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Ken Borland

John McFarland Column: Boks are in a dark space & I know how that feels 0

Posted on November 23, 2016 by Ken


It was obviously a big shock for the Springboks to have lost to Italy at the weekend and everybody involved will feel that they have let the country down. But it’s now about going forward and getting things right for this weekend’s game against Wales.

The key is the coach, the wolf pack follows the pace of the leader and if he’s energised and shows how hard he wants to fight, then the rest will follow.

The nice thing about sport is that you get the chance to turn things around the next week and a good win against Wales will maybe show that the players have settled in better into the new game-plan.

In any coach’s life, they will go through a crisis, they will have a bad loss, because nobody wins 100% of the time. Every coach has their time under pressure, even the best coaches – for example Jose’ Mourinho at Chelsea or Eddie Jones at the Reds.

They’ve got to know what to do and how to put it right the following week.

In my time with the Springboks, I was part of the squad that lost to Japan at the World Cup. That was also a big blow to all our careers and I remember the day itself very well.

During the week everyone was filled with euphoria, we had landed in London, had the World Cup welcome, and we were really over-confident.

Japan certainly deserved their win, as did Italy last weekend.

On that Saturday evening in Brighton, it felt like being in a dark hole, certainly the players were feeling that. We had a very short meeting, some of the senior guys stood up and said it wasn’t good enough and we had to make sure we came back. We were still in the World Cup, so we were lucky that we had the chance to turn it around.

When you lose like that, everyone goes in different directions, especially when it’s the national team. Nobody looks anyone in the eyes, everyone feels a huge responsibility for their role in the disaster.

As part of the coaching staff, you pore through the video, looking at what was good and what was bad, preparing yourself for a really critical review of exactly what went wrong and how to better it. You deal with the team and also individuals in one-on-one situations.

After that game we had a long trip to Birmingham, five hours on a bus, and not one word was spoken. We stopped for lunch and there was still very little chat.

We kept the physical routine the same that week, but we made some key changes in other areas of our schedule.

On the Monday morning the players had their usual gym and recovery sessions, but then instead of a review of the game, we had an inquest. Every player got up and took responsibility for their part in the defeat, and said what they were going to get right and bring to the table for the next weekend.

Believe me, tears were shed because it’s pretty galling that the game you played with such joy as a child can put you in such a dark space.

Responsibility was taken by the whole group. Heyneke Meyer stood at the front and said this is the way we are going to do it from now on.

With all that cleaned out of the way, I remember there was a new focus from the players, everyone made a tremendous shift. Jean de Villiers led from the front, he said we will fix this, we will put it right, as did all the senior players. Training was very physical and intense that week as you’d expect from a wounded Springbok team.

Then they put on a real performance of pride and passion in beating Samoa 46-6, allowing them zero tries as we absolutely smashed them backwards. Duane Vermeulen was only meant to play about 50 minutes, but he played the full 80 and put in a real shift at the coalface.

Unfortunately Jean de Villiers was injured in that match and had to return home, but we won all our games after losing to Japan and pushed the All Blacks to within two points in the World Cup semifinal, the difference being a Dan Carter drop goal and an overturned penalty.

We were all really proud at the fact that we had come back and pushed New Zealand really close, putting on a far better performance against them than Australia did in the final, and then we took the bronze medal from Argentina in convincing fashion.

Heyneke Meyer pulled the team together with his staff and senior players, the core group pushed the boat in the right direction. From the Monday after the Japan loss, we were one team and we knew that one more defeat would put us out of the World Cup.

Some of the squad have been involved in both defeats to Japan and Italy and hopefully they can turn it around now like they did in the World Cup.

It’s always a battle of the gainline against Wales, with Jamie Roberts, Alex Cuthbert and Dan Biggar, and the Springboks will need to be really defensively solid in the backs … and obviously take their opportunities much better than they did against Italy.



John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

Pieter-Steph du Toit & Warren Whiteley Q&As 0

Posted on June 21, 2016 by Ken


Pieter-Steph du Toit


Q: How did it feel for the Springboks to be booed off the field at halftime?

