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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column – Not enough emphasis on defence 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken

 

To see so many tries scored against the South African teams in SuperRugby last weekend – 26 in all – was disappointing and it’s not great when your top franchises are conceding so many tries in particular, but the problem is that there has just not been enough emphasis on defence.

Look at the value SA Rugby put on defence after Jacques Nienaber left halfway through 2016: they appointed Chean Roux in his position and he will freely admit that he was an absolute rookie defence coach at that stage. What does that say about how they rate defence and defence coaches?

We’ve now had the national indaba and the Springboks are on to their fourth defence coach under Allister Coetzee, but I’m sure Brendan Venter will do a really good job because he has the experience and the skills, and was the architect of the Saracens defensive system that has taken them to the European Champions Cup final.

But there was no national defence coach when the indaba was convened, so I wonder if there was input on defence at that gathering? After conceding a record score against New Zealand, defence was an obvious area that needed fixing.

It’s not Allister’s fault of course because he was handed his staff; now he has been given the staff he wants and I expect to see a massive improvement in the Springboks this year.

There are problems, but the people who coach defence in the franchises will, of course, care deeply about the defensive performances. In 2013, I remember when the Springboks conceded five tries against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, but we needed the bonus point to win the Rugby Championship and we played a high-tempo game, which a lot of people said was one of the best Test matches ever played. But I stewed over those five tries for a month; but then at least we only conceded one try, to France, on the whole European tour thereafter.

So our defence in general is not in a great situation at present and whether it is due to conditioning problems or the speed of the modern game is open to debate. But you can never win a rugby match if you are conceding that many tries.

There’s obviously currently an emphasis on attacking skills but I’m certain the defence coaches are still being given sufficient time with their teams, and they would have done a lot of work on certain aspects of how the opposition attack. Like the Australian middle ruck attack, for instance, where the flyhalf goes hard for the line with a wing or centre like Israel Folau hard on their shoulder.

It’s no surprise when the New Zealand teams employ the kick-pass, especially the Hurricanes.

They employ the rush defence, therefore their wings have to be high and so there is always space behind them. Beauden Barrett would have had a lot of practice doing the kick-pass in training because he would see and have a high understanding of that space all the time.

The Stormers left too much of the field free, nearly 20 metres of space, and with players set in the wide channels, that’s not the smartest move.

In order to make sure you cover the width of the field, you need your tight five to work really hard close to the ruck, to set the breakdown correctly with good placing between the three pillars, and then the outside backs go wider.

The Bulls obviously had problems with their defence and if you said it started with their conditioning then you would not be far off. They also have folding problems, they’re just not setting the breakdown around the corner and so they end up with insufficient numbers.

They were also caught out by grubbers and so one has to ask questions about the back three’s positional play. They need to co-ordinate better to cover those and they need a much higher work-rate.

The Southern Kings have also had defensive problems and so it is only really the Lions and Sharks, who are defending in the same fashion as always, who can be satisfied with their defence.

The Lions have shown a great defensive improvement and one must credit JP Ferreira for improving their consistency in this regard.

The Lions are rolling through nicely and it will be a phenomenal tour if they can beat the Brumbies, which will make it probably the first unbeaten tour by a South African team – a tremendous achievement, and they’ve been winning with bonus points!

We know Australian rugby is at an all-time low and they have even more defensive problems, but their forwards are really their soft underbelly and the Lions have exposed that to great effect.

And the quality of finishing this weekend by Courtnall Skosan and Sylvian Mahuza was top-class. As we get closer to the Springbok selection, it’s a good time for players to remind the national coach that they are out there by scoring skilful tries like that.

In South Africa, skills development seems to be more coach-driven, but in New Zealand, the players take personal responsibility for it. An example at the Kubota Spears is Patrick Osborne, who has played at the top level as a wing, but he works hard on his kicking. He’s playing as a right-footer on the left wing, so he’s constantly working on his left-footed grubbers and other kicks, he does that consistently.

To see a top New Zealand SuperRugby player take individual responsibility like that was quite an eye-opener.

 

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.

Foreigner coach idea not discounted by Saru, but Coetzee still favourite 0

Posted on December 05, 2015 by Ken

 

The idea that a foreigner could succeed Heyneke Meyer as the coach of the Springboks was not discounted by South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins on Friday, but a strengthened emphasis on transformation means Allister Coetzee surely remains the hot favourite to take over the poisoned chalice.

Meyer’s dignified exit from the role means Saru have a week in which to hunt down his successor and, with former Stormers coach Coetzee and current Lions mastermind Johan Ackermann the only realistic local candidates, speculation has been rife that the Springboks might have their first overseas coach.

“Yes, a foreigner is an option. We shouldn’t rule out anyone because we want best for South Africa, so we have to consider all the possibilities. There were 13 foreign coaches in charge at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, that’s the way things are going in rugby,” Hoskins said at Saru House in Cape Town on Friday as he addressed media about the Springbok coaching position.

