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Ken Borland



The biggest need for the Proteas is stability 0

Posted on August 22, 2017 by Ken

 

Whoever the new coach of the Standard Bank Proteas will be, the team’s biggest need at present is for stability after all the disruptions of the England tour that ended with South Africa being heavily beaten in four days in the fourth and final Test, losing the rubber 3-1, their first series loss in England since 1998 and their heaviest defeat since losing 3-0 to Colin Cowdrey’s team in 1960.

The frontrunner to replace Russell Domingo, judging by media reports, is Ottis Gibson, the current England bowling coach and the former West Indies head coach who won the World T20 in 2012. The 48-year-old Barbadian has both the international experience – having been involved at that level for 11 years – and the local knowledge, having played in South Africa for the better part of the 1990s for Border, Griqualand West and Gauteng.

The list of disruptions the Proteas suffered on their tour of England, with the Tests following their defeats in both limited-overs series and the disappointment of an early exit in the Champions Trophy, starts with Domingo. The coach was not only in the awkward position of not knowing whether the tour would be his last in charge, but then had the awful heartbreak of his mother being involved in a car accident and eventually tragically passing away, forcing Domingo to leave the squad on two occasions and fly back home.

The Proteas were not only without their coach but they also went into the series without their galvanising skipper Faf du Plessis, who missed the first Test at Lord’s having stayed in South Africa for the difficult birth of his first child; a hard call but a totally understandable one.

Du Plessis returned for the second Test at Trent Bridge, with the Proteas winning by a whopping 340 runs. But they were brought back down to earth, hitting the ground hard, in the last two Tests, losing by 239 and 177 runs respectively.

The combination of Vernon Philander and Chris Morris as bowling all-rounders worked a treat in the second Test, but not in the third as Philander suffered an untimely, debilitating illness having made the ball talk in spectacular fashion as he did great work on the first day at the Oval.

The stalwart of the attack then pulled out of the fourth Test with a sore back, prompting Du Plessis to snipe that Philander needed to work harder on his fitness.

The captain shows refreshing candour in press conferences and he basically also confirmed that AB de Villiers’ Test career is dead and the team need to move on as quickly as possible.

At the moment it seems as though they have been left hanging by De Villiers, with three different batsmen being used in the crucial number four spot against England.

For me, Du Plessis should step up, take responsibility and bat in the number four position. He can bat both time and aggressively, and as captain he also needs to set the tone.

Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock, as good as they are, are better suited to coming in lower down the order.

Bavuma has the technique and tenacity to be a middle-order fighter much like Jonty Rhodes was, and his value is often worth more than simply the sum of his runs; he should be batting five or six and can also handle the second new ball and marshal the tail.

De Kock has been touted as the new Adam Gilchrist and needs to be used in the same role as the great Australian wicketkeeper/batsman. De Kock has all the shots and likes to use them, and needs to come in at six or seven where he can play his own, counter-attacking game. Having to rebuild at 40 for two does not suit him and he is the sort of batsman who can shift momentum batting lower down or really take the game away from tired bowlers.

Everything depends on a solid start, however, and South Africa had an average opening stand of just 13.62 against England and nothing higher than 21 between Dean Elgar and Heino Kuhn.

Elgar had a good series in tough conditions, scoring a century and two half-centuries as he made the second most runs (291) for the Proteas, behind Hashim Amla (329), but Kuhn’s place must be under serious threat after he made just 113 runs in eight innings.

Stephen Cook, the man Kuhn replaced, must still be in the mix judging by his century last weekend for the SA A side, while those who believe players of the future must be given as much opportunity as possible will be clamouring for Aiden Markram to make his Test debut against Bangladesh at the end of next month.

But whatever the final selection, there must be far more stability over the coaching situation – who Gibson’s assistants will be is shaping as an interesting discussion – and the captaincy. Surely everyone would feel a lot more settled if Du Plessis was just given the captaincy for all three formats?

The selectors and management also need to make up their minds about batting positions and stick to them, players floating up and down the order is doing nobody any good.

A couple of Tests against Bangladesh should be a good opportunity for the Proteas to regather their balance and get back on the winning trail.

There will be the distraction of the Global T20 League after that, but the South Africans need to get quickly back up to speed because world number one India and Australia, itching for revenge, will be considerable opposition when they arrive on these shores later in the summer.

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.



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