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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column – Not enough emphasis on defence 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken

 

To see so many tries scored against the South African teams in SuperRugby last weekend – 26 in all – was disappointing and it’s not great when your top franchises are conceding so many tries in particular, but the problem is that there has just not been enough emphasis on defence.

Look at the value SA Rugby put on defence after Jacques Nienaber left halfway through 2016: they appointed Chean Roux in his position and he will freely admit that he was an absolute rookie defence coach at that stage. What does that say about how they rate defence and defence coaches?

We’ve now had the national indaba and the Springboks are on to their fourth defence coach under Allister Coetzee, but I’m sure Brendan Venter will do a really good job because he has the experience and the skills, and was the architect of the Saracens defensive system that has taken them to the European Champions Cup final.

But there was no national defence coach when the indaba was convened, so I wonder if there was input on defence at that gathering? After conceding a record score against New Zealand, defence was an obvious area that needed fixing.

It’s not Allister’s fault of course because he was handed his staff; now he has been given the staff he wants and I expect to see a massive improvement in the Springboks this year.

There are problems, but the people who coach defence in the franchises will, of course, care deeply about the defensive performances. In 2013, I remember when the Springboks conceded five tries against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, but we needed the bonus point to win the Rugby Championship and we played a high-tempo game, which a lot of people said was one of the best Test matches ever played. But I stewed over those five tries for a month; but then at least we only conceded one try, to France, on the whole European tour thereafter.

So our defence in general is not in a great situation at present and whether it is due to conditioning problems or the speed of the modern game is open to debate. But you can never win a rugby match if you are conceding that many tries.

There’s obviously currently an emphasis on attacking skills but I’m certain the defence coaches are still being given sufficient time with their teams, and they would have done a lot of work on certain aspects of how the opposition attack. Like the Australian middle ruck attack, for instance, where the flyhalf goes hard for the line with a wing or centre like Israel Folau hard on their shoulder.

It’s no surprise when the New Zealand teams employ the kick-pass, especially the Hurricanes.

They employ the rush defence, therefore their wings have to be high and so there is always space behind them. Beauden Barrett would have had a lot of practice doing the kick-pass in training because he would see and have a high understanding of that space all the time.

The Stormers left too much of the field free, nearly 20 metres of space, and with players set in the wide channels, that’s not the smartest move.

In order to make sure you cover the width of the field, you need your tight five to work really hard close to the ruck, to set the breakdown correctly with good placing between the three pillars, and then the outside backs go wider.

The Bulls obviously had problems with their defence and if you said it started with their conditioning then you would not be far off. They also have folding problems, they’re just not setting the breakdown around the corner and so they end up with insufficient numbers.

They were also caught out by grubbers and so one has to ask questions about the back three’s positional play. They need to co-ordinate better to cover those and they need a much higher work-rate.

The Southern Kings have also had defensive problems and so it is only really the Lions and Sharks, who are defending in the same fashion as always, who can be satisfied with their defence.

The Lions have shown a great defensive improvement and one must credit JP Ferreira for improving their consistency in this regard.

The Lions are rolling through nicely and it will be a phenomenal tour if they can beat the Brumbies, which will make it probably the first unbeaten tour by a South African team – a tremendous achievement, and they’ve been winning with bonus points!

We know Australian rugby is at an all-time low and they have even more defensive problems, but their forwards are really their soft underbelly and the Lions have exposed that to great effect.

And the quality of finishing this weekend by Courtnall Skosan and Sylvian Mahuza was top-class. As we get closer to the Springbok selection, it’s a good time for players to remind the national coach that they are out there by scoring skilful tries like that.

In South Africa, skills development seems to be more coach-driven, but in New Zealand, the players take personal responsibility for it. An example at the Kubota Spears is Patrick Osborne, who has played at the top level as a wing, but he works hard on his kicking. He’s playing as a right-footer on the left wing, so he’s constantly working on his left-footed grubbers and other kicks, he does that consistently.

To see a top New Zealand SuperRugby player take individual responsibility like that was quite an eye-opener.

 

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: Disappointing Springboks certainly need a win 0

Posted on November 17, 2016 by Ken

 

It was a really disappointing Springbok performance against England last weekend and there’s no doubt about it, coach Allister Coetzee certainly needs a win on Saturday against Italy.

Playing Italy now is probably the right Test for the Springboks, but I think they will take even a three-point win!

It will be interesting to see which players really stand up to be counted but Allister has not really taken responsibility for the results – he’s the guy in charge, it’s his team, his game and his system and obviously it’s not going well.

