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Ken Borland



In praise of the Lions: The John McFarland Column 0

Posted on May 17, 2017 by Ken

 

What a fantastic achievement by the Lions to win all three of their SuperRugby games overseas, for any rugby team to do that is an unbelievable effort and they continue to do really well in terms of the competition standings.

I think this is the first time a South African team have been unbeaten on their overseas tour and the bonus points they gained, to score the tries they did and to defend so securely was superb, and credit must go to the coaching staff as a whole.

Not that long ago, it was virtually impossible for a South African team to win against the Brumbies in Canberra and that could be the result that gives the Lions a great shout of hosting a home final. They can now top the log and go all the way, playing New Zealand sides at 3pm on the Highveld in the knockouts.

It was certainly a memorable moment when they managed to steal the ball for a turnover and what pace Kwagga Smith showed to finish!

For those criticising the way the Lions have been playing, you never play your best away from home, you just have to make sure you win. And you can’t be at your best every week in SuperRugby, it’s impossible, and it’s important to win when you’re playing badly.

This weekend the Lions will look forward to hosting a Bulls team low on confidence and belief at Ellis Park.

The Bulls were certainly better last weekend against the Highlanders. Although the conditions were a great leveller, they showed fight and character and it was a good turnaround which showed what they can achieve when they put their minds to it. There was also a huge improvement in their defence.

The Bulls have so many good players and they will see a chance to play against the Lions as a great opportunity; there is always a bit more passion and intensity in the local derbies. It is a very young Bulls side though, and they will need to match the Lions in the set-pieces. Obviously the scrums are crucial because the Lions will certainly attack them there, and the Bulls will also need to stop the lineout drive. Then they need to deal with the Lions’ game-breaking backs, although the Bulls also have a dangerous backline.

I fully expect the Stormers to beat the Blues back in Cape Town after their rest. The start will be key for the Stormers because they don’t have so much confidence now, but if they can get back to how they were playing before going overseas, then there’s no reason why they can’t beat the Blues. Their biggest challenge is going to be that they have to defend a lot better.

You’ve also got to take your hats off to the Southern Kings, who have no budget but are certainly playing with high confidence at the moment, and it was a really good performance to beat the Sharks with four tries to two. It was encouraging to see they’ve got the reward of four guys being named in the last Springbok training squad.

But the only South African team that has really performed to their potential has been the Lions, so you would think they will form the bulk of the final Springbok squad to be announced next week. The Sharks have recently lost to the Kings and drawn with the Rebels, the Stormers have lost four successive matches and the Bulls and Cheetahs are also on big losing streaks, so there is not a lot of confidence amongst the other players in South Africa.

But we’ve been like this before – in 2015 we struggled in SuperRugby but ended up losing by just two points to the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final. The players get excited about being in a different environment and representing their country.

The Stormers locks are world-class and proven Test players need to play, plus there are special considerations around making the squad representative, so there are a lot of variables, one can’t just choose all the Lions players.

The positive, though, is that two of the Tests against France will be played on the Highveld, so it’s an opportunity to pick more Gauteng players who are used to the conditions and the quick tempo of play.

France will bring a gigantic pack and big midfield backs, they certainly like to play ball-in-hand and they have an offload game centred around Louis Picamoles. So Allister Coetzee needs to pick the right combinations to stop that, which is always the challenge in selection – it’s like putting together a fine potjie, making sure the blend is right is most important and you’re always going to use some tried and tested frontline Test players.

It will be interesting to see who Coetzee picks from overseas, some of them have had a very long, hard, arduous season in the French playoffs or the English Premiership. You need continuity and if guys are based overseas it makes it difficult because you have so little time together as a team anyway. For me, I would only use guys who qualify to play after the 30-caps criterion comes into force after July 1.

As far as Jan Serfontein goes, if there’s an emergency then obviously Allister will use him, and the Springboks definitely need size and experience in midfield.

With all the injuries, it looks like Elton Jantjies will get an extended run at flyhalf, and it will be a make-or-break series for him.

 

 

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 – What made the difference for the Lions? 0

Posted on April 21, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions’ win over the Stormers in the weekend’s big game in Cape Town was a fantastic effort.

I predicted last week that whichever side defended better would win the game and that was the case. The key difference was the Lions defence dominated the collisions and were also able to force vital turnovers against the home side.

The Stormers’ defensive policy meant they stayed out of the rucks because the Lions have such width to their game; but that resulted in uncontested, free ball for the Lions and allowed them to build control of the game, and in defence Jaco Kriel and Malcolm Marx were vociferous over the loose ball.

If a team keeps more numbers on their feet in defence then they can build greater width in their defensive line and it is a tactic used by a lot of teams, mainly at wide rucks. With this you should be able to get greater line speed and come harder off the line because of the players on their feet. The Stormers have used this tactic since the Jacques Nienaber era, with the defence outnumbering the attack, and it requires great discipline for players to stay out of the ruck, and so your penalty count will be lower.

If you do defend that way, then you need line-speed and the Stormers didn’t really have that. You need to put pressure on the halfbacks because they are the decision-makers, cut down their space and options, and that was lacking. Elton Jantjies had his best game of the season.

This is completely different to the approach of a team like the Hurricanes, who put pressure on the ball and push the attack backwards, forcing turnovers, which is the hardest ball to defend against.

First prize in defence is to get good tackle contact, maybe a double-hit, and then get over and steal the ball, like Kriel does. The Stormers are lacking a specialist openside flank which means this form of defence suits them, but obviously they need to revisit their recruitment policy and develop or find an openside.

