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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.

John McFarland Column: How to beat the All Blacks 0

Posted on July 12, 2017 by Ken

 

It was an enthralling final Test between the All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions, and a tremendous achievement for the visitors to draw a series in New Zealand. Every international coach will have looked at the three Tests and will take something from them – it has shown it is possible to beat the All Blacks.

So how did the Lions achieve this?

Firstly, their defence over the three Tests was superb, so hats off to the Farrell family.

It’s no coincidence that most of New Zealand’s losses over the last few years have been caused by a rush defence and a high line speed, so Lions, England and Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell should really take a bow – he has now enjoyed three wins and a draw against the All Blacks since 2013.

And then there was his son Owen’s kicking. None of his kicks at goal in the last Test were gimmes and it was very interesting to see that even with Jonny Sexton, who has such a high success rate in his kicking record, at flyhalf, the Lions went with Farrell for goalkicking and that’s what made the difference in the end.

The All Blacks were disciplined in their own 22, but were prepared to give away penalties further away from their line, and Farrell kept the Lions in the game.

It was the defence that was able to disrupt the New Zealand attacking structure, they weren’t really able to go forward or get the ball wide, because the Lions totally dominated the gain-line and the rush-defence took time and space away from Beauden Barrett. But it didn’t operate from a tight base, the wings were on the second-last runners and would not always engage, sometimes they would back off on to the last runner, therefore there was no kicking space behind them.

The Lions also chose two openside flanks who were a real nuisance at the breakdown.

The biggest thing about the rush-defence is that it means you are so square in the tackle, you line up your man and come forward, there’s no shifting. The Lions tackling was very confrontational, they didn’t really hit the legs but tended to be just under the ball. This forced more errors and led to dominance in the tackle; a softer defence relies on leg-tackles and a confrontational rush-defence on chest tackles. You can see it unnerved the All Blacks and with the quality of defenders the Lions had – players like Jonathan Davies, Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien – the system totally suited them.

The shift put in by the Lions forwards at the coalface was also amazing and New Zealand could not get any offloads or tip-passes going at all. The Lions cleverly took out the support players, so the ball was wide open at the breakdowns. The quality of the tackles and the athletes involved meant that on the tip-ons, they frequently took the passer out of play, which exposed the ball-carrier and then the turnover could happen.

What was especially interesting to me was that New Zealand just could not get the ball to the outside channels in space, and even if they tried, Barrett was frequently standing still and then it was easy for the Lions to pick off the carriers.

The way to break down the rush-defence is through the kick-pass and offloading from contact and it’s no coincidence that the All Blacks scored from this.

The Lions also relied tremendously on Conor Murray’s box-kicking. There was no messing around here – they would maul or box-kick immediately from the restart and that put pressure on the New Zealand wings, thanks to the quality of Murray’s kicking and exits.

For me, Murray was the real star of the series, his tactical control was superb; him kicking contestables meant the All Blacks never had a chance to counter-attack or get the ball back from the Lions back three with running bombs.

The New Zealand attack was very static. They wanted a two-sided attack against the rush-defence, but they played a lot of one-pass rugby, which made it quite easy to defend.

One of the key moments of the final Test was the chase back of Davies on Ngani Laumape after Barrett’s intercept, it was just superb. It was a series-turning moment and the other players get really excited when they see that sort of attitude and commitment from a team-mate.

It was an enthralling finish to the series, but it’s a pity to see such a great Test end with all the focus on Mr Roman Poite.

His eccentricities have been exposed even before Eden Park last weekend: there was the red card he gave Bismarck du Plessis at Eden Park in 2013, his performance in the World Cup and against Argentina in 2014 when there were seven water-carriers on the field during a stoppage and he allowed the Pumas to take a quick tap, which resulted in a try just before halftime. The last defender in the Springbok backline was our physio, Rene Naylor!

It was good, though, that Poite reviewed the incident at the end of last weekend’s game and I think Craig Joubert will be wishing he had done the same in 2015 in the Scotland v Australia game at the World Cup. That’s what the TMO is there for and at least Poite used it. But rugby has to eliminate these grey areas because referees have to make hard decisions in a very short time.