PSdT: Well the first half was quite a shocker and being booed, well we fully deserved it. But we were 100% better in the second half and we showed what we can do. It’s difficult to describe the feeling when you get booed like that, but it made me a bit angry, I wanted to show that we are not that bad. If you play good rugby, then the crowd gets behind you.


Q: What went wrong in the first half?

PSdT: Us players were all on the field, but we just weren’t playing, we had no energy, we all just seemed a bit tired. I do not know why that happened in the first half, I have no explanation at the moment, except that our game plan was to work around the corner and we didn’t do that as the forwards.


Q: How did the Springboks manage to pull off such an amazing comeback?

PSdT: Eben Etzebeth and I spoke about it and we never doubted that we could win, and if you believe it then you can do it. There was a mindshift – we knew we had to win, so we had to lift our game to a different level and the changes helped too, a guy like Ruan Combrinck was man of the match after playing just 40 minutes, so that’s quite an effort. We stuck to the game plan more, the forwards came into the game and we cut out the mistakes. We made a lot of errors in the first half, we didn’t keep the ball, and Allister Coetzee and Adriaan Strauss spoke to us about that and said if this was our last Test for South Africa, how would we play? Of course they were upset.



Warren Whiteley


Q: How satisfying was that second-half comeback and how did you pull it off?

WW: We’re delighted with the win and the character we showed. We definitely felt the momentum swing early in the second half and that gave us a chance. We got quick ball and we were hitting the advantage line and so creating space out wide. We managed to keep that width, make holes in the middle and earn the right to go wide. It means a lot because we were extremely disappointed after the first half, but we showed our character in the second half, which is definitely going to be a massive confidence boost.


Q: Did you feel extra pressure coming on straight after halftime in front of your home crowd with the Springboks in a hole, and do you think you’ve secured a starting place now?

WW: Every time I step on to the field it’s a privilege and I try to make sure I use every opportunity. I didn’t feel any extra pressure, but I was highly motivated to make a difference. No, I don’t think I can talk about starting places because there are a lot of very talented loose forwards in the squad – Jaco Kriel hasn’t even played a game yet and there’s a guy like Sikhumbuzo Notshe also waiting in the wings.


Q: There’s been plenty of talk already about the win being down to all the members of the Lions team you captain who were on the field in the second half … is that why the Springboks won the game?

WW: There’s no way it was the Lions team who won the game, collectively we worked together on the game plan and the style of rugby we wanted to play. The first week together was tough, we did lots of work but lost, and this week was tough too. But slowly and surely we’re getting into our rhythm, we’re still reading and learning about each other. This was only my fifth Test, I’ve never had to link with Damian de Allende before, I’ve never scrummed behind Pieter-Steph du Toit before, so I’m still learning how to play with them.


Abbott & Phangiso, victims of CSA’s transformation failures 0

Posted on May 31, 2016 by Ken


The tears and recriminations are flowing after yet another premature World Cup exit for South Africa’s cricketers, but spare a thought for Vernon Philander, Kyle Abbott and Aaron Phangiso, who all have good reason to feel angry on top of the brutal disappointment they must be suffering after the semi-final loss to New Zealand.

Nobody selects himself to play for the Proteas, and while it was undeniably a poor decision to play Philander ahead of Abbott, the Cape Cobras man has been a wonderful bowler for South Africa, even if his ODI skills on flat pitches don’t match his Test brilliance, and he certainly deserves way better than to be scornfully dismissed as a “quota” selection.

There were so many good cricketing reasons to play Abbott – his superb form in the quarterfinal against Sri Lanka, the doubts over Philander’s fitness (made worse by Dale Steyn’s own niggles and the ridiculously arrogant decision to only play four frontline bowlers), and the fact that the strategy against Brendon McCullum and some of the other NZ batsmen revolved around digging the ball in short and targeting the ribcage, for which Abbott is suited and Philander, who bowls at a very hittable pace if there is no movement, is not.

There has been speculation that Abbott was left out in order to play another player of colour, with rumours coming from people close to the camp that the Dolphins fast bowler was extremely angry ahead of the semi-final.

Which begs the question – when will Cricket South Africa get transformation right?

For me, it is just as much of a disgrace that Phangiso did not play a single game at the World Cup as it is if Abbott was left out for political reasons.

