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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Let’s get real about the Currie Cup 0

Posted on November 02, 2017 by Ken

 

The Currie Cup final was a real spectacle, but it is a competition that SA Rugby really needs to sort out and it doesn’t any longer have any real bearing on Springbok selection for the end-of-year tour.

The Currie Cup staggered to the playoff rounds, when there was far more interest, but the competition cannot overlap with SuperRugby, teams can’t be playing three games in a week and we can’t have the situation we had this year with the Free State Cheetahs starting with a team on fire, winning five of their first six games, but then having to go and play in the Pro14.

SA Rugby needs to get the crowds back to the Currie Cup, it is the most traditional South African tournament and every player and coach, when they set out on their career, they want to win it. The basis of South African rugby is unions, not franchises, that’s how they run it, so the Currie Cup should be SA Rugby’s main competition.

One must commend the two smaller unions, the Pumas and Griquas, for showing how much they belong in the tournament. The Pumas hammered the Blue Bulls by 50 and Griquas beat eventual champions Western Province, and both teams gave some of the other sides real frights.

The Springboks have shown good continuity in their selection – Lukhanyo Am has been recalled after being in the squad in June, Louis Schreuder was there already and Warrick Gelant has been part of the training camps. You don’t want to keep starting again with new players and you don’t want the situation where guys have to fly in and out because of the game against Wales on December 2 falling outside the international window.

Allister Coetzee has been pretty consistent in selection this year and the players have responded because it shows the coach has belief in them, after a good run in which the only team to beat them has been the All Blacks.

Ireland, they’re first up, will be the toughest game for the Springboks on their tour, because of where they are after a stellar year, but I expect South Africa to beat France, Italy and Wales. If the Springboks can win all four tour games, it would be a very good year indeed.

Against Ireland, the Springboks will need a solid lineout and a bit of size around the field, which is why I think Pieter-Steph du Toit will be chosen as a back-row forward from now on. They will need to dominate the set-pieces and have a good kicking game on those fields. The back three will need to absorb pressure and put it back on Ireland because Conor Murray kicks 70% of the time for Munster and kicking from scrumhalf, there’s always a good chase.

The Springbok team is always chosen before the Currie Cup final so that you don’t make emotional decisions, so there are no late inclusions and no outsiders suddenly selected. International rugby is really high-pressure and you need guys who have played well consistently.

Curwin Bosch showed some great moments of class in the final, especially with his kicking game – that drop goal was particularly brilliant. But he’s been in the system since he was 16, part of South African rugby’s elite programs, flagged as a major talent. But it’s obvious he has a weakness in defence, in fact it’s his only real weakness.

This will obviously have to be worked on during the end-of-year tour, but why hasn’t it been worked on already? There are no small centres in international rugby anymore and if he’s going to play in the flyhalf channel then he has no choice – he has to fix his defence or move to fullback.

Robert du Preez certainly put his hand up in the final and I am sure he will get his chance with the Springboks. He now needs a good SuperRugby season.

In the game itself, the other big defensive lapse came when Nizaam Carr picked up against the wheel of the scrum and there was very poor defence by the Sharks flank, it was their dominant scrum but he still allowed the Western Province eighthman to get around him and set up the try.

The final showed the value of a great set-piece and forward-dominance. Western Province were completely in charge from the time their front row was dominant.

The Sharks were maybe a little over-confident after their scrum demolished the Blue Bulls in the semi-finals, but hats off to Wilco Louw and JC Janse van Rensburg.

Wilco has received plenty of deserved plaudits, but hats off to JC as well, who is a real stalwart, especially at the scrummage. Many a tighthead has come off second-best against him and he is unfortunate not to have a Springbok cap, although he did go on tour with us to Great Britain in 2012.

It was a clear turning point in the game when Western Province scored a try just before halftime, with Damian Willemse having the vision to evade Kobus van Wyk’s spot-tackle. There are always risks to rushing out like the Sharks wing did, and Western Province kept the ball for a number of phases after the break by their fullback and the try left them only five behind going into the second half, when Western Province just completely pegged down the Sharks through the dominance of their pack and set-piece.

