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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: How to beat the All Blacks 0

Posted on July 12, 2017 by Ken

 

It was an enthralling final Test between the All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions, and a tremendous achievement for the visitors to draw a series in New Zealand. Every international coach will have looked at the three Tests and will take something from them – it has shown it is possible to beat the All Blacks.

So how did the Lions achieve this?

Firstly, their defence over the three Tests was superb, so hats off to the Farrell family.

It’s no coincidence that most of New Zealand’s losses over the last few years have been caused by a rush defence and a high line speed, so Lions, England and Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell should really take a bow – he has now enjoyed three wins and a draw against the All Blacks since 2013.

And then there was his son Owen’s kicking. None of his kicks at goal in the last Test were gimmes and it was very interesting to see that even with Jonny Sexton, who has such a high success rate in his kicking record, at flyhalf, the Lions went with Farrell for goalkicking and that’s what made the difference in the end.

The All Blacks were disciplined in their own 22, but were prepared to give away penalties further away from their line, and Farrell kept the Lions in the game.

It was the defence that was able to disrupt the New Zealand attacking structure, they weren’t really able to go forward or get the ball wide, because the Lions totally dominated the gain-line and the rush-defence took time and space away from Beauden Barrett. But it didn’t operate from a tight base, the wings were on the second-last runners and would not always engage, sometimes they would back off on to the last runner, therefore there was no kicking space behind them.

The Lions also chose two openside flanks who were a real nuisance at the breakdown.

The biggest thing about the rush-defence is that it means you are so square in the tackle, you line up your man and come forward, there’s no shifting. The Lions tackling was very confrontational, they didn’t really hit the legs but tended to be just under the ball. This forced more errors and led to dominance in the tackle; a softer defence relies on leg-tackles and a confrontational rush-defence on chest tackles. You can see it unnerved the All Blacks and with the quality of defenders the Lions had – players like Jonathan Davies, Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien – the system totally suited them.

The shift put in by the Lions forwards at the coalface was also amazing and New Zealand could not get any offloads or tip-passes going at all. The Lions cleverly took out the support players, so the ball was wide open at the breakdowns. The quality of the tackles and the athletes involved meant that on the tip-ons, they frequently took the passer out of play, which exposed the ball-carrier and then the turnover could happen.

What was especially interesting to me was that New Zealand just could not get the ball to the outside channels in space, and even if they tried, Barrett was frequently standing still and then it was easy for the Lions to pick off the carriers.

The way to break down the rush-defence is through the kick-pass and offloading from contact and it’s no coincidence that the All Blacks scored from this.

The Lions also relied tremendously on Conor Murray’s box-kicking. There was no messing around here – they would maul or box-kick immediately from the restart and that put pressure on the New Zealand wings, thanks to the quality of Murray’s kicking and exits.

For me, Murray was the real star of the series, his tactical control was superb; him kicking contestables meant the All Blacks never had a chance to counter-attack or get the ball back from the Lions back three with running bombs.

The New Zealand attack was very static. They wanted a two-sided attack against the rush-defence, but they played a lot of one-pass rugby, which made it quite easy to defend.

One of the key moments of the final Test was the chase back of Davies on Ngani Laumape after Barrett’s intercept, it was just superb. It was a series-turning moment and the other players get really excited when they see that sort of attitude and commitment from a team-mate.

It was an enthralling finish to the series, but it’s a pity to see such a great Test end with all the focus on Mr Roman Poite.

His eccentricities have been exposed even before Eden Park last weekend: there was the red card he gave Bismarck du Plessis at Eden Park in 2013, his performance in the World Cup and against Argentina in 2014 when there were seven water-carriers on the field during a stoppage and he allowed the Pumas to take a quick tap, which resulted in a try just before halftime. The last defender in the Springbok backline was our physio, Rene Naylor!

It was good, though, that Poite reviewed the incident at the end of last weekend’s game and I think Craig Joubert will be wishing he had done the same in 2015 in the Scotland v Australia game at the World Cup. That’s what the TMO is there for and at least Poite used it. But rugby has to eliminate these grey areas because referees have to make hard decisions in a very short time.

I thought Poite was also really poor in the lineouts, there was taking out of jumpers left, right and centre, it was like a free-for-all. New Zealand also seemed to have some dominance in that final scrum and there could have been a penalty to them, but again he opted out.

The All Blacks ended up playing a lot of guys with just a handful of caps, which is not what you want in high-pressured Tests. Injuries and Sonny Bill Williams’ self-inflicted absence obviously affected them and you want more caps for the big games like last weekend. They ended with Laumape at 12 and Anton Lienert-Brown at 13 and they are actually both inside centres, both confrontational and direct. The Lions started with a similar sort of player in Ben Te’o, but then switched to Sexton and Farrell and had far more ball-playing ability to stretch the All Blacks.

One has to credit coach Warren Gatland for wearing his red nose with pride. He might just hang around and is probably very excited about a third tour with the Lions, against the Springboks in 2021.

