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Ken Borland



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.

 

Noren aimed low but ended over the moon 0

Posted on November 15, 2016 by Ken

 

Alex Noren was not aiming high at the start of the final round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City on Sunday, but he was over the moon after a phenomenal nine-under-par round of 63 earned him a dazzling six-shot victory at Gary Player Country Club.

In the 36 editions of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, only two other golfers – Sergio Garcia (2001) and Ernie Els (2002) – have shot 63 in the final round to win and it’s fair to say the course was much easier back then.

The 34-year-old Swede started the day six strokes behind leader Jeunghun Wang, who had fired a wonderful 64 in incredibly tough conditions on the third day and seemed to already have one hand on the famous crystal trophy.

But Noren produced a magnificent front nine, that featured six birdies, and then eagled the 10th and birdied 11 to rocket into the lead, nine-under through 11 holes and playing golf that was simply out of this world.

“Honestly, I thought I had no chance at the start of the round, this is a really tricky course and the leader had shot 64 yesterday which was like 59 today.

“So I just wanted to get a good round in before the World Tour Championship in Dubai next week, to have a good positive feeling going there, work on my swing a bit. Anything under par I would have been happy,” Noren said after his fourth victory in his last 11 tournaments.

But after starting with three straight birdies he then also picked up a shot on the fifth and then sank a 30-foot putt for another birdie on the par-three seventh; two behind Wang, he started to believe.

“I was a bit nervous at the start, I didn’t feel on top of my game but something happened and after seven holes I started to realise that I must believe in myself that I can win. My putter was very hot and I got a lot more excited,” Noren said.

The 21-year-old Wang initially held things together well and was not going away as he birdied the ninth to draw level with Noren. But he could only muster one more birdie on the back nine and, with his tee-shots going ever more off-target, he was undone by four bogeys coming in, having to settle for second place.

Louis Oosthuizen, three off the lead at the start of the day, just could not get going on Sunday and double-bogeyed the par-three seventh after finding the greenside bunker to fall off the pace. He birdied the 10th and 15th holes, but there were more dropped shots on the last three holes as he finished ninth, nine behind Noren.

Andy Sullivan shot a level-par 72 on Sunday to finish on seven-under, tied for third with leading South African Branden Grace (70), Spaniard Alejandro Canizares (68), Frenchman Victor Dubuisson (68) and Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia (67).

Henrik Stenson shot a 70 to finish eighth on six-under and will be going to the Race to Dubai finale in Dubai this week on top of the order of merit, but with Danny Willett and Noren still able to catch him.

Journeyman Ahlers guaranteed more than a million at Sun City 0

Posted on January 08, 2015 by Ken

Jaco Ahlers has earned an average of R445000 in each of the nine years he has been a professional on the Sunshine Tour, but now the 32-year-old from Centurion is guaranteed to earn at least R1.1 million from a single event following his qualification for the Nedbank Golf Challenge starting at Sun City on Wednesday.

Ahlers will fill the 30th and final place in the elite field following his thrilling weekend playoff victory in the Cape Town Open. Even if he finishes last at the Gary Player Country Club, he will earn $100 000, a massive windfall for someone whose career earnings on the Sunshine Tour are just over R4 million.

Ahlers’ triumph – he beat compatriot Hennie Otto and Englishman Ross McGowan in the playoff – takes the number of South Africans in the Sun City field to seven, with Charl Schwartzel, Dawie van der Walt, Danie van Tonder, Louis Oosthuizen, George Coetzee and Tim Clark also teeing it up.

Fans will be able to enjoy the presence of three former champions in the field: Thomas Bjorn, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, the winners of the last four tournaments dating back to 2010.

Five of the triumphant European Ryder Cup team will be present – the three former champions plus Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher.

“This is obviously life-changing for me. I turned 32 last week, but right now, I feel about 40 years old. But it’s a happy 40 years because now I’m going to Sun City. What a birthday present! That is a lifelong dream come true,” Ahlers said after his victory at Royal Cape Golf Club.

There would have been eight South Africans in the Nedbank Golf Challenge field but for Ernie Els suffering from a troublesome right hip niggle, which he has decided to rest over the festive season.

 

Meyer shows his enormous faith in Pollard 0

Posted on August 13, 2014 by Ken

 

The Springboks have placed enormous faith in young flyhalf Handre Pollard to start in the pivot position in their opening Rugby Championship match against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, but coach Heyneke Meyer believes the 20-year-old has already earned such trust.