The Sharks were probably the better team in broken-field play, they have quite exciting backs, and they got a lot of mileage from the kickoffs. That’s a basic thing, but it seems most locks in the Currie Cup were not able to catch the ball! So that’s a work-on for South African teams ahead of SuperRugby.

For the Sharks, they can still approach 2018 with some confidence. They chose not to pick the experienced Chiliboy Ralepelle in their squad for the final, and they’ll have him and Beast Mtawarira back in the front row. They’ll also have some nice physicality in the backs with Robert du Preez arriving at flyhalf and Andre Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw and Louis Schreuder around 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.

What I’m looking forward to in the Springbok squad announcement 0

Posted on November 25, 2014 by Ken

The Springbok squad for the end-of-year tour to Europe will be announced on Monday and I will be looking forward to half-a-dozen Black Africans being named in the 36-man group, all of them entirely on merit.

The Springboks will be playing against Ireland, England, Italy and Wales and will be in action from November 8-29. The final Test, against Wales in Cardiff, will be played without any overseas-based players, but from the first-choice 23 that only rules out Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Schalk Burger and Bakkies Botha.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the tour will be whether the Springboks can adapt the fast-paced game they seemed to have mastered by beating the All Blacks in their last match to the heavier fields of Europe. It’s important to remember that this is a dress rehearsal for the World Cup because it’s the last time South Africa will play in the United Kingdom before that showpiece tournament starts next September, so there will be limited experimentation.

I’m looking forward to Lwazi Mvovo getting a run on the wing in that Test against Wales, which could also see Western Province flyer and former Springbok Sevens star Seabelo Senatla on the bench as he embarks on the next step of what will surely be a stellar international career.

After all the speculation and comments before the game against New Zealand, there’s no doubt Teboho ‘Oupa’ Mohoje was on trial at Ellis Park and he came through with flying colours with a great all-round display. After plying his trade on the University of the Free State fields a year ago, he can now look forward to strutting his stuff on the famous turf of Twickenham, Lansdowne Road and the Millenium Stadium.

Trevor Nyakane should also be on the bench as cover for the estimable Tendai Mtawarira, while the third hooker behind Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss will surely be either Scarra Ntubeni or Bongi Mbonambi now that Schalk Brits is out injured.

The total number of players of colour should be 11 as the Springboks slowly but surely move towards properly representing the demographics of South Africa.

Coach Heyneke Meyer has held his cards close to his chest, but what he has divulged is that the selectors met two weeks ago to discuss the squad so brilliant displays out of the blue in the Currie Cup knockout rounds are unlikely to influence the composition of the squad. The fact that the squad will be announced on Monday and not directly after the Currie Cup final is further indication that Meyer wants to move away from selections based on a fortnight of brilliance.

Nevertheless, he could well want to gather more information on key Lions players like Jaco Kriel, Julian Redelinghuys, Schalk van der Merwe, Ruan Dreyer and Marnitz Boshoff.

He has already gathered some insight into the likes of Senatla, Rudy Paige, Nizaam Carr and Mbonambi at training camps in the last month and they are all in line for their first Springbok call-ups.

Questions that Meyer will also look to get answered during the tour are:

  • Is Handre Pollard still the best choice at flyhalf when conditions call for a more tactical game?;
  • if Ruan Pienaar is still struggling with injury, who is the next best scrumhalf?;
  • What is the best loose trio balance, both starting and on the bench?;
  • What depth exists at tighthead prop and outside centre?;
  • If Willie le Roux gets injured, who plays fullback?

 

Possible Springbok squad: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, JP Pietersen, Jan Serfontein, Damien de Allende, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Lwazi Mvovo, Seabelo Senatla, Handre Pollard, Pat Lambie, Morne Steyn/Marnitz Boshoff, Francois Hougaard, Cobus Reinach, Ruan Pienaar/Rudy Paige, Duane Vermeulen, Warren Whiteley, Nizaam Carr, Teboho Mohoje, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Schalk Burger, Jaco Kriel, Victor Matfield, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Bakkies Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Julian Redelinghuys, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Scarra Ntubeni/Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Schalk van der Merwe, Ruan Dreyer/Lourens Adriaanse.

 



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