I thought Poite was also really poor in the lineouts, there was taking out of jumpers left, right and centre, it was like a free-for-all. New Zealand also seemed to have some dominance in that final scrum and there could have been a penalty to them, but again he opted out.

The All Blacks ended up playing a lot of guys with just a handful of caps, which is not what you want in high-pressured Tests. Injuries and Sonny Bill Williams’ self-inflicted absence obviously affected them and you want more caps for the big games like last weekend. They ended with Laumape at 12 and Anton Lienert-Brown at 13 and they are actually both inside centres, both confrontational and direct. The Lions started with a similar sort of player in Ben Te’o, but then switched to Sexton and Farrell and had far more ball-playing ability to stretch the All Blacks.

One has to credit coach Warren Gatland for wearing his red nose with pride. He might just hang around and is probably very excited about a third tour with the Lions, against the Springboks in 2021.

It will be interesting to see whether the Springboks pick Cheetahs or Kings players for that tour because it will be the end of their season in Europe!

 

 

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.

Lions have earned universal respect despite failing to make playoffs 0

Posted on November 24, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions may have failed to make the SuperRugby playoffs after their dramatic weekend draw against the Stormers, but the Johannesburg-based franchise has certainly earned the respect of all their opponents this season.

Just two years after they were controversially relegated from SuperRugby, the Lions have clinched second place in the South African Conference and boast an almost identical record to the Brumbies, who have snuck into the playoffs ahead of them because of bonus points.

They have maintained their positive style of play with ball in hand, but where they have improved most is defensively, boasting the best tackling success rate in the competition. The Lions play at the highest tempo of all the South African sides as they swarm around in defence and always have great intensity on the ball. Their powerful scrum has provided a solid platform and their lineout has also been efficient.

“It’s all about playing with intensity and hunger, and we have to up our performance every week. There are plans in place, but I also allow the guys to be free spirits and you have to live with the small mistakes that come from that,” coach Johan Ackermann says. “Obviously I’m very proud of the team, it must be one of our best years and it shows that hard work is worth it.”

The Lions have certainly deserved all the praise that has come their way, beating the qualified Waratahs and Highlanders in the last five weeks and showing all season that they are never out of the contest with some superb second-half comebacks.

“There’s great belief within this side, a real hunger. We want to close down the opposition’s space and put them under pressure. We’ve built our physicality in defence, we want to be in their faces and not stand back,” captain Warren Whiteley says.

Their impressive performances have seen several of their players grow into Springbok contenders. The most likely Lions player to feature in Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok World Cup squad is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who dares to take the ball flat and attack the opposition line, has superb hands and is a strong defender, as well as kicking well this season.

Eighthman Whiteley is competing with Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger for a place at the World Cup, but he gets through a mound of work and is the only player in SuperRugby this year to have made more than 200 tackles, while also being highly effective in a linking role, possessing great skill and vision as befits a Springbok Sevens player who helped win the Commonwealth Games gold medal last year.

He is also adept at interfering with the opposition lineout, where Franco Mostert has also been a key performer for the Lions, as well as in the loose.

Warwick Tecklenburg has been outstanding in doing all the Lions’ dirty work, being second only to Whiteley in terms of tackles made, but fellow flank Jaco Kriel has been the most impressive forward.

A constant nuisance at the breakdown, he oozes raw talent in offence, having phenomenal pace, strength and hands, and has more often than not been able to spark the most sensational counter-attacks by the Lions.

Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have proved to be two powerful centres, while scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and wing Ruan Combrinck are two other backs who have announced themselves as future Springboks this year.

Despite their success over the last two years, Ackermann says at the moment they are just playing pretty rugby and haven’t won anything yet, there is more growing to do.

“We can look back on a good season regardless of missing the playoffs. The players know where they stand with me and they know my expectation on deserving the jersey. As long as they do that, I can’t ask for more. The growth from last year is definitely there, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“Nobody has achieved anything yet. We are not in the playoffs, we haven’t won the Currie Cup yet, we haven’t won any trophies yet. But if you ask me if there is a lot of growth, both for me as coach and for the team, then definitely if you look where we started in January 2014 until where we are now,” Ackermann says.