It will be interesting to see whether the Springboks pick Cheetahs or Kings players for that tour because it will be the end of their season in Europe!

 

 

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.

Titans limit their Black African batting options but beef up bowling 0

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Ken

 

The absence of a single fully-contracted Black African batsman in the Titans squad for next season could limit their options when it comes to fulfilling the quota of three in every starting line-up, but CEO Jacques Faul said they had decided to beef up their bowling.

Grant Mokoena, who averaged just 26 in eight Sunfoil Series games and scored 49 runs at a strike-rate of only 89 in his three T20 appearances, has joined the Knights, while Daniel Sincuba played one four-day game, scoring 32 and 0, and has been released.

Former SA U19 Junior World Cup captain Tony de Zorzi showed glimpses of promise in a few opportunities he was given towards the end of the season, and he has been given a rookie contract, and the inside lane in terms of Black African batsmen.

Mokoena and Sincuba’s contracts have gone to a pair of fast bowlers who excelled for Northerns in their triumphant season – Eldred Hawken and Alfred Mothoa, while former SA U19 batsman Andrea Agathangelou, who has played county cricket for Lancashire and Leicestershire, has been signed from South-Western Districts.

“It’s probably not ideal, but we still have a lot of batting depth and we have decided to run with Tony de Zorzi, simply because whoever we bring in needs to be on the same sort of level as a Henry Davids or Aiden Markram, and there’s probably nobody close to that.

“We’ve beefed up the bowling and we have three quality pacemen in Lungi Ngidi, Malusi Siboto and Junior Dala, plus Alfred Mothoa is a banker and we’re excited about left-arm spinner Gregory Mahlokwana, who got injured after his first game, but we think he will play more,” Faul told The Citizen on Friday.

Nevertheless, readers of the Titans squad list will be struck by the tremendous depth at their disposal – eight current nationally-contracted players, four former Proteas and three players with bright international futures in Heinrich Klaasen, Markram and Ngidi.

Players like fast bowler Dala and leg-spinner Shaun von Berg are also certainly on the national selectors’ radar having been chosen for SA A and the CSA spin camp in India respectively.

Titans Contracted Players 2017/18: Andrea Agathangelou, Junior Dala, Henry Davids, Heinrich Klaasen, Heino Kuhn, Eldred Hawken, Aiden Markram, Albie Morkel, Alfred Mothoa, Lungi Ngidi, Rowan Richards, Malusi Siboto, Grant Thomson, David Wiese, Shaun von Berg, Jonathan Vandiar. Rookies – Tony de Zorzi, Rivaldo Moonsamy. CSA-contracted national players – Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Morné Morkel, Chris Morris, Tabraiz Shamsi.

 

John McFarland Column – Stormers’ turn to show they can bounce back 0

Posted on April 25, 2017 by Ken

 

SuperRugby is such a tough competition that every team at some stage will experience a crisis and it’s now the Stormers’ turn to face a test of character as to how they bounce back from their heavy defeat at the hands of the Crusaders in Christchurch.

The Stormers were fortunate to get out of jail a bit in their previous games with things like intercept tries from their own goal-line, but their luck ran out in Christchurch. Things they got away with in the first few weeks were punished by the Crusaders, who have a much more accurate passing game than most teams, and that exposed the Stormers. They struggled to deal with the width of the Crusaders’ game, they were up against a two-four-two set-up and the likes of Codie Taylor and Kieran Read in the tramlines proved too much for them.

The Stormers’ wings were continually being pressured by the poor defensive spacing on the inside; the main Stormers problem was their spacing around the ruck, there were too many players close to the breakdown inside their own 22. They need to get more players out wide, they were much too compressed in defence at the ruck. They were caught cold by the width of the Crusaders attack.

But for a lot of the Stormers players it was their first time in New Zealand and it takes some time to adjust. Plus the Crusaders are obviously on fire at the moment under new coach Scott Robertson and they were just too good for the Stormers.

I spent time with the Stormers in pre-season and coach Robbie Fleck is determined to play a hugely exciting brand of rugby, which has been successful, but now they’ve just hit a blip.

But the Stormers played quite well in the second half, with two of the Crusaders’ tries coming from intercepts, and they will draw some positivity from that. They obviously need to regroup against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday and having the roof closed will suit their game.

It was encouraging the way they came back against the Crusaders and now they are in Queenstown in a very pleasant part of the world where they can walk to training, so hopefully they will be in a better frame of mind come Friday.

It was a weekend of contrasting emotions with the excitement coming from the Southern Kings. For them to come through the way they did, for their forwards to play so well as they came back from 17-0 down after half-an-hour, and to win so convincingly really takes some doing. Plus any away win is super, so it really was a sensational result in Sydney, to win there without any Springboks (Waylon Murray being injured) was truly remarkable.

The Kings forwards certainly outmauled the Waratahs and the visitors took their chances, a charge-down try getting them back into the game. It was certainly a comprehensive win with the Waratahs scoring on the final hooter and one of their tries was also from an intercept.

