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Ken Borland



Superb Williams solo try wins scrappy game for Sharks 0

Posted on November 17, 2016 by Ken

 

A superb solo try by replacement centre Heimar Williams made certain of a 25-21 victory for the Sharks in a scrappy SuperRugby match against the Rebels at Kings Park in Durban last night.

Williams, who cut inside and then dashed over from 25 metres out for a brilliant try, gave the Sharks a 22-7 lead after 52 minutes.

But despite the Rebels playing with 14 men for the entire second half after prop Laurie Weeks was red-carded for repeatedly punching Jannie du Plessis, who was yellow-carded for starting the fracas with a slap to the back of the head, the visitors fought back manfully and threatened to steal the spoils.

Inspired by man of the match Scott Higginbotham, their eighthman and captain, the Rebels scored twice in the last quarter through Higginbotham and replacement wing Bryce Hegarty.

The Sharks, who dominated territory, were hesitant on attack and both sides struggled to gain momentum due to dreadful handling.

Left wing S’Bura Sithole was the Sharks’ best player and his 34th-minute try, muscling his way through several defenders, ensured that they had a 10-0 lead, but that was cut to 7-10 at the break by Higginbotham’s first try.

Four minutes into the second half, the Rebels were on attack but replacement scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker threw a no-look pass that was snaffled by fullback Lwazi Mvovo, who then sprinted 80 metres for a thrilling intercept try.

The Sharks led 15-7 but they created precious little else in terms of try-scoring chances, their attack being too lateral – when they managed to hang on to the ball – and the several passengers in their pack ensuring that front-foot ball was hard to come by.

They were grateful for Williams finally producing some direct running for the try that made the task just too hard for the Rebels.

Scorers

Sharks – Tries: S’Bura Sithole, Lwazi Mvovo, Heimar Williams. Conversions: Lionel Cronje (2). Penalties: Cronje (2).

Rebels – Tries: Scott Higginbotham (2), Bryce Hegarty. Conversions: Jack Debreczeni (3).

Springboks suffering due to lack of solid structure below them 5

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springboks’ humiliating defeat in Durban last weekend was a painful reminder of the gulf in quality that exists between the administration and structure of the game in New Zealand and back here in South Africa, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen making sure to mention the decision-makers in their rugby when he was asked for the reasons behind their world record equalling run of 17 successive wins.

A solid structure from schoolboys to the Springboks is what is needed for our rugby to remain amongst the best in the world, not yet another overhaul of the national team and their coaches; that’s just treating the symptom, shuffling people around, and does not address the root cause of our problems.

And, as great as next week’s Rugby Indaba sounds – except for the unfortunate two coaches who have their preparations for the Currie Cup final disrupted (another example of Saru’s awful treatment of their flagship competition) – it’s not going to address our real problems either. There might be some good ideas about game plans and what-not, but the coaches and the franchise CEOs do not have the power to change the structural failings in rugby, that lies with the South African Rugby Union and their turkeys who will steadfastly not vote for Christmas.

Below the national sides, there should just be six teams playing fully professional rugby based in the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. And those six unions should have the power in South African rugby, not the eight lesser unions, largely amateurish and as relevant as dinosaurs, which are currently the tail that wags the dog.

Below that, all 14 unions can have semi-professional teams, but the amount of money that can be saved by only having six fully professional teams and by eight economically unviable organisations no longer drawing over R20 million a year in Saru grants could go a long way towards keeping our players in the country.

Just like in New Zealand, talented rugby players must fight for a limited number of professional contracts through their performances at club level, that lead to them playing for their provinces and then being chosen for a Super Rugby deal.

The vast majority of schoolboy players in New Zealand don’t become professional rugby players when they finish their education. They go to university and play rugby there, or play for their local club side while working, which is why so many All Blacks have had interesting occupations like lumberjack, piano mover or, as in the case of Aaron Smith, apprentice hairdresser.

It’s a system that builds character and ensures only the fittest and hungriest players survive to reach the top.

Good schoolboy players in South Africa should be lauded in their school hall and with selection for provincial and national schoolboy teams; not with professional contracts and way too much exposure on television.

There is far too great an emphasis on schoolboy rugby in South Africa and that just creates entitled, spoilt players, wastes a lot of late-developing talent, kills our clubs and also gets in the way of transformation in many cases.