In the first half at Twickenham, the Springboks were in the game for the first 30 minutes until JP Pietersen dropped the ball, that turnover on the high ball was quickly moved wide, then kicked and a few lucky bounces later, Courtney Lawes scored the try that took the wind out of the Springboks’ sails.

And they then gave away a soft penalty just before halftime at the breakdown and it was always going to be difficult with that side to play catch-up rugby.

The Springboks are on their third defensive coach in a year – JP Ferreira – and there were some things that were very different in the structure of the defence. Individually there was some really good contact made, but at times they did not set the breakdown and England scrumhalf Ben Youngs was able to go through the gaps easily. The Boks’ pillar defence stood wide and took dummies because their spacing was not right, and their communication of roles and responsibilities was obviously wrong too.

To concede two tries through the pillar area is really soft at international level, but we have to give JP Ferreira time. He’s only been in the job for one month, he’s still dealing with the legacy of Chean Roux’s system and he needs time and our backing.

Apart from the defence – they were also slow to get off the line – the most disappointing aspect of the Springboks’ play was the number of handling errors – nearly 20. Those soft moments, added to kicking penalties over the goal-line or halfway drop-outs going too far, put the whole side under pressure and they are fundamental errors.

The Springboks also gave Billy Vunipola a free ride, he was always getting over the advantage line with ease and gave his backs wonderful front-foot ball. He should have had a target on his back, the Springbok forwards should have kept him quiet but instead he got over the advantage line far too easily. (The last time the Springboks played against Vunipola, he was subbed after 40 minutes having made some cardinal errors).

At the end of the day, after 50 minutes the game was effectively over, although the Springbok bench did quite well and scored two well-worked tries.

The set-piece and the lineout were also areas that went well for the Springboks, but you’d expect that with the size and height of the guys Allister Coetzee chose. The Springboks did not contest the England lineout because they gave them number two ball so that they could have numbers on their feet and be stronger in the vacuum.

So England threw a lot where Beast and Adriaan Strauss were standing, they would set the lineout very quickly or they played tempo with balls to the back. England wanted to keep the ball in play, they didn’t want lineouts or high balls from the Springboks. There were a lot of aerial balls because they did not want the ball to go out.

The Springboks need to fix those system errors in defence and maybe freshen the team up against Italy, it’s certainly a Test where you can give one or two players a chance. But you can’t totally change the side because a Test team needs to develop into a rhythm.

Maybe Johan Goosen should come in at flyhalf and Jamba Ulengo could play on the wing, perhaps Rohan Janse van Rensburg will get a shout at centre. I would think about trying someone like Oupa Mohoje as the openside flank or Nizaam Carr, who made his debut two years ago in the number six jersey against Italy. Plus one of the two young hookers in the squad needs more game time.

But how many starting players and experienced guys are the Springboks missing? Bryan Habana, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Handre Pollard, Juan de Jongh, Francois Hougaard, Frans Malherbe, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen would all make a heck of a lot of difference as very experienced, battle-hardened Test players.

The Springboks should and could get good victories in their last two games – Wales are also under pressure after playing so badly against Australia – and that would end the season well. Allister can then start afresh next year when all his players are back.

Test rugby is a very harsh arena in terms of the scrutiny you are under, there’s no hiding place for anybody. The one thing the Springboks did do well was that they kept working, kept trying and kept hitting their opposition, they never gave up.

The Springboks still have plenty to play for and if they can win their last two matches then they will have won two of their three Tests on tour which would be acceptable. Nobody will be more disappointed with the game against England than the Springbok coaching staff, management and players as a group, and they will not want to let the country down again.

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

 

 

Bulls regress to uninspired, stereotypical rugby 0

Posted on May 16, 2016 by Ken

 

The Vodacom Blue Bulls regressed back into the uninspired type of rugby that was derided as being stereotypical of their province as they sank to a disappointing 31-8 defeat at the hands of the Waratahs in their SuperRugby match in Sydney on Saturday.

They showed encouraging endeavour in the first half, operating off a strong scrum platform, but their error-rate was not befitting SuperRugby contenders and they failed to round off a number of promising opportunities. Their only points in the first half came after the hooter as a big scrum earned a penalty kicked by flyhalf Tian Schoeman.

The Waratahs were also guilty of handling errors and poor finishing in the first half, perhaps rattled by the loss of ace centre Kurtley Beale inside the first minute when he suffered a knee injury chasing after a kick and slipping as he tried to launch himself airborne.

The Waratahs scored the only try of the first half when scrumhalf Rudy Paige’s kick was charged down and Schoeman then knocked-on to give the home side territory deep inside the Bulls 22. New South Wales flyhalf Bernard Foley went on a strong run and scrumhalf Nick Phipps then went on a sniping run and, having not been held by the first tackler, he got up and dived over the line.

