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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column – Bok defence gives them hope v All Blacks 0

Posted on September 14, 2017 by Ken

 

All in all, even though people were disappointed with the result, there was a lot to be pleased about in the Springboks’ draw with the Wallabies in Perth last weekend.

To put it into perspective, historically South Africa’s record in Australia is not that good with just 12 wins in 37 matches and only five out of 26 games since 1992, so to get two away points is a good result.

The Springboks will be disappointed, however, that they did not win because they were so dominant in the second half and they had some really clearcut opportunities that they needed to finish.

This Saturday against New Zealand at the North Harbour Stadium will be a real test, but then it always is against the All Blacks. What will really encourage the Springboks leading into that match is their defensive system that meant Australia could only score one try against them in open play, having scored five and then four tries in their two matches against New Zealand.

The Wallabies’ other try in Perth came from a driving maul and the main reason for that was that the Springboks competed at the front of the lineout. It was a high risk/high reward tactic, but with Eben Etzebeth in the air it meant they lost three players to defend on the drive, which is a particularly high-risk strategy five metres from your tryline.

The Springboks were really good in the tackle in Perth and made lots of double hits. They mixed up their defence well: at times they came very hard off the line, for example in the two turnovers Siya Kolisi forced through sheer linespeed; sometimes they were softer in their defensive line, especially on the blindside, where the attack is usually very flat and basically off the scrumhalf, so you just try to shepherd them out towards the touchline.

Once Kolisi managed to jolt the ball loose and that gave Jan Serfontein a clear run for the line but he was held up two metres short, and the other major turnover by the blindside flank came when he forced the error that led to the end of the game.

The Springboks were very good at the breakdown in Perth, and Jaco Kriel and Pieter-Steph du Toit made some really important steals as well.

The Springboks really struggled though with Australia’s obstruction, especially on the kick-chase. When you kick long it is vitally important that your line gets ahead, and stays ahead, of the retreating defenders. The Springboks do generally chase well, but if the opposition can get players in-between the chasers then it allows their back-three player a clear gap and a hole to hit in the line. It’s like obstruction and completely illegal, but someone like Richie McCaw made it an art-form for the All Blacks.

Every bit of momentum the Wallabies had in Perth really came through this. You cannot rush in defence if the attack has momentum, you have to go softer to recover; you try to get them on to the edge of the field and then you can push hard again.

It’s interesting that under Chean Roux last year, South Africa tried to implement the rush-defence, but we all know the problems they had with that system. But I feel their defensive system is very secure this year, you can see the players really back it and believe in it.

The South Africans could have been better organised on the restarts though. They tended to have their wings forward and their pods deeper, but against someone as lethal as Israel Folau, you need the pods to come further forward. But when Folau won the one aerial ball against Courtnall Skosan that led to a try, there was a huge obstruction. If you watch it from behind, Sekope Kepu actually points to Kurtley Beale and tells him where to go, he clearly blocked Etzebeth from making the hit.

Eben obviously has the respect of his team-mates and is leading well, but he is still an inexperienced captain, especially at Test level. That try needed to be reviewed and I’m sure the TMO would have made the right decision; the captain just needed to whisper in the referee’s ear …

I thought the Springbok kicking game was quite good and Elton Jantjies managed to convert a few zones and pin Australia in their 22. The Springboks were quite clever at times by moving the ball wide to Andries Coetzee, which brought Folau up and then they were able to put the ball in behind, which gave the blind wing quite a few problems.

I was really impressed again with Coenie Oosthuizen. Besides anchoring a dominant scrum, he also hasn’t missed a tackle all Championship and he also made three tackles with a broken arm when he came back on to the field!

It just shows the commitment and attitude in the team at the moment, they are really working hard for each other.

I was curious to know how the Springboks would respond to being 10 points down in a Test and the fact that they were able to get back into the game and so nearly won it at the end is a real positive going forward. As is the fact that for long periods their forwards were very dominant at the set-pieces.

We must remember that this is not a team full of 50-Test Springboks – in fact only three players in the starting XV in Perth had more than 30 caps, with two more on the bench – it is a growing team. In the decision-making positions, there is tremendous inexperience and in the spine of the team – hooker, eighthman, scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback – there was a total of just 34 caps.

So critics of the Perth performance need to take a rain-check and be positive; they must realise that this is a Springbok team that is growing in stature and is unbeaten this year so far.

The All Blacks are probably favourites on Saturday, but in 2012 and 2014 both Tests over there were very close and 2013 was the famous Romain Poite Test with Bismarck, so you can’t really count that. Apart from last year, all our games with New Zealand have been relatively close.

