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Ken Borland



Sheer delight for SA rugby 0

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Ken

 

Following the awful disappointments of 2016, what a sheer delight the last three weeks of Springbok rugby have been, culminating in the series whitewash over France in front of more than 55 000 people at Ellis Park, as well as a wonderful game the night before at Orlando Stadium between the SA A and French Barbarians sides.

Apart from the winning, up-tempo rugby played by both the Springboks and their second-stringers, the other similarity between the two teams is that both clearly enjoy a wonderful team culture.

It cannot be understated how important a role a good team environment will play in the success of a side and we saw last year how the Proteas cricket team drastically improved their results after a “culture camp”.

At the top level, teams are very similar in terms of physicality, conditioning and skill, so the crucial extra 1% that gives sides the edge is often found on the mental side of sport – happy players committed to a cause or a “brotherhood”, to use the in-vogue expression, will give more out on the field.

Sure, Brendan Venter and Franco Smith have come along and brought considerable technical expertise to the Springboks, but I have never, in 25 years of covering South African rugby, seen a squad speak more about just how happy they were to be together and how much they loved the environment than the current group under Allister Coetzee and his fellow coaches. The captaincy of Warren Whiteley must also be mentioned because there’s no doubt he has played a big role in the team culture as well.

It is a similar culture, borne from adversity, that is seen in Whiteley’s Lions team and it is also evident in the SA A side under Johan Ackermann. It was clearly displayed at the end of the game against the French Barbarians in Orlando when scrumhalf Jano Vermaak was spontaneously, just for the sheer joy of it, lifted on to the shoulders of his team-mates after kicking the last conversion, and when the whole squad sang stirring songs together, bobbing in a tight embrace, after the trophy presentation.

The fact that Ackermann has managed to create that culture in the SA A side in just a few weeks is testament to what a fine coach he is and hopefully he will be back in South Africa soon after increasing his experience and knowledge with Gloucester in the United Kingdom.

Ackermann, a former Springbok lock, first made his name as a coach through his technical and tactical acumen in the set-pieces, but he also has the ability to inspire a team, a crucial man-management skill in any coach.

Singing along with the SA A team were a bunch of supporters in the far grandstand and I believe playing top rugby in Soweto has a great future. The SA A game was played at 8pm on a Friday night the day before a Test at Ellis Park, so the crowd was always going to be small.

But I know it is in SA Rugby’s future plan to play more games in Soweto, and to stage them at 3pm in the afternoon and not during a Test week in the same city. There’s no doubt we will then see the crowds pouring in, because there is a great love for the game in Soweto, but access remains a problem.

Orlando Stadium is also a magnificent venue, modern, spacious and with one of the best views of the field, from any vantage point, you will see.  The fact that top rugby did not return earlier to Orlando after the memorable 2010 Super Rugby final that inspired such goodwill is a great pity.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-kzn/20170701/282321090023086

Sharks surprise nobody but nearly unhinge the Lions 0

Posted on July 22, 2017 by Ken

 

Not many people, least of all the Lions, will have been surprised by the Sharks bringing an intensely physical, in-your-face approach to their SuperRugby quarterfinal at Ellis Park on Saturday, but it so nearly unhinged the home side, the overwhelming favourites.

In the end, the Lions had to be bailed out by a phenomenal penalty kick by wing Ruan Combrinck, who slotted the ball over in the 78th minute from six metres inside his own half and 10 metres from touch, to make the final score 23-21.

Combrinck did not have much opportunity in the match, thanks to the Sharks’ swarming defence swallowing up practically all the space on the field, but he showed that he is a person who thrives on the big moment.

“It’s just Ruan’s character that he’s always looking for opportunities and the big moments, he’s normally the last one to leave kicking practice, even though we don’t know how many kicks he gets over!” captain Jaco Kriel joked after the nailbiting victory.

“I always look to the touchline to see if the coach is giving any advice, and both JP [Ferreira, defence coach] and Cash [Ivan van Rooyen, conditioning coach] were pointing to the line to set up the lineout, but Ruan already had his tee in his hand, even though he told me he cramped when he missed his previous kick!”

More drama was to follow in the final minute as the Lions received the kickoff and then set up a series of slow-mo pick-and-goes and rucks as they counted down time. The incensed Sharks were screaming at referee Marius van der Westhuizen, who was the epitome of indecision throughout, for holding on, but the Lions refused to concede anything, even though Kriel afterwards admitted that “we nearly lost the ball in that last ruck”.

The Lions roared into Sharks territory from the first kickoff, which lock Stephan Lewies dropped, and showed their aggressive, confident intent as they turned down two penalties at goal to rather set up lineout drives.

The Sharks were also having early problems in the scrum and the Lions’ third penalty came from that set-piece, and this time flyhalf Elton Jantjies went for poles.