 

Never-say-die Titans salvage epic draw v Lions 0

Posted on April 11, 2016 by Ken

 

The bravest of batting efforts by the never-say-die Unlimited Titans saw them salvage an epic draw in their Sunfoil Series match against the bizhub Highveld Lions at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Sunday, ensuring that they will go into the last weekend of the competition in prime position to claim the title.

The Titans were forced to follow on 379 runs behind the Lions and Pumelela Matshikwe’s deadly four-wicket burst just before lunch seemed to have condemned them to an innings defeat as they stumbled into the break on 219 for five.

But the tenacious Dean Elgar produced one of the finest innings of his career to bat for nine hours and score an epic 173, Qaasim Adams (71 not out in 263 minutes) and Marchant de Lange (23 not out in 85 minutes) providing immense support as the game died a natural death with the Titans having erased the deficit and scored 385 for six. By denying the second-placed Lions the 10 points for a win, the Titans will take a 12.62-point lead into the final round.

Matshikwe, probing and accurate, was superb, taking six for 58 in 31 overs and used the inconsistent bounce and a worn area outside the right-hander’s off stump from the West Lane End, that caused the ball to jag back, brilliantly.

Hardus Viljoen and Dwaine Pretorius were also threats when the ball was newer and harder, but left-arm spinner Bjorn Fortuin toiled through 31 overs on the dry pitch without success.

Test opener Elgar brought tremendous determination and a savvy game plan to the final day, but he could not have rescued the game without the help of Adams. The 31-year-old was left out of the team at some stages in the first half of the summer as the Titans tried to balance their team, but he has become an absolutely key batsman and his average in the four-day competition is now 69.66 after knocks of 73 and 71 not out against the defending champions.

The Titans began the final day on 156 for one and Elgar and Grant Mokoena survived the first hour without much interference. But that was before the introduction of Matshikwe, who clings to a line-and-length with steely determination.

Matshikwe bowled Mokoena for 27, a gutsy two-and-a-half hour knock which was ended when the batsman inside-edged a cut into his stumps.

Mokoena’s dismissal did not disrupt Elgar’s focus and the left-hander went to his 16th Sunfoil Series century and second of the season, after five hours and 17 minutes at the crease, having already faced 232 balls.

Matshikwe’s two overs from the West Lane End immediately before lunch were what undermined the Titans innings so terribly, as he used the deteriorating surface to great effect.

Theunis de Bruyn (7) was the victim of an umpiring error as he was given out caught behind off the sleeve under his arm, but Mangaliso Mosehle, who completed a disheartening pair, and Henry Davids were both comprehensively beaten and bowled for ducks by Matshikwe.

Mosehle played around his first delivery and lost his off stump as the ball nipped back, and Davids shouldered arms and was bowled as the ball jagged back a long way off the crack.

That brought Elgar and Adams together and, after playing out the over-and-a-half before lunch they set about dominating the afternoon. The left-handers were not as vulnerable to Matshikwe’s favoured area but they both had to show tremendous defensive technique and concentration as they added 110 for the sixth wicket, facing 254 balls and taking three hours out of the game.

They reached 282 for five and a fascinating contest developed between Elgar and Fortuin: the batsman would often advance and hit the spinner straight down the ground, but the 21-year-old seemed to have made a key breakthrough for the Lions when Elgar got himself into a tangle and seemed to have offered a bat/pad catch.

The umpire turned the appeal down though and Elgar and Adams notched a century partnership and took the Titans past 300.

Matshikwe returned though and claimed the wicket of Elgar, who pushed hard down the ground, but the angle from around the wicket took the ball on to the inside edge and Dominic Hendricks took a diving bat/pad catch from short mid-off.

There were still at least 25 overs left to be bowled when De Lange came in. He is normally a no-frills belter of the ball, but the Titans are chasing a trophy and he had to change his game plan.

He did a superb job with Adams, defending stoutly but taking the runs when they were on offer, another 59 runs being added as the home side survived a tense final day to ensure they are the favourites for the four-day title.

As well as the Lions played, they will be disappointed that they could not bowl the Titans out on the final day – injured wrist-spinner Eddie Leie was missed and the lack of a reverse-swing option also hurt them.

http://www.citizen.co.za/1060151/never-say-die-titans-salvage-epic-draw-v-lions/



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