The win shows that South Africa still has forwards that are well-drilled and marshalled and you have to credit coach Deon Davids. Sometimes on the third game on tour the players are thinking of going home, especially since you have to leave Sydney very early the next morning so you’re packing and getting ready for the game all at the same time!

You could tell how much it meant to the Kings players at the end of the game and it was the sort of win to resurrect some careers. Someone like Lionel Cronje has played at practically every union and although there is respect for his play, he hasn’t really fulfilled the promise of his SA U20 days. But time out of the game forced him to re-evaluate his priorities and he has come back a renewed guy.

The Lions against the Jaguares was a good game with Harold Vorster once again shining, the try he scored, running the same line as he did against the Stormers, got the home side back in the game.

The variety of plays the Lions have from five metres away from the tryline is impressive and it shows they want seven-pointers instead of three – they have front-peels, back-peels, shift-drives and normal drives.

It was also pleasing to see Elton Jantjies kicking a pressure goal. He’s certainly in the running to be the Springboks’ starting flyhalf, especially with both Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie injured at the moment, and it’s good to see him so composed.

Lionel Mapoe is also hitting some form and his dummy-and-go and finish for his try was first-class and he also put away Andries Coetzee for the final try.

So it will please Allister Coetzee to see those two coming back into form.

Two of the Tests against France will be on the Highveld so they will be quick games, with the Springboks also surely trying to up the pace because the matches are at the end of the French season and there will obviously be some tiredness. For that Allister should choose quick, Lions-type players – those Tests should really suit guys like Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel.

At the end of the day, the Lions are our flagship franchise and that should be reflected in selection.

The SuperRugby quarterfinals will probably be contested by four New Zealand teams, three from South Africa and one from Australia, so the likelihood is that the Lions will play a New Zealand side in the quarterfinal. So it’s important that they keep winning and now that they are overseas, they need to get on a roll. So it was good for them to come through the Jaguares game with a win.

The Hurricanes have still got to tour and the Crusaders are now in South Africa, so let’s hope the Cheetahs and Bulls can do something against them.

 

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.

Jurassic World at Loftus every Saturday 0

Posted on December 20, 2016 by Ken

 

Jurassic World opened in cinemas across South Africa last night to much excitement but there are many who would say dinosaurs could be seen running around every Saturday at Loftus Versfeld for Bulls fans’ viewing displeasure.

The Bulls are probably the most conservative of all the franchises in South Africa (their daily programme even tells the players and management what clothes to wear!) and innovations such as the offload are still frowned upon there.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t still be a force on the playing field. In fact, things were looking good this season when they sat in second place on the log just before their overseas tour, only for the wheels to come off in Australasia, not for the first time.

There can be no denying that a winning culture is absent from Loftus Versfeld; you can have as much discipline as you want, but unless the players, management and administrators are tightly knit with a single purpose, cracks will grow ever wider and the team will fall apart at the seams.

Where the Bulls have erred most obviously is in the appointment of a High Performance Manager in Xander Janse van Rensburg whose sole achievement so far at the union has been to rip at those seams and drive not one, nor two but three major player exoduses from Loftus Versfeld.

Since Janse van Rensburg’s arrival – apparently he was appointed to replace Ian Schwartz because he was a much cheaper option – hardly a day goes by without talk of a player who wants to leave or a player who is unhappy with broken promises or upset with his team-mates, such is the climate of fear and self-interest at Loftus.

To treat players as dispensable goods creates the sort of selfishness and attitude of self-preservation that destroys team spirit; the Bulls’ decision to send Janse van Rensburg on tour, while scrum coach Wessel Roux remained at home, coincided with the dramatic reversal in fortunes that killed their Super Rugby hopes.

But to lay the blame purely at the doors of the administrators would be wrong and several players are going to have to face their own consciences in the mirror when coach Frans Ludeke pays the price for their failure to step up when needed.

Ludeke’s willingness to shoulder all of the responsibility speaks to the character of the man. While his decision to take on all the media duties himself was well-intentioned, it merely increased the pressure on him. To allow different voices to be heard does not weaken his authority and his failure to spread the load is not going to improve his stress levels or general health.

 

****

South African cricket provided reason to celebrate in the last week via the comments of newly-appointed bowling coach Charl Langeveldt, who said yorkers were something the Proteas bowlers needed to embrace.

Speaking on the SuperSport cricket magazine show Inside Edge, Langeveldt said the yorker was a skill the national team’s bowlers needed to be able to produce three or four times an over if they are to improve the standard of the bowling in limited-overs cricket.

The lack of such skills in the Proteas’ attack was the glaring difference between them and the champion Australian team and the appointment of Langeveldt, one of the most skilful bowlers South Africa have ever produced, is a step in the right direction.

Langeveldt’s story is the epitome of hard work paying off and hopefully he will get the necessary buy-in from the Proteas and the graft required for the up-skilling will take place.

 

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