The Stormers were keen on making offloads, getting their hands above the tackle, which means you have to stay up in contact, leaving you vulnerable to the choke-tackle. The Lions were very effective at keeping square and hitting the carrier so that the offload opportunity was nullified or could only be made under extreme pressure. This also resulted in turnovers through the choke-tackle, just like Ireland used in the 2011 World Cup win over Australia.

The Stormers will be disappointed with the blindside try they allowed Sylvian Mahuza to score because the wing should always be up on the short side, Cheslin Kolbe was hanging back which gave space and Harold Vorster ran a wonderful line, through pillar three and four, who were watching the ruck and not him, allowing him to slice through.

It takes a special talent to see the hole in the defence and then to hit it, and Vorster shows how blessed South African rugby is in terms of backline depth. The two leading centres favoured by Allister Coetzee – Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh – are both injured, so the performances of Vorster have been very encouraging.

The Cheetahs were really on fire for the first 30 minutes of their game against the Chiefs and some of the rugby they played, and the courage they showed to run from deep, was a joy to watch. It just shows that the decision to go with only four South African franchises is going to have the terrible consequence of a lot of people, fine rugby players, losing their livelihoods and jobs, or taking the road overseas.

Francois Venter was very influential with his reverse runs and clever lines, and the Cheetahs still use the strength of their maul well and that caused the Chiefs many problems. They run their exits off the restarts, they take you on first and then look for a short kick. They got good reward from chips during that opening period.

There probably should have been more yellow cards in the first half-hour because the Chiefs were really under the pump and they started to concede penalties rather than tries. They knew that even two penalties against one try was a good deal.

The deliberate conceding of penalties really stops the attacking momentum and after a penalty the offending side then gets territory because they kick deep from the restart! It certainly calls for captains to speak to the referees, the captain needs to put the right sort of pressure on the referee.

Some captains are better at this than others – eg one Richie McCaw! – but it’s a vital thing to get that influence. There are never a lot of yellow cards given because referees don’t want to have an overbearing influence on the game, but there’s normally at least one and it’s important teams find the right time to go to the referee by the captain.

For example, Jan Serfontein’s yellow card last weekend for the Bulls against the Sunwolves was for something not much different to what the Chiefs were doing. But the scoreline influences the decision. In that first half-hour in Bloemfontein, the high tackle when it was a one-on-one by Damian McKenzie was a prime example. He was at the last line of defence and such fouls raise the question of a penalty try.

The Chiefs knew they would score tries at the back end of the match and the Cheetahs’ conditioning was off so the game followed the traditional pattern of South African teams versus New Zealand sides and they ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes.

I was pleased to see the Bulls get back on track and to see CEO Barend van Graan so publicly back the coaching staff. The reward was a quite convincing win and the best result against the Jaguares by a South African team this season.

Congratulations too to all the schools who took part in Easter festivals in South Africa. These are a wonderful showpiece for the game and a very special part of our rugby itinerary. Long may these traditions continue, it’s just wonderful to see the number of games of such quality over the course of a day and that so many come out to support these festivals.

With SA Rugby’s plan for four Super Rugby sides and eight professional Currie Cup sides, you wonder where these highly promising young players are going to get opportunities to play. Obviously the Varsity Cup will be an entry point, hopefully these players will show patience and remain in South Africa.

 

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.

 

 

Gold hopes Sharks’ courage will bring some respite from critics 0

Posted on June 09, 2016 by Ken

 

Sharks coach Gary Gold said he hoped his team’s courageous effort against the Lions in Johannesburg at the weekend would give them some respite from their critics.

Although the Sharks went down 23-21 to the Lions to suffer their fifth defeat in nine matches, they pushed the in-form home side all the way and, had flyhalf Fred Zeilinga succeeded with an angled, long-range penalty after the hooter, they would have claimed a morale-boosting victory.

“Even our biggest critics want to know that there is some fight in this team and, after the week we’ve had, the guys really put their hands up, stuck in it for the full duration and were in a position to win it at the end. They showed huge character to keep out wave after wave of attack on our own line and it showed that we’re not just going to roll over and think our season is over,” Gold said.

On top of all the disruptions in the last week, the Sharks then had to contend with the late withdrawal of eighthman Ryan Kankowski with a knee injury and yet another yellow card, centre Andre Esterhuizen being sent to the sin bin for a late tackle, which Gold felt was a contentious call.

“The yellow card was unbelievably frustrating and the wrong call. Every decision should be taken on its own merits and I’m still wondering if the tackle was even late, so it definitely shouldn’t have been a yellow card. The sanction for a late tackle is a penalty and there was no malice involved, it wasn’t around the neck or anything,” Gold fumed.

The key period of the game was the 10 minutes either side of half-time when the Lions scored three times to turn a 14-6 deficit into a 25-14 lead, and Gold was at a loss to explain how it happened.

“We’ll have to have a look at that, we let it slip a bit there. We took a knock in confidence with that try just before halftime, but we had a constructive chat in the break, the talk was all positive and intelligent,” Gold said.

“But look at where we are in the competition, we’re just over halfway and we’re just four points behind the conference leaders, and I’m excited that this bunch of players can still get things right. The South African pool is very tight and just four points separates the top four teams.”

With several second-string choices playing their guts out against the Lions, it will be interesting to see who Gold recalls from the contingent of Springbok players that were left out, because this weekend’s game is against the conference-leading Bulls in Durban.

 

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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