This is not to say that our current Springboks and their management are beyond blame. The All Blacks have a relentless drive to improve on and off the field every day, they see every challenge as a means of getting better.

Do our Springboks and their coaching staff have that same hunger? The same desire to do whatever it takes? Because it will also come down to that if they are going to close the gap with the All Blacks.

Any top professional sportsman worth his salt would turn a record 57-15 hammering at home into motivation to lift their conditioning and skills to new levels.

The South African cricket team has just completed an historic 5-0 series whitewash of world champions Australia, with captain Faf du Plessis saying a culture camp they held before the start of the summer has ensured that they are now playing as a team again and, most importantly, are really challenging each other to be better.

Now that’s the sort of indaba that could be useful for our rugby players and coaches, but the administrators still need to make the major, unselfish changes that will really benefit the game in this country.

 

John McFarland Column – All Blacks win not a foregone conclusion 0

Posted on October 05, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s not a foregone conclusion that the All Blacks will beat the Springboks this weekend in Durban, with the win over Australia last weekend showing that there are strengths the home side can use against New Zealand.

If you look at the team Allister Coetzee selected, it was specifically chosen to stop the opposition on the gain-line and kick their goals, and they did that. They gathered points through their set-piece and winning breakdowns at crucial times. They were far more aggressive at the breakdown and they were rewarded for it.

So the Springboks have their pride back going into the game against the All Blacks and I’m certain that they will have the mindset that they can beat the world champions. If they make a good start, if they play territory, use their set-pieces and defend well, then they have a chance.

They need to kick behind the New Zealand wings like Argentina did in the second half of their match last weekend. The Pumas managed to put them under pressure, they made them look average and won the second half.

But the All Blacks were pretty special for 20 minutes before halftime, when they turned up the pace and took their opportunities, which is always the danger with them.

It was a concern how easily Australia were able to get into South Africa’s 22, but from then on you’re up against a full line of defence, all 15 players, and it comes down to playing off nine and collision rugby. But the Springboks really defended well, they scrambled well, it’s not ideal but they still only conceded one try.

They ended up with Jaco Kriel on the wing, but they gutsed it out and got the win. When you’re playing people out of position and really scrambling, you could be in trouble, but the Springboks won some crucial turnovers.

There were many try-saving tackles and some very important steals, notably two by Adriaan Strauss. You can’t really compete at the breakdown if the other team has momentum because it’s hard then to get over the ball, but I thought Francois Louw and Strauss were immense at the breakdown against the Wallabies, and when Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel came on, they used choke-tackles to turn over possession as well.

One also has to credit the Springbok scrummage for winning crucial penalties. They applied pressure at the set-piece and scored points through that.

They will not score a lot of tries as the backline is set up to chase kicks and long kicks at that.

The first thing I noticed when I came back from SuperRugby into international rugby in 2012, having worked with the Springboks back in 1999 and 2002, was that all the players are so much quicker and more powerful at that level, it really is a different game.

But the Springboks now have a backline that has been chosen to defend well, chase kicks and obviously it’s evasive having Hougaard and De Jongh, and the only real speedsters are Jesse Kriel and Habana. But Allister’s plan is obviously to have the best defenders in place and to play for territory and field position with Morne Steyn, Pat Lambie and whoever plays at nine.

Territory was still a problem though, but that’s because Australia keep the ball so well. They would attack from anywhere, even at the end when a kick downtown behind Jaco Kriel would probably have been better, they were still running from deep. They were trying to tire out the Springbok forwards, but it’s a credit to the home side that they didn’t ever slacken off.

But you don’t look back at the style or manner in which a team won, the record books will just show that it was a win.

There’s obviously a great amount of difference between playing at altitude on the Highveld and playing down on the coast in Durban. The last time the Springboks played the All Blacks at sea level at home was in 2011 when we won 18-5 in Port Elizabeth. New Zealand made many line-breaks that day but just didn’t finish, the Springboks just scrambled and kept them out, and then Morne Steyn kicked very well.

They need to do the same this weekend – kick well, use their scrum to put the All Blacks under pressure, and it’s really key that the second half and the lineouts still function well. The Springboks can’t go into the game with a defensive mindset, and in the last 20 minutes they need the bench to come on and make a difference. If it’s wet this weekend, that will also be a great leveller.