This is a Springbok team in such a good mental space and the All Blacks have alluded to how they can see a brilliant culture in the team and the difference in their defence, as well as the clever bits of play they are producing. They have the deepest respect for this South African team.

The absence of Jaco Kriel will, however, be a big loss for the Springboks, especially against the All Blacks. His pace, dynamism and the way he puts his body on the line without any fear is a huge positive for the team. But it’s a chance for Jean-Luc du Preez to step up and for Siya Kolisi to play at six and for someone new to come on to the bench. Siya is already really forcing a lot of turnovers on the ground.

You have to give credit to the South African coaches, staff and players for how well the Springboks have performed and hopefully they can get a good result on Saturday.

The winner will win the Rugby Championship – it probably is that simple really.

 

 

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.

Stormers are confident despite disappointing dress rehearsal 0

Posted on July 15, 2017 by Ken

 

The Stormers are going to go into their SuperRugby quarterfinal against the Chiefs with some winning confidence and momentum after beating the Bulls 41-33 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, but there will be aspects of their play that they will be disappointed with, most notably some of their defence.

The Stormers are certainly still a potent attacking side, especially off turnover ball, and they ran in six tries, several of them quite dazzling in quality. But they are clearly going to have to tighten up against the Chiefs because they also conceded five tries against the worst-performing South African side, who had also scored the least tries before Saturday’s game.

Skilful wing Duncan Matthews, who showed once again what a pity it is that he has been unroadworthy due to injury for most of the season, set the tone for a thrilling game in the eighth minute as he ran from the back. The big vehicles in the Bulls pack then took over, with lock RG Snyman charging forward, before hooker Adriaan Strauss provided great support and flank Abongile Nonkontwana, a late replacement for the ill Nic de Jager, then gave a neat offload as the home side stormed into the 22. From the ruck, lock Jason Jenkins forced his way over for the opening try.

It was an exciting start but the home side, perhaps overloaded with enthusiasm, then tried to run from the kickoff, lost the ball and wing Cheslin Kolbe then set off on a marvellous jinking run that took him through half the Bulls side before he completed a fine individual try.

The fairness of the grounding had to be confirmed by TMO Marius Jonker, but there were no questions about the Stormers’ second try, four minutes later. Scrumhalf Jano Vermaak spotted a gap quite a long way from the ruck but had the pace to exploit it, before impressive outside centre EW Viljoen threw a lovely dummy and then sent flank Sikhumbuzo Notshe, a late replacement for Rynhardt Elstadt, strolling over the line.

Matthews then took centre stage as he scored a try and then set up another as the Bulls claimed a 21-12 lead after 28 minutes. First he finished a fine try from deep by the Bulls, which began with them spreading the ball wide down their backline inside their own 22, before fullback Warrick Gelant darted for the gap, drawing two defenders and then releasing outside centre Jesse Kriel, who roared up on the outside before sending Matthews racing over the line.

Ten minutes later, from a lineout, scrumhalf Rudy Paige gave a superb inside ball for Matthews, speeding up on a great line, and the 23-year-old then produced a phenomenal offload in the tackle to Kriel, racing up on his shoulder to complete a great try.

But to once again show how important it is that the team that has just scored clears the kickoff efficiently, the Bulls once again fluffed their exit and, with the Stormers pressing hard in their 22, captain Strauss was penalised for a high tackle, allowing Willemse to cut the visitors’ deficit to 15-21.

The Bulls’ defence also bordered on incompetent at times and, three minutes later, wing Seabela Senatla was able to burst through. His pass went astray though, and the Bulls had the ball but made a hash of clearing their lines, turning over the ball and allowing the brilliant Dillyn Leyds to knife through and score the try that gave the Stormers a one-point lead at halftime with Willemse’s conversion (22-21).

Outside backs Leyds, the epitome of slipperiness from the back but also with an educated boot, and Senatla were the main drivers of the Stormers success in the second half.

The Bulls tightened up and used some of their heavyweights as ball-carriers, putting the Stormers under pressure, but flyhalf Tian Schoeman missed an important penalty attempt in the 50th minute.

Two minutes later, Leyds was racing up from the back again when tighthead prop Conraad van Vuuren tried to rein him in with a tackle that was more like a seatbelt restraining an F1 driver from over the shoulder. It seemed a bit harsh, but he was yellow-carded and that put the Stormers in the driver’s seat as they scored twice in the next 10 minutes.

In the 55th minute, Senatla was brought in on a run off a scrum and he linked up with Viljoen, before captain Siya Kolisi rumbled across the line.

Willemse converted and the Stormers had stretched their lead to 29-21.

Six minutes later, Leyds showed his tremendous attacking mentality as he fielded a kick from replacement scrumhalf Piet van Zyl and raced through a poor defensive line and then sent Willemse racing away on an angled run for a crucial try that gave the Stormers some breathing space with a 34-21 lead.