Pollard retains his berth as the starting flyhalf after his impressive debut against Scotland at the end of June, relegating veteran Morne Steyn to the bench. Meyer must have been tempted to go with the experience of Steyn, especially since Damian de Allende will be making his debut in midfield, and Ruan Pienaar, Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers are all coming off extended absences from the field of play.

But there’s no doubting the Springbok coach’s high regard for Pollard.

“Handre is only 20, but he’s very mature and he has an experienced head on his shoulders. I’ve seen him playing since he was 15 and he has always impressed me as an unbelievable prospect.

“He’s one of the few flyhalves to have both a brilliant attacking game and a tactical game. You don’t find that a lot, the name Dan Carter springs to mind, most flyhalves have one or the other,” Meyer said on Wednesday.

“It’s a tough position and a flyhalf must have leadership qualities as well because the players must trust him. They expect him to stay cool and calm and make the right decisions and they must want to give him the ball.

“Handre is also big and tall for a flyhalf and most teams now attack in the 10/12 channel, but he’s big enough to knock back guys, even big forwards. There are no grey areas in his game and I believe a lot in him.”

While the likes of Juan de Jongh and S’Bura Sithole have both surely done enough to warrant consideration at outside centre, Meyer has backed what he sees as De Allende’s potential in the number 13 jersey.

The 23-year-old is yet to play outside centre in SuperRugby, but he played there at school and had one Currie Cup outing in that position for Western Province against the Blue Bulls last year.

He certainly has the attributes to make a success of his new-found role, being big, strong and quick, while also having fine hands.

“I was really impressed with Damian in SuperRugby. I always look at players when they are playing away in tough conditions and I like his mental toughness.

“He’s a big guy but he’s skilful as well, he has the soft touches, runs beautiful lines and gets the ball away. I think he can bring another dimension to our backline and I feel he can be superb at 13,” Meyer said.

The other notable feature of the Springbok team announced on Wednesday was Lood de Jager shifting from number four to number five lock, to replace the injured Victor Matfield.

South Africa’s most-capped player has stayed with the squad to lend his considerable wisdom to De Jager, and Meyer is confident that the 21-year-old can make another step in his meteoric rise and run the lineouts.

“It wasn’t that easy to select at number five, but Lood is intelligent enough to run the lineout and, even though he’s been a typical number four, I’ve always felt that we could groom him at five.

“He’s one of the most improved players I’ve worked with and he has an unbelievable future. Eben Etzebeth can also play five, but he hasn’t played for a while, plus Lood is very good outside of the lineouts as well,” Meyer said.

Bakkies Botha will make his first Rugby Championship start since 2011 alongside De Jager, with Etzebeth as cover on the bench.

Tendai Mtawarira starts at loosehead prop, to extend the South African record with Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis as a front-row trio to 17 Tests.

Jan Serfontein, after his excellent performances in the incoming Tests, will get the chance to put in a hard-hitting 20 minutes off the bench on Saturday, while Francois Hougaard is the reserve scrumhalf to Ruan Pienaar.

In the absence of Fourie du Preez, Meyer admitted that their service has to speed up in the Rugby Championship.

“I always thought Test rugby would become more of an arm-wrestle, but more tries than ever are being scored and the game is getting quicker and quicker. So all the scrumhalves in South Africa need to play at a higher tempo if we’re going to be the best. They need to up it because we need to speed up our ball. We need ball on the front foot because we have a big flyhalf and centres that attack the line.”

Meyer said Argentina would require the Springboks’ full focus on Saturday.

“It’s always tough against Argentina because they are a contesting team, they contest for the ball in every facet of the game. The scrum is always a huge contest and they’re one of the best teams at the breakdown.

“They have a new coach [Daniel Hourcade] so they’re going to play with a lot of passion and lately they’ve been moving the ball around more, so they’ll test our defence,” Meyer said.

Springbok team: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Cornal Hendricks, 13-Damian de Allende, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Lood de Jager, 4-Bakkies Botha, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Adriaan Strauss, 17-Trevor Nyakane, 18-Frans Malherbe, 19-Eben Etzebeth, 20-Marcell Coetzee, 21-Francois Hougaard, 22-Morne Steyn, 23-Jan Serfontein.

 

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    James 1:5 - "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

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