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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.

 

It’s difficult to know what’s eating AB 0

Posted on June 26, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s difficult to know exactly what’s eating AB de Villiers.

It’s not so much the lack of matchwinning performances we have become accustomed to from a true genius – his form has actually been solid, averaging 56 at a strike-rate of 105 in ODIs this year – but more the manner and timing of his dismissals as well as his general demeanour.

Some of his comments dismissing other cricketers have been most unlike a player known for his sportsmanship and generosity, although AB has always had a tendency to speak confidently, as if it will make it come true if he says something enough times with enough conviction.

Since his decision to take a sabbatical from Test cricket, De Villiers has failed to score a century. But are we reading too much into that decision, which was presumably (and hopefully) extremely difficult to make? He did of course suffer a long-term elbow injury – a serious ailment for a batsman – before deciding to ease his workload.

(Interestingly, there is some scientific evidence to suggest the sort of elbow injury De Villiers suffered is seen more often in batsmen under pressure, whether that be due to poor form or the importance of their innings, basically gripping the handle too tightly).

Apart from the elbow injury, the 33-year-old De Villiers, who has always been such a great athlete, has also begun to suffer back problems and now a hamstring niggle, all of which must contribute to the pressure he must feel operating under such expectation at the highest levels of international sport.

The mental pressures are probably greater than the physical workload and De Villiers’ awful strokes to get out in his two Champions Trophy failures are indicative of mental fatigue more than anything else. For a batsman of his quality to slap a wide delivery first ball straight to backward point speaks of the mind being elsewhere.

It’s a controversial precedent that Cricket South Africa have allowed in letting De Villiers miss the crucial Test series in England, but the key question is how are the Proteas management going to get the best out of one of the biggest trumpcards in world cricket through to 2019?

The first piece of the puzzle should be to make Faf du Plessis captain in all formats. Removing the ODI captaincy from De Villiers will no doubt be a great disappointment for someone who is as passionate about representing and leading his country as anyone, but I think the pressures of captaincy are making him sick.

In the field, De Villiers just seems harassed and under pressure, constantly consulting his bowlers and causing the Proteas to have problems with the over-rate police. Counter-intuitively, this all seems to happen while De Villiers sometimes sticks slavishly to plans despite the current situation on the field. Cases in point are the first 10 overs against Sri Lanka, when he did not make a bowling change despite the flood of runs, and the decision to recall the expensive Wayne Parnell just before the rain against Pakistan.

By contrast, Du Plessis just seems a more natural captain and things just seem to be more slick with him at the helm.

By unburdening De Villiers, we will be able to see whether we are dealing with just the vagaries of form or the gradual winding down of a great career.

Let’s not forget, similar questions were being asked of Hashim Amla not that long ago, and he has obviously answered them in the best way possible.

Let’s hope that the best talents of De Villiers will be a part of the Proteas for a long time to come. If that means a lessening of his work-load, wouldn’t it be worth it?

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-kzn/20170610/282372629589258

It was an unpromising start … but Boucher has flourished in new role as coach 0

Posted on May 31, 2017 by Ken

 

As a player, Mark Boucher showed many times that he was a difficult man to rattle, a tenacious character who was at his best when his back was against the wall. But even he was shaken by the start to his coaching career.

Due to a prior commitment to play golf in the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, Boucher was not actually at SuperSport Park when the Titans began their competitive season with a four-day game against the Knights. It started well enough with the Titans securing a 113-run first-innings lead on the opening day.

Boucher was keeping a regular eye on proceedings via his mobile phone and was on the 14th tee box at Carnoustie, rated one of the nastiest courses in the world with a particularly tough stretch of closing holes, when he checked the latest score on the second day of the Sunfoil Series match.

The Titans had been bowled out for 57, their lowest score ever, and Boucher had to phone a friend to check that the extraordinary collapse was, in fact, real.

“On 14, 15, 16 and 17, I hit all my tee shots out of bounds. But I guess it’s one of those things that happens in cricket; the other day the Bangalore Royal Challengers were bowled out for just 49 with Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle in their line-up.

“But it wasn’t great to see and I knew the only way the players would really get better is by being very honest about it. But we lost the next game as well, another poor performance, so we had to work really hard at practice and we won the next two games really well, both by an innings, and that was the turnaround,” Boucher told Saturday Citizen.

From the unpromising beginnings of that spluttering start, the Titans dominated the rest of the season. They only just failed to repair the damage of those first two Sunfoil Series losses, finishing only 1.78 points behind the Knights, but claimed the CSA T20 Challenge and Momentum One-Day Cup in convincing fashion.

Boucher modestly suggests he had luxury sedans to deal with in terms of the players at his disposal, but the way he has worked with cricketers from throughout the spectrum – seasoned former internationals, current Proteas, exciting youngsters who have pushed themselves to the brink of international cricket, and those journeymen who are the stalwarts of a team – as well as the media and administrators, has been highly impressive.

“The Titans always had a very successful set-up, the culture was very strong, and I always looked up to them as a player. They’ve had years of good discipline and a good team ethic.

“And they knew how to win. So it was just a case of trying to keep that culture and adding my knowledge. It would be difficult not to be successful with all that talent,” the 40-year-old said.

But he has handled the challenges of balancing a team with the Black players and keeping the left-out White players happy extremely well.