Some basic mistakes then corrupted the Stormers effort, setting up the game for a thrilling finale.

A breakdown in defence allowed Van Zyl to get the ball from a ruck, throw a dummy and then go racing for the corner flag, the Bulls cutting the deficit to 26-34 in the 65th minute.

Four minutes later, the Stormers tried a long pass off the lineout, it went to ground and Jesse Kriel pounced, scooping up the ball and running 60 metres to score an opportunistic try.

Replacement flyhalf Tony Jantjies converted and the Bulls were once again just one point behind (33-34).

The Bulls were full of fire and gave the Stormers pack just the sort of workout they need before the quarterfinals, and the tenseness of the situation was seen in Willemse taking a penalty shot at goal, and missing, in the 73rd minute.

With just a minute to go, Jantjies made a half-break and the Bulls were on attack inside the Stormers half. Replacement centre Burger Odendaal then burst clear and suddenly things looked promising for the home team.

But their lack of mobility and pace in some of their pack then came home to haunt them and there was no-one up in support when Odendaal was stopped, leading to a turnover and Leyds chipping the ball ahead for Senatla to dash on to and score the matchwinning try.

The Bulls gave as good as they got, but what they lack is the polish to their game – the small, but vital things like good exits, strong support play and accurate decision-making in both attack and defence.

The Stormers will obviously have to step up another notch to beat the Chiefs in their quarterfinal at Newlands next weekend, but the sheer muscle of their pack and the ruthlessness of their counter-attacking backs means they have reasons to be confident of banishing the memories of last year’s awful match against the same opponents at the same stage.

 

Scorers

BullsTries: Jason Jenkins, Duncan Matthews, Jesse Kriel (2), Piet van Zyl. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (3), Tony Jantjies.

Stormers Tries: Cheslin Kolbe, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Dillyn Leyds, Siya Kolisi, Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla. Conversions: Willemse (3), Kolbe. Penalty: Willemse.

No secret that Bulls are vulnerable in scrum, but still disappointing for Strauss 0

Posted on March 01, 2016 by Ken

 

It was hardly confidential that the Bulls were vulnerable in the scrums when they opened their SuperRugby campaign against the Stormers at Newlands, but captain Adriaan Strauss was nevertheless disappointed that his team gave their hosts so much opportunity to dominate that set-piece as they romped to an impressive 33-9 victory.

“The Stormers scrummed well in the second half and we also struggled against the Lions in the latter part of that warm-up game. There are technical things we need to work on and improve, but the coach said before the game that scrummaging would be our challenge and that’s precisely where the Stormers took us on and they won that battle.

“But we didn’t give them that opportunity in the first half, it was a tactical game, there wasn’t much space, a typical, hard South African derby. The Stormers took their opportunities in the second half but we gave them some of those. It’s frustrating because I know the side has got potential, like we showed in the first half, but then we didn’t play to our ability in the second half. Credit to the Stormers for playing very well, but we made silly mistakes at the lineouts and we didn’t apply pressure, giving them easy exits,” hooker Strauss said after the game.

Bulls coach Nollis Marais hinted that the true valuation of his side will only come further down the line, perhaps not even during this year’s SuperRugby competition.

“The match showed how young and inexperienced we are in certain positions. But we need to play these youngsters, they’ll get better every week and will be ready down the line. Otherwise two years from now we will have the same problem. It’s not nice, but we have to stick with it and the guys have to learn. A match like that is not fun, but it’s a good way to learn and the team will grow every week,” Marais said.

“The big question mark was always going to be whether we were under pressure in the set-pieces and the Stormers did that to us in the second half. Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit showed their class in the lineouts and they had very good substitutions in the scrum. If you don’t win your set-pieces, you can have thousands of plans, but without good scrum or lineout ball, you can’t attack,” the coach added.

SA bowl in all the wrong places as Smith scores great series-winning ton 0

Posted on December 23, 2014 by Ken

Steven Smith produced a great century as South Africa bowled in all the wrong areas at the death, leading Australia to a three-wicket victory with an over to spare to clinch the series in the fourth one-day international at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.

Chasing 268, some bizarre field placings and the poor execution of the South African bowlers saw Australia plunder 86 runs in the last 10 overs, Smith and Matthew Wade having lifted them from 98 for five midway through their chase with a stand of 121 in 20 overs.

Smith eventually fell with the scores tied after scoring 104 off 112 balls – an innings of great composure and skill. James Faulkner came in after Wade’s dismissal and took advantage of South Africa feeding his strengths as he belted 34 not out off 19 balls.

Smith and Wade brought Australia back into contention after Dale Steyn took two wickets in two overs to put South Africa in control.