The easy kick from just inside the 22 hit the post, however, and it set the tone for an awful kicking display by the incumbent Springbok flyhalf.

Lionel Mapoe was chasing the rebound, though, and for the umpteenth time, lock Etienne Oosthuizen cost his team points as he took the outside centre out off the ball, giving Jantjies an even easier shot at goal which he slotted to give the Lions a 3-0 lead.

The Lions are always intent on playing the game their way, but in the face of such an aggressive defence and the Sharks’ strategy of getting players in-between their backs, perhaps they should have played the situation more than their preconceived tactics.

A case in point came straight after they had opened the scoring as they tried to pass the ball around in their own 22 after the restart, with both Sharks prop Thomas du Toit and outside centre Lukhanyo Am getting intercepts. Am cut inside and then fed flank Jean-Luc du Preez, who freed wing Kobus van Wyk to go racing over in the corner for the first try.

The Sharks were playing the knockout rugby, building their play around the intensity of their pack and defence, and using the boot of flyhalf Curwin Bosch to good effect.

Coach Robert du Preez played in the Currie Cup-winning Northern Transvaal sides of superboot Naas Botha, so it was no surprise to see Bosch using the drop-kick, and he succeeded with one in the 17th-minute, centre Andre Esterhuizen’s powerful run at the flyhalf channel providing front-foot ball and plenty of time for him to stretch the lead to 8-3.

Jantjies then missed a penalty from in front of the poles, after another Sharks scrum infringement, and the sense of unease grew at Ellis Park as the flyhalf then lost the ball in his own half and lock Andries Ferreira knocked on, forcing the Lions to play the ball on the ground and allowing Bosch to kick a penalty (11-3).

Just before halftime, the Lions were on the wrong end of a 50/50 ruck call and another Bosch penalty put the Sharks 14-3 in front at the break, and seemingly in command.

But the Lions came out for the second half playing much more direct rugby, and with a greater focus on hanging on to the ball rather than throwing speculative passes.

Immediately, the pressure shifted on to the Sharks and a couple of offsides calls led to Lewies being yellow-carded in the 46th minute, an important development as the Lions scored two tries, both unconverted, while he was off the field.

The great work of the Lions scrum set up the first try as lock Franco Mostert plunged over the line a couple of phases after the set-piece had the Sharks forwards going backwards; and four minutes later, flank Kriel burst through the weak defence of Bosch to score.

The woeful kicking of Jantjies meant the Lions were still one point behind though (13-14), but just after the hour mark they won a penalty on their own 22 for a high tackle – although it was not the most obvious offence.

Centre Harold Vorster took a quick tap and jinked his way through the disorganised defence, making it well into the Sharks half before he freed Mapoe on his outside for the Springbok to speed over for the try. This time Jantjies converted (20-14).

But the Sharks regained the lead four minutes later.

Ferreira was blatantly offsides at a ruck and the Sharks kicked the penalty to touch to set up the drive, which was collapsed by Mostert. But the Sharks, playing with the advantage, went over the line as scrumhalf Cobus Reinach nipped over from a ruck close to the poles.

But the TMO referral showed that the ill-disciplined Oosthuizen had once again cost his team points, this time by shoving Mapoe to create the gap that Reinach went through.

The Sharks had another chance though, because Mostert was yellow-carded for his earlier offence and the visitors chose a five-metre scrum, where this time they had the edge and eighthman Daniel du Preez scored against the post.

The Bosch conversion made it 21-20 and the lead lasted all the way through until the thrilling final couple of minutes, with Combrinck missing a penalty in the 70th minute.

The Sharks nearly scored in the right corner as Van Wyk, under pressure from Courtnall Skosan, just failed to gather the bouncing ball. The Lions had the throw-in, under severe pressure, five metres from their line, and Akker van der Merwe, having replaced the excellent Malcolm Marx at hooker, threw over the top for Kriel, charging forward on a storming run.

Mapoe gave great support and the Lions were out of their territory and able to win the fateful penalty that gave Combrinck his moment of glory.

 

Lions hit Bulls early & hard 0

Posted on May 20, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions hit the Bulls with a ferocious first-half onslaught from which they could never recover as they notched a mighty 51-14 victory in their SuperRugby local derby at Ellis Park last night.

For periods in the first half, it was like men against boys as the Lions toyed with the Bulls, scoring four tries in the second quarter to open up a commanding 39-14 lead at the break.

And it was not as if the Bulls weren’t trying, either. They had their moments, but the Lions were just so much better at spotting and making space, and the pace and accuracy of their play was at another level.

The warning lights were flashing for the Bulls as early as the second minute as the Lions began their dissection. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies is almost as skilled as a Beauden Barrett, and he gave a masterful display of pulling the strings throughout, his direct play and ability to commit defenders on the gain-line opening up space out wide, which the Lions clinically exploited.