John Plumtree and John Mitchell are the leading candidates in terms of overseas-born coaches, with both of them having led South African franchises in SuperRugby.

But Mitchell is likely to have a long list of demands – such as a four-year contract and being able to choose his own support team – which has been a sticking point in his negotiations to take over the Stormers coaching role.

Plumtree coached the Sharks for four years from 2008, winning two Currie Cup titles but generally under-performing in SuperRugby. Following his dismissal by the Sharks, the New Zealander became the Ireland forwards coach, before joining the successful Hurricanes side as an assistant in this year’s SuperRugby competition.

Former All Black Wayne Smith, a visonary attack coach for New Zealand’s 2011 and 2015 World Cup triumphs, has also been mentioned as a candidate but, like Mitchell and Plumtree, he would appear to be more likely to be involved as an assistant.

Coetzee, the backline coach in the Springboks’ 2007 World Cup win, has always been the favourite to succeed Meyer, having controversially lost out in 2008 when Peter de Villiers was appointed, but what has certainly caused his stock to rise were Hoskins’ comments that transformation would be a priority for the next coach of the national team.

“For the next four years, transformation will be key for us – we signed an agreement with Sascoc and the government. It has been Saru’s policy that the leadership doesn’t interfere in team selection, but we might have to look at that. It’s very difficult to have Saru interfering in team selection, but if policy is not implemented, then we would address that discreetly and find solutions. Anybody applying for Bok coach needs to know transformation is at the top of the agenda – otherwise don’t apply,” Hoskins said.

An overseas coach would probably struggle with the implementation of such transformation policy, while it is an area in which Coetzee, a former scrumhalf star in non-racial rugby, excelled during his time in Cape Town, while still guiding them to four appearances in the SuperRugby knockout phase as well as two Currie Cup titles.

Other favourites of the South African rugby public are Nick Mallett, who has however said he does not want to return to coaching, Robbie Deans, who, like Coetzee is currently coaching in Japan, and Ackermann.

The viewpoint of those involved in making the decision, however, would seem to be that Ackermann needs to gain more experience and win trophies with the Lions over the next four years.

Coetzee as head coach with a high-profile overseas assistant, and the involvement of Saru rugby general manager Rassie Erasmus, would appear to be what the governing body are currently angling for ahead of the expected announcement of the new Springbok management next Friday.

 

 

Focus on immediate results & lack of resources for coaches will cost SA franchises – Mitchell 0

Posted on June 25, 2015 by Ken

Former All Blacks and Lions coach John Mitchell says a continued emphasis on immediate results and resources not being dedicated towards developing coaches will mean South African Super Rugby franchises will continue to struggle.

The Bulls and Stormers are both looking for new head coaches for Super Rugby, the Sharks are restructuring their coaching staff and the Southern Kings are yet to appoint their leading man.

“It is going to be a serious worry if those franchises make emotional appointments. They need to look at due process and appoint a group of coaches, not just make a one-man appointment.

“It’s a really grave concern in our industry, we’re the only sport where a player can become head coach two years after he has finished playing. Coaching is about experience and wisdom and there are a lot of fantastic minds around. But it’s scary how results-based everything is. These organisations don’t realise that many of them are in a development phase and that takes more than 18 months.

“There’s also a lack of resources, time and money spent on coaches. A lot of them aren’t ready for Super Rugby level and I don’t believe in the whole system at the moment, there needs to be a change in mindset, we need to find ways to get smarter. Rugby has become a game of transition, it’s about how quickly you re-form on attack or defence, it’s about building pressure with the ball and moving it into space, not over-working by trying to bash it through the gain-line all the time,” Mitchell said at a Powerade launch for their new ION4 sports drink.

New Zealand’s 2003 World Cup coach has been linked with the coaching jobs at both the Stormers and Sharks, but he said that although he still loved coaching, a full-time post was not his desire at the moment.

“I’m really enjoying being a businessman at the moment, I’ve been given a great opportunity, and I’ve done 20 years of coaching all around the world. I’m at peace with what I’m doing and I’ve actually learnt a lot being on the outside, looking in.

“I turned down the Stormers, although I could really work with Gert Smal [Director of Rugby], but I didn’t want to come in on top of another coaching group and I wasn’t keen on commuting. The Sharks could have asked me a long time ago and they need to be accountable for the last two tenures.

“A coaching job has to be right for me and neither of those are at the moment. This time I will coach on my own terms, with the right people, I want to play a part rather than be the focal point. I’m 51, so I’m still young in coaching terms and I have a lot to offer. I love coaching, it will never leave me, but I believe I can share and serve the game in other ways at the moment. Being a consultant coach is still an option, but it needs to be the right fit and frequency, not full-time,” Mitchell said.

 



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