Foley converted and the Waratahs led 7-3 at the halftime break.

The second half was a miserable affair for the Bulls. They just could not get their hands on the ball, not helped by the tendency to launch poor up-and-unders from the middle of the field, and the Waratahs spent most of the last 40 minutes inside the Bulls half.

The memo that the Bulls clearly didn’t get or ignored – just to hang on to the ball through phases and build pressure on a slippery, poor surface at the Allianz Stadium – was followed to the T by the Waratahs in the opening minutes of the second half.

The home side kept the ball tight, using the pack to pick and go, driving forwards, until Phipps went wide, the draw-and-pass sucking in prop Marcel van der Merwe and allowing flank Dean Mumm to burst through the gap and score the second try.

Foley converted and then kicked a penalty for the Waratahs to lead 17-3 going into the last 10 minutes. They extended that scoreline with two further tries as the Bulls simply froze, unable to break out of their shells.

Israel Folau, the darling of the great city of Sydney, made two separate breaks in the build-up to Phipps’s second try, while a very disappointing game for the Bulls ended with replacement prop Angus Ta’avao rumbling over to secure a bonus point win for the Waratahs.

The visitors did manage to score a single try, in the 74th minute, when replacement centre Dries Swanepoel burst through in midfield after the Bulls showed how capable they are of opening up defences when they hang on to the ball for several phases.

The Bulls are now returning home and are going to have to ask themselves some tough questions about their desire to advance their rugby. They are being outworked and outmuscled by sides, which are not good signs.

There are few Bulls players who can feel satisfied with their performances; flank Lappies Labuschagne was immense and his work-rate was exceptional, while loosehead prop Lizo Gqoboka scrummed superbly along with Van der Merwe, and was good in the loose as well. Fullback SP Marais showed some fine touches on attack, but the Bulls are not attacking nearly enough.

Scorers

WaratahsTries: Nick Phipps (2), Dean Mumm, Angus Ta’avao. Conversions: Bernard Foley (4). Penalty: Foley.

Vodacom Blue BullsTry: Dries Swanepoel. Penalty: Tian Schoeman.

http://citizen.co.za/1115465/bulls-regress-to-uninspired-stereotypical-rugby/

My question for Heyneke Meyer 0

Posted on November 06, 2015 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer returns to South Africa this morning and will face the press after a disappointing end to their World Cup campaign; my question to him would be “Why do you think you deserve to continue in your post, what progress has been made over the last four years?”

In my opinion, there has been no real progress. There is no meaningful silverware to show, the good results have been cancelled out by some truly awful results, a world ranking of three is nothing to shout about, and, as clearly shown in the dour win over Argentina in the third-place playoff, Meyer cannot even say the game plan has evolved under his watch. And he continues to cause outrage when it comes to transformation – his treatment of Rudi Paige, Lwazi Mvovo and Siya Kolisi showing that he just doesn’t get it when it comes to that vital issue.

Meyer is an honourable man, as passionate as anyone when it comes to Springbok rugby, and he says he wants to be part of the solution that will fix the problems. But in my eyes he is part of the problem; his emotional excesses and fear of losing rub off on the team. The Springboks have not shown the ability to adapt to what is happening on the field, they are too stuck in a rigid game plan.

Watching New Zealand deservedly win the World Cup final clearly showed the direction the Springboks should be going. The All Blacks are peerless when it comes to vision and adaptability on the rugby field and it was surely destiny that Dan Carter would be man of the match in winning the World Cup final.

Meyer seemed to be heading in the right direction in 2013 and 2014 when he tried a more up-tempo, ball-in-hand approach; two epic Tests against the All Blacks resulted and Ellis Park was sold out as she hosted two of the best games of rugby I have witnessed.

But the coach failed to build on those performances, losing his nerve in this World Cup year and retreating back into a conservative, unambitious game plan that was easy to counter. Losing to Japan was bad enough, but the Springboks had the added ignominy of being called “anti-rugby” and being as boring as Argentina were when they first joined the Rugby Championship in 2012.

The fact that his team struggled to beat an Argentina side missing nine first-choice players last weekend rams home that Meyer has not added anything to the Springboks. Replacing him at the helm of a team that clearly needs renewing, especially in terms of strategy, is the only sensible option because Meyer has shown that he cannot take the team forward.

On a positive note, a big high-five to the England Rugby Union for hosting a top-class World Cup. A pleasing feature of the tournament was the improvement shown by the minnows: apart from Japan’s incredible heroics, there were also no massive hidings as rugby showed it is a truly global game.

Even the referees, who are under the harshest lens, stepped up and, barring one or two mishaps, the officiating was of a high standard, helped by a greater reliance on the TMO.

 



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