“I knew it would be a challenge, but I’ve enjoyed it. The emphasis has been on team, there are a lot of stars and great players here, but team is what makes it tick. A lot of players who would play every game with the other franchises have had to sit out and in the limited-overs finals Shaun von Berg and David Wiese had to miss out, which was really hard because they both had very good seasons. But they made good with the time they had,” Boucher said.

The nuggety wicketkeeper/batsman had an inspirational effect on his Proteas team-mates and it seems those qualities have transferred to his new career as a coach.

“Not every good player becomes a good coach but I have always enjoyed working with players. Mickey Arthur said I should go help the bowlers with their batting so they could stick around with me in the lower-order, and I spent a lot of time giving Paul Harris, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn short balls from the bowling machine. They didn’t particularly like it, but it worked!

“So I think there is a bit of that mould in me, but I’m a completely different coach to how I was as a player. I don’t mind using harsh words, but I try to be fair. I had so many coaches in my playing days so my attitude is ‘what would I have liked as a player in this situation?’,” Boucher said.

Surprisingly, he finds the white-knuckle moments the hardest.

“My big challenge is dealing with pressure, it’s twice as bad as the coach because you can’t do anything about it out in the middle! So I have to look in the mirror and tell myself I need to calm down because the players can feed off that. I’m still a young coach and I’m still learning.”

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170520/282497183600083

The John McFarland Column: Planning for the French Tests 0

Posted on May 23, 2017 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee will not find it too difficult to prepare for the three Tests against France and there is always great excitement when the players get together in the national team environment.

Due to WorldRugby regulations, he will have to wait for the overseas players until the week of the first Test match, but these days the information they need to know is easy to disseminate and the players have access to apps, for example, with which they can watch the training sessions. He will have communicated the game plans, moves and patterns to them, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to assimilate.

This week saw Allister have his third camp this year, which is obviously what he missed last year. His program of camps has been very much extended this year, but you still don’t do a lot of hard, physical work at these get-togethers.

As Springbok management, you have to be very careful because the players are in the middle of SuperRugby and will be coming off a very tough game. But the camps are certainly invaluable for laying down the plans for the structure and principles, making sure all the players get on the same page.

There will be on-field training, but basically it will just be walk-throughs or practising with the contact levels right down. We used to use the Lions U19 players as defenders, which puts much less pressure on the Springboks in terms of physicality.

After all, some unions used to send their players to camp with GPSs so they could check the amount of running they did!

Generally the three Tests in June are against the same opposition, so it’s easier to prepare for it, but it’s the same for every international team, they are all in the same boat.

In November, the Southern Hemisphere teams have an advantage because it’s after the end of their season, all their game plans are in place and they’ve just come off a month’s rest. In June, the Northern Hemisphere sides are tired at the end of their long season, but due to the Six Nations, they are further along in their game plans.

The key for Allister will be to not make it too complicated, stick to simple principles and make it clear what he wants the team to do to win that first Test.

I know international football sides only get their players for a week from all over the world, but soccer is quite an individual game, there are a lot more dynamics in rugby such as the set-pieces and the defensive and attacking game plans.

As far as last weekend’s SuperRugby goes, the Stormers did really well to come back from their overseas tour woes with a win. They defended very well in the final quarter and from half-time onwards they were very sound and physical in the collisions. They got their just rewards for quick-taps with some game-changing moments.

I was quite sceptical, however, about the TMO decision on Sikhumbuzo Notshe’s try, but there are always highs and lows in terms of officiating through a Super Rugby season and it evens out in the end.

The Southern Kings were a bit unlucky against the Brumbies, but they were very vulnerable to the grubber in behind. Their defensive system relies on the fullback getting up in the line very early, the Brumbies obviously saw that and took advantage.

In the game in Singapore, the 38-17 scoreline flattered the Sharks a bit because they had an intercept and two breakaway tries in the last few minutes against the Sunwolves. Before that, the Sharks just could not finish and the amount of mistakes they made, especially when it came to the final pass, didn’t help either. But they will be happy to get back to winning ways and get the bonus point, although it looks likely they’ll have to get through a playoff in New Zealand.

If the Lions, however, have aspirations of playing at home all the way through to the final, then they need to win their big game against the Sharks after the international break.

No side in SuperRugby would have lived with the Lions in the first half of their match against the Bulls and they are showing great decision-making at the moment.

Having been away for three weeks, there was definitely a feeling of the Lions being back at home and they were full of confidence.

Obviously they will lose a bit of momentum over the break, quite a few of their players will be in the national squads, so it will be a tough month for them. They will have guys who will play all three Tests against France, so that will be disruptive to their rhythm.

And coach Johan Ackermann won’t have a break either because he will be coaching the SA A side, which will be quite taxing too. And then one week after the end of SuperRugby, he’ll be off to Gloucester, so he has a very busy program over the next few months.

Sometimes you get very good SuperRugby players who are just not able to adapt to the higher environment and believe you me, international rugby is a higher level and just so much quicker, because it’s the best of the best playing. In SuperRugby, you get guys who are in the same system all their life, at the Bulls there were guys who were coached in defence by me since they were 19, but they can’t adapt to the different pace of the game at the next step up.

Certain other players prove to be consistently excellent players at Test level. There’s such a mental side to it because there is real pressure representing your country at international level, some players just cope better.

Those are the sort of players Allister Coetzee will want to be working with.

 

 

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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