Will young Black Africans believe CSA when they say the Proteas are for everyone or will they look at Phangiso’s treatment and say his selection in the squad was all just window-dressing of the worst kind?

Instead of bowing to political demands before a semi-final that will now leave fresh scars on the South African psyche, why did CSA not insist Phangiso play at least against the UAE?

South Africa have not bowled skilfully enough in limited-overs cricket for a while now and this is ultimately where the World Cup campaign was lost; the only good all-round bowling performance they produced was against Sri Lanka. And to think they thought going into a semi-final with just five bowlers was a wise move.

All AB de Villiers’ statements about the Proteas being “the best team in the tournament” now sounds like empty chest-beating, designed to cover their own doubts.

If Russell Domingo did not have any misgivings about his side, why did he say they could not play Phangiso against the UAE because it was vital they finish second in their pool? An SA A side should have no trouble beating the UAE!

Yes, the Proteas have given their all and played with tremendous courage in the semi-final. But they also seem to have had an over-inflated opinion of how good they were throughout the World Cup, only for the doubts that have so blighted them in previous tournaments to come back once that bubble was burst.

Punda Maria & Pafuri 2

Posted on July 01, 2014 by Ken

Impala ram resting on the Mahonie Loop

My favourite part of Kruger National Park is the far north – around Punda Maria and Pafuri. There is something mystical about this area, it has a very tropical feel with its diverse habitats and rich birdlife, featuring several rarities.

And so it seems entirely fitting that this area is one of two (the other being the Pilanesberg) where I have seen the mysterious Monotonous Lark, a little-known nomad that may or may not be an intra-African migrant because it only ever seems to be seen in Southern Africa in irruptions of breeding birds making their characteristic, persistent “for syrup is sweet” call. There seems to be no pattern to their movements, save for a link to above-average rainfall and even then, they’ll be present in an area in one year and totally absent the next.

It was also fitting that this mercurial bird was the last added to my list of 163 Kruger sightings on this trip.

As one heads out of Kruger Park via the Punda Gate, there is a little detour one can take to Thulamila Koppie, rising 604m above the mixed sandveld woodlands of the Punda Maria area. It’s a great vantage point to look out over the expansive plains to the east and south and it was from this spot that I watched the solar eclipse in 2002.

But the 3km drive to the top of the koppie also takes you through interesting birding habitat with the diverse vegetation featuring bushwillows, Marulas and Tree Mopanes. It’s ideal habitat for Monotonous Lark and sure enough, there they were calling away from the trees in the plain below the koppie.

The Purple Roller, a real lover of woodlands, was there as well and Crowned Hornbill was seen flying over before the turn-off to Thulamila.

The Punda Maria region is famous for its beautiful broadleafed woodlands, flourishing in an area that boasts the second-highest rainfall in the park (650mm per annum; compared to the 700-750mm in the relatively high altitudes of the rolling hills around Pretoriuskop in the south-west).

The Mahonie Loop is a fabulous drive around the hill that hosts Punda Maria camp, with a stunning diversity of trees growing in the sandveld and a concurrent multitude of birds.

Doing the loop counter-clockwise, the Dimbo stream is a profitable early spot. A pair of African Black Duck were in the shallow water, while Black Widowfinch was in the trees above.

There are plenty of Buffalo this far north and Redbilled Oxpecker was in attendance, while African Green Pigeon were enjoying the Jackal Berries. Longtailed Paradise Whydah was present on the south-western side of the loop.

Punda Maria camp is surrounded by Mopane, which is never the richest of birding habitats, so the camp provides an island of woodland habitat and is excellent for birding.

Heuglin’s Robin, resident in the thickets on old anthills, was somewhat frantically calling away and the cute Collared Sunbird were passing through as I returned from the Mahonie Loop. That night a Thicktailed Bushbaby came and visited my campsite, clambering along the trees above me at suppertime.

There is another dirt road to the east of the Mahonie Loop, the S60, which is also a beautiful route, great for birding. The S60 skirts the Gumbandebvu Hill and travels through wonderful subtropical sandveld woodland as well as mature Mopane forests, before reaching the open grasslands around Klopperfontein Drift, where many exciting sightings have been made.