But Smith produced a fine innings and Wade played an invaluable hand of 52 off 59 deliveries.

Wayne Parnell eventually removed Wade thanks to a great catch by Ryan McLaren running in from deep backward square-leg, but Australia went into the last five overs needing just 40 runs with the big-hitting Faulkner joining Smith at the crease.

Spearhead Steyn was brought back into the attack in the 21st over after Smith and George Bailey had added 30 for the fourth wicket and he struck in his second over as captain Bailey edged a slash outside the off stump to be caught behind for 16.

That brought the dangerous Glenn Maxwell in, but he could only score two before his flatfooted drive at an away-swinger in Steyn’s next over saw him caught at slip by Hashim Amla. Credit to captain AB de Villiers for having the slip in.

Smith and Bailey made bright starts to their innings after pace bowlers McLaren and Parnell took a wicket apiece to reduce Australia to 48 for three in the 14th over.

South Africa’s back-up seamers were under pressure as Australia reached 39 for one after 10 overs, but both settled after wayward starts.

Shane Watson will be furious with himself as he once again made a start, getting to 19 off 25 balls, before he reached out to try and drive a wide, full away-swinger from McLaren and edged a catch to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.

Opener Aaron Finch was looking dangerous on 22 when he pulled Parnell straight to Faf du Plessis at deep square-leg.

Opening bowlers Kyle Abbott and Steyn were spot on from the outset to have the Australian openers under pressure, with Abbott making the breakthrough in the fourth over when he trapped David Warner lbw for four, the left-hander being hit on the back pad as he was late on a delivery that straightened back into him.

South Africa’s batsmen fell away in the later overs as they faded to 267 for eight after winning the toss and electing to bat first in the day/night game.

AB de Villiers once again dazzled and David Miller can book his ticket to the World Cup, but the rest of the South African batting once again disappointed.

The Proteas are fortunate that they can call on De Villiers, already established as one of the all-time greats, as he was once again the mainstay of the innings, scoring 91 off 88 balls in another great display of skill and exquisite placement of the ball.

Miller was the one batsman to provide sturdy support to De Villiers, playing a fine knock of 45 off 61 balls as they set up the innings with a fourth-wicket stand of 122 in 20 overs.

But unlike South Africa, whose problems extend from the batting relying too heavily on De Villiers to dodgy death bowling, Australia can rely on their bowlers in the last 10 overs to really turn the screw. Once they removed Miller, caught in the covers in an attempt to hit over the top in the powerplay, they restricted the Proteas to a meagre 51 runs in the last 10 overs, while claiming four more wickets.

Fast bowler Mitchell Starc was outstanding with his mix of yorkers and slower balls as he finished with one for 40 in 10 overs – figures that don’t do justice to his performance. Fellow paceman Pat Cummins also bowled better than his figures of two for 61, being a threat throughout, while James Faulkner was also brilliant at the death with his back-of-the-hand deliveries, finishing with two for 45.

South Africa will be concerned that Quinton de Kock continues to struggle at the top of the order, scratching his way to 17 off 38 balls before popping a lame return catch to off-spinner Glenn Maxwell, who had had him dropped at slip in his first over.

Fellow opener Hashim Amla was looking good, however, as he cruised to 18 off 20 balls. He had identified the balls to go after well, collecting three fours, and was quite within his rights to pull the shortish delivery Nathan Coulter-Nile bowled to him in the sixth over, but unfortunately he hit it straight to midwicket, where Cummins hung on to a sharp, dipping catch.

Faf du Plessis also looked in good touch as he scored 28 off 37 balls as South Africa reached 70 for one in the 16th over. But Cummins, returning after Du Plessis had hit him for two fours in his previous over in the first powerplay, got some extra bounce outside off stump and found the edge of an attempted steer, the ball nestling safely in wicketkeeper Matthew Wade’s gloves.

De Kock had fallen in the previous over and South Africa were in some strife on 79 for three.

But De Villiers once again showed that he is in a different league, improvising brilliantly, while still playing off the basis of a sound technique, and hardly ever seeming to take a risk. He only collected six boundaries, but scored at better than a run-a-ball on a slowish pitch without breaking a sweat.

With the bowlers at their mercy – Australia’s attack were also one short when Coulter-Nile limped off with a hamstring strain – both found ways to get out. Miller was trying to hit over the top in the powerplay, but could only skew Faulkner high into the covers, while De Villiers charged down the pitch to Cummins and was reaching for a slower-ball bouncer, a tennis-like shot going to deep midwicket.

After that, the remaining batsmen could not find ways to dominate the impressive Australian attack, with Farhaan Behardien managing just 22 off 23 balls.

 



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