesday from Sydney, where they are based for their preparations.

The bonus point win over the Force means the Bulls are not only sitting pretty in Africa Conference 1, just one point behind the Stormers with a game in hand, but it also highlighted the tremendous depth that Marais now has as he negotiates their playoff push with the competition just over the halfway mark.

The loose trio of Lappies Labuschagne, Arno Botha and Hanro Liebenberg, with Jannes Kirsten coming off the bench, dovetailed superbly against the Force; Marvin Orie’s performance at lock was highly encouraging given that the Bulls also have the outstanding RG Snyman playing superbly, as well as rising star Jason Jenkins and the reliable Grant Hattingh in reserve; while Francois Brummer has settled in well at flyhalf, with Piet van Zyl and Rudy Paige being two accomplished scrumhalves who are good enough to have played for the Springboks.

“At the beginning of the season, we only had three loose forwards, so it’s great that there’s now healthy competition. I’ve backed Hanro because I believe in his future, Arno was brilliant at seven and Jannes had one of the highest work-rates we’ve ever recorded when he came off the bench. So to keep your place in the loose trio, you have to play to your potential.

“Marvin has great talent and led the lineout calls last year in the Currie Cup. Although it didn’t go so well for him at the start of this season, Jason’s injury gave him an opportunity and he took his chance.

“In terms of the half-backs, we want to play a fast game and be tactical, and they struggled with that a bit at the start. But Piet gets us quickly over the advantage line and Francois is kicking at 90% and his commitment in making that corner-flag tackle was outstanding,” Marais said.

Bulls team – SP Marais, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Francois Brummer, Piet van Zyl, Hanro Liebenberg, Arno Botha, Lappies Labuschagne, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss (c), Trevor Nyakane. Bench: Bandise Maku, Lizo Gqoboka, Werner Kruger, Jannes Kirsten, Roelof Smit, Rudy Paige, Tian Schoeman, Dan Kriel.



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