Ruan Combrinck’s rugby story is one of the more heartwarming ones and the 2016 Springbok debutant scored with his first touch upon his return to SuperRugby, having been out of the game since August when he fractured his fibula. A lovely midfield move saw Jantjies feed wing Courtnall Skosan on an inside run, the flyhalf then getting the ball out wide to fullback Andries Coetzee, who passed to Combrinck, who finished clinically with a deft chip and regather.

For all the criticism, it is apparent that there is ability in this Bulls team and there are moments when it is clear that they are well-coached.

Such a moment came in the sixth minute when they scored a wonderful set-piece try, certainly the equal of the Lions’ opening score.

From a lineout, a lovely interchange of passes between fullback Jesse Kriel and Sibahle Maxwane sent the debutant wing racing through the defensive line before centre Jan Serfontein stormed over for the try.

The Bulls were doing well in the first quarter, holding the Lions to just two penalties kicked by Jantjies, the first from a scrum, the second from a prolonged build-up which showed that the visitors were at least causing some frustration, the home side having earlier kicked goalable penalties to touch.

But the Bulls’ well would quickly run dry.

Blindside flank Jannes Kirsten is known for being a strong ball-carrier, an abrasive player who is difficult to stop. But when he came charging from deep at the much smaller Kwagga Smith, the Lions’ openside did not surrender an inch on the gain-line, instead holding Kirsten up for long enough for his fellow forwards to support him and force the turnover.

From the resulting scrum, Jantjies spotted that Kriel was standing too deep at fullback and his lovely chip into that space was claimed by Skosan, who raced into the Bulls’ 22 before passing out wide for Smith to score.

That was followed by lock Franco Mostert bursting clear in midfield from the kickoff and his good offload over the top went to up-in-support Ruan Dreyer, the tighthead prop showing that he has the mobility to go with his undoubted scrummaging prowess, for the Lions’ third try, all of them converted by Jantjies.

Kriel showed that he was up for the contest, however, when he burst through the weak tackles of Smith and Skosan to score the Bulls’ second try, in the 28th minute, when there really wasn’t much on for the visitors.

Brummer converted to make it 14-27, but that would be the last time they scored in the match.

To make matters worse, two stupid mistakes would gift the Lions two more tries before halftime.

It had been one-way traffic for a while, but for an international scrumhalf, it was exceptionally poor of Rudy Paige to telegraph his box-kick so blatantly by the way he was standing. Eighthman Warren Whiteley, who once again led from the front in inspirational fashion, charged down the kick and did well to dot down as the ball threatened to squirm out of his grasp on the tryline.

In contrast to Jantjies’ game-management, opposite number Brummer was a non-entity, although he did not have front-foot ball to play with. But his failure to find touch from a penalty kick on the Lions’ 22, which would have provided a wonderful attacking platform, was inexcusable.

Instead the Lions took a scrum on their 22, won a penalty and set up a lineout in Bulls’ territory. From there Jantjies’ direct run drew two defenders and then it just took two passes out wide for Combrinck to be racing over in the corner again, ending the first half as he had begun it.

The Bulls were staring a horror movie in the face, 39-14 down at the break, but instead of being disembowelled by the ravenous Lions, they did manage to claw back some pride with a better second half.

There were no further gains on the scoreboard, but limiting the Lions to just two more tries, in the 43rd and 80th minutes, was something of a success.

Jantjies manufactured the first one with a lovely little chip-pass to Skosan, hooker Malcolm Marx, never far from the action, came storming up in support and Mostert went over from the next ruck.

The final try came after outside centre Lionel Mapoe went into a half-gap and an interchange of passes with replacement centre Jacques Nel saw the Springbok split the tired defence and race away for the try, Jantjies converting to seal the Lions’ biggest winning margin against the Bulls.

While the Bulls did fight back in the second half, it was still a poor display and they were utterly humbled by their neighbours. As a corporation as a whole, they need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

Most galling is the fact that the core of the Lions side comes from players rejected by the Bulls. Coach Nollis Marais is likely to get the sack this week, but there are poorer performers above him in the Bulls hierarchy who should not be immune to the blame.

Points scorers

Lions: Tries – Ruan Combrinck (2), Kwagga Smith, Ruan Dreyer, Warren Whiteley, Franco Mostert, Lionel Mapoe. Conversions – Elton Jantjies (5). Penalties – Jantjies (2).

Bulls: Tries – Jan Serfontein, Jesse Kriel. Conversions – Francois Brummer (2).

John McFarland Column – A great weekend of SA SuperRugby 1

Posted on April 04, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions v Sharks SuperRugby match at Ellis Park was a great game of rugby, so full of intensity, big hits and drama.