White Helmetshrike is a regular on the slopes of Gumbandebvu, while the grasslands around Klopperfontein produced Western Redfooted Falcon, Dusky Lark, Amur Falcon, Martial Eagle and Browncrowned Tchagra. A Black Crake was pottering around the actual dam, where Diederik Cuckoo were also present.

Wiretailed Swallow on dead tree stump in Luvuvhu River

Beyond Klopperfontein, the undulating tar road (H1-8) takes one towards the sandstone ridges that signal the floodplains of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers, and Pafuri, probably the most famous birding spot in Kruger Park.

Pafuri is lushly vegetated with acacia woodland grading into fever tree forests and then thickening as one enters the tropical riverine forest.

The area has changed considerably, however, since my first visit in 1998. Since then the 2000 floods and elephant damage have thinned out the taller trees and thicker bushes, and lately the Nyala Drive, heading westwards, has been more profitable than the better-known drive eastwards to Crooks’ Corner.

Redbilled Helmetshrike, Longtailed Starling – a tropical African species that is rare in South Africa but far more common around Pafuri – Redheaded Weaver, Hooded Vulture, Brubru, Woollynecked Stork and screeching Brownheaded Parrots were good sightings along Nyala Drive.

Pafuri picnic site always throws up something interesting though and on this occasion Grey Penduline Tit was with the more common Tawnyflanked Prinia in the undergrowth.

There are some interesting pans north of the Luvuvhu River bridge along the H1-9 and Marsh Sandpiper was in attendance at one of these.

Sightings list

African Black Duck

Little Swift

Common Caco

Egyptian Goose

Leopard Tortoise

Forktailed Drongo

Black Widowfinch

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Redeyed Dove

Blackeyed Bulbul

Blue Waxbill

Cape Turtle Dove


Yellowthroated Sparrow

European Swallow

Plains Zebra

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Yellowfronted Canary

Redbilled Oxpecker

Rattling Cisticola

Grey Hornbill

Green Pigeon

Lilacbreasted Roller

Paradise Flycatcher


Laughing Dove

Crested Barbet

Greater Kudu

Crested Francolin

Brown Snake Eagle


European Bee-Eater

Longtailed Paradise Whydah

Collared Sunbird

Grey Lourie

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

Woodland Kingfisher

Grey Duiker

Blackbacked Puffback

Vervet Monkey

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Heuglin’s Robin

White Helmetshrike

Southern Masked Weaver

Blacksmith Plover

Threebanded Plover

Whitewinged Widow

Spotted Flycatcher

Fantailed Cisticola

Western Redfooted Falcon

European Roller

Dusky Lark


Yellowbilled Hornbill

Tawny Eagle

Amur Falcon

Swainson’s Francolin

Longtailed Shrike

Melba Finch

Crowned Plover

Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting


Whitebacked Vulture

Hadeda Ibis

Wattled Starling

Martial Eagle

Little Bee-Eater

Browncrowned Tchagra

Redbacked Shrike

Greater Blue-Eared Starling

Thicktailed Bushbaby

Burchell’s Coucal


Redbilled Buffalo Weaver


Redbilled Helmetshrike

Natal Francolin

Longtailed Starling


Whitefronted Bee-Eater

Tree Squirrel

Jacobin Cuckoo

Redheaded Weaver

Southern Black Flycatcher

Slender Mongoose

Hooded Vulture

Kurrichane Thrush


Striped Cuckoo

Woollynecked Stork

Arrowmarked Babbler

Steelblue Widowfinch

Marabou Stork

Brownheaded Parrot

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Cardinal Woodpecker


Grey Penduline Tit

Wahlberg’s Eagle

Tawnyflanked Prinia

Yellowbreasted Apalis

Marsh Sandpiper

Black Crake

Chacma Baboon

Carmine Bee-Eater

Wiretailed Swallow

Pied Kingfisher

Wood Sandpiper

Brownthroated Martin

Diederick Cuckoo


Redbilled Firefinch

Nile Crocodile

Common Scimitarbill

Greenbacked Heron

African Hoopoe

Crowned Hornbill

Purple Roller

Glossy Starling

Monotonous Lark


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