In all three of our recent close games on the Highveld the Springboks have led going into the second half.

In 2013 the Boks needed a bonus point to win the Rugby Championship, so we had to play. From a turnover, New Zealand scored just before halftime and then we had key injuries at forward. In 2014 the Springboks beat them 27-25 at Ellis Park and last year it took a moment of Dane Coles magic for the All Blacks to win, again there was a crucial turnover just before halftime. So the margins are small and the gulf is not as big as many believe.

The All Blacks are beatable at sea level and both the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Crusaders, the top three New Zealand sides, were well-beaten by South African teams in SuperRugby. So the Springboks need to go into the match with a positive mindset and play the game they want to play.

But the Springboks have scored very few tries in the Rugby Championship and had few line-breaks. They’ve constructed just one try in their last three games, the others have come from turnovers and interceptions, but it’s obviously how Allister has decided they can win games.

In the Test in 2014 against the All Blacks, which the Springboks won, Handre Pollard scored two tries by playing very flat. You really need the flyhalf to challenge the gain-line more if you’re going to score tries, but Allister has decided he wants the comfort of Morne Steyn’s excellent goalkicking and drop goals and a strong set-piece to win this game. We would all love to celebrate a Springbok victory on Saturday.

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.

 

Cricket is a strange game but Kingsmead was just stupid 0

Posted on August 29, 2016 by Ken

 

Cricket is, in many ways, a strange game but there is nothing as infuriating than play not taking place when blue skies and bright sunshine are overhead. That was the case in Durban last weekend as the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand was allowed to just die with only 99.4 overs being bowled in the match.

As an endangered species, Test cricket needs to be given utmost support and attention and I firmly believe that where there is a will, there is a way.

Notwithstanding the foolishness of Cricket South Africa digging up the Kingsmead outfield in order to soften it two weeks later than they should have, meaning it struggled to cope with unseasonal heavy rain in Durban, the villains of the peace for me were English umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth, who showed little interest in actually getting play underway, so fixated were they on a few damp patches on the outfield.

The umpires are the final arbiters of what is fair and safe in terms of conditions, but lines have to be drawn somewhere. Both teams were eager to play – in fact the Proteas were gathered on the side of the field shortly after play was finally abandoned on the fifth day eager to have a run-around and get some fitness in, but they were prevented from going on to the field because that would have made the umpires look bad.

I am certain that if it had been an ODI or a T20 match with similar soft areas of outfield, a plan would have been made and the umpires would have done everything in their power to get a game underway.

As usual, the accountability has been shifted to Kingsmead, who never wanted the outfield to be dug up in the first place. The International Cricket Council, as usual, passed the buck. There was absolutely no communication from the match referee, Andy Pycroft, to explain why play was not possible, and he declined to speak to the media. What’s the point of having a match referee if that is their attitude?

To make matter worse, the umpires were so apathetic when it came to making an effort that they actually banned the groundstaff from the field when groundsman Wilson Ngobese and his staff wanted to proceed with mopping up operations, saying they preferred to allow natural processes like sun and wind to run their course.

Week in and week out rugby players are busy making crunching tackles and sidestepping such collisions in often wet conditions, but how often do one of them turn an ankle? With both teams happy to play, the only conclusion is that Gould and Illingworth were being overly precious.

The future of Test cricket may not bother them or Pycroft, but what happened at Kingsmead under their watch was a fiasco and just another small nail in the coffin of the original format of the game.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis spoke earnestly on Friday about how, for them, Test cricket was still the ultimate and it needed better treatment from the ICC.

“Test cricket is still number one for the players and a Test Championship is a step in the right direction. You ask any of the international players and they will tell you that Test cricket is still the best thing to play and we need to play as many Tests as possible.

“You want to be able to say you’ve given everything on the field and that feeling of winning a Test can’t be copied, especially not by T20. I hope the ICC is looking at that,” Du Plessis said.

Sadly, the ICC are more interested in red tape and bureaucracy, and are way more likely to jump up and down about over-rates, sponsors’ logos being too big or a player saying something even mildly controversial in a press conference.

As usual, the administrators seem to think cricket fans are more interested in what they are up to than in the actual game they are meant to be serving.



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