Maybe it did not have the accuracy you’d expect, but it was certainly exciting.

You have to credit the Sharks’ improvement, but the way the Lions just always stay in the fight shows they have the squad to win SuperRugby. It will be tough though, especially with the news that coach Johan Ackermann is leaving at the end of the campaign to join Gloucester.

The Lions have become an exciting counter-attacking team but they also set such high standards at maul and scrum time, which is why Johan’s departure is going to be such a massive loss. He’ll be missed not just as a head coach and person, but especially as an expert in the lineout and set-piece.

Nobody stays forever at a union though, whether you’re a player or a coach, and you just try and leave a legacy. Ackers has really done that at the Lions, what more can you say about the man?

Normally coaches appointed in England are allowed to take a trusted assistant with them, but in leaving Swys de Bruin behind, Johan has shown he obviously has a strong belief in the Gloucester structures and coaches.

Swys has been a head coach before at Griquas and is a brilliant man, so passionate about rugby, and I’m sure if he’s given the opportunity to succeed Ackers, he will carry that legacy through seamlessly.

But as an assistant coach, you’re focused on your area only and you make suggestions; as head coach you have to make the final decisions. You’re paid to make the right calls and how you recruit, manage people and set up systems in the union is also a big part of the job.

The Sharks were unfortunate to have a couple of TMO decisions go against them and that yellow card just before halftime was crucial. The try that resulted from it brought the Lions back into the game, otherwise the Sharks, if the disallowed try had stood as well, would have had a big enough lead at altitude to hang on, because you will suffer in the last 20 minutes at altitude, as the Sharks did.

Jaco Kriel is in the form of his life, making a nonsense of suggestions that playing in Japan is having a negative influence on his play, while Curwin Bosch was phenomenal, what a performance from the 19-year-old.

His confidence and ability to attempt some of the things he does is really pleasing to see and if you’re good enough then you’re old enough. Mike Tyson was at his best when he was 20 and Curwin sure has stuck his hand up.

If the Springboks want him to play at the 2019 World Cup then they have to get him into their structures now, sooner rather than later. He ticks all the boxes with his nerveless kicking and the range he gets with that right boot of his. And other teams won’t want to kick long on to him because he showed that he can drop-kick from deep as well.

It was a very special display from him and it was also encouraging how physical he was, while he has also proven that he’s a real factor with ball in hand. Curwin is the sort of player who provides game-breaking moments.

I know there has been talk about his defence at flyhalf, but Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett have had the same problems and there’s no way the All Blacks are not going to pick them!

The fact that Curwin can also play fullback is a massive bonus and I hope they get him in the Springbok mix as soon as possible.

The Stormers were magnificent at the weekend, to see the quality of their offloads and their willingness to try things from anywhere was a breath of fresh air. Compared to their mindset before, this was really exciting and you have to give credit to coach Robbie Fleck for giving them the confidence to play that way.

SP Marais is in the form of his life as well, and his ability to take the outside gap and get his nose and hands through the defensive line, putting away guys on his outside, is very pleasing. He didn’t have a contract at the start of the year, so it just shows what a player can achieve with a coach who backs and believes in you.

The Stormers are without three international centres in Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh and Huw Jones, which would knock any team for six, but they have still scored 29 tries in five matches and have been really good to watch.

The Cheetahs were in many ways the authors of their own demise and their defence was really poor. It has been in vogue for teams to hide certain defenders away from where the ball-carries are going to be, but this tactic bit the Cheetahs badly.

Cheslin Kolbe’s chase back on Henco Venter was brilliant to see, at that stage of the game it’s easy just to give up, but Cheslin really showed the spirit and will of the Stormers to play for each other.

I’m very excited for the Stormers game against the Chiefs this weekend and I expect their forwards to cause a lot more damage.

The Chiefs took a while to hit their straps against the Bulls, who were definitely better and forced them into errors. You have to give credit to the Bulls defence and they were very physical.

But like all New Zealand sides, the Chiefs like to keep the ball in play, they play high-risk, high-reward rugby and look to wear you out. They can keep ball in hand and play from all over the field, and they’re definitely one of the better Kiwi teams.

The Bulls were very good for 50 minutes but they just needed some tries from all that pressure. But it was a better performance and it was just a lineout error and then two grubbers when the winger did not come across on defence that cost them.

It’s going to be exciting to see them in Tokyo this week playing against the Sunwolves.

It’s a measure how global SuperRugby is that the Bulls can go from playing in Auckland last weekend to now playing in Japan. It was just a year ago that SuperRugby went to 18 teams, and now just a year later, it seems it will revert to 15 or 16 teams, nobody knows.

So what has happened in one year to necessitate this change and has anybody taken responsibility for what obviously must have been a mistake?

 

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.



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