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Ken Borland



Those were the days of struggle & now Benkenstein is back 0

Posted on November 29, 2017 by Ken

 

New Proteas batting coach Dale Benkenstein’s last involvement with the national cricket set-up was 15 years ago, in October 2002, when he played his 23rd and final ODI for South Africa against Bangladesh in Benoni, perhaps a suitably low-key finale to an international playing career that promised much but was never brought to full bloom.

Those were the days when South African cricket was still recovering from the demise and tragic death just four months previously of Hansie Cronje, the much-admired captain who was then exposed as a match-fixer.

Those were also the days when the World Cup curse was really starting to engulf the South African team – Benkenstein was watching from the changeroom as a non-playing squad member when they threw away their 1999 semifinal against Australia in farcical circumstances and was a spectator at Kingsmead in 2003 when the shambles over their understanding of the Duckworth/Lewis calculations knocked them out of the tournament.

Benkenstein, having marked himself out as a natural leader with his captaincy of the SA U19 side, was given the reins of a star-studded Natal team at the age of just 22 and did such a great job that he quickly became the heir apparent to Cronje in the national team.

But those were also the days when there appeared to be a tendency for the existing captain to suppress the development of his closest rival: Under Cronje’s watch, Benkenstein was never really given a fair chance to establish himself in the national team. He would play one or two games and then be left out, or would be shifted up and down the batting order, in a manner that seemed to suggest life was being made as tough as possible for him.

Neil McKenzie, similarly, seemed to struggle to hold down a place while Shaun Pollock was skipper and it was Graeme Smith who finally ended the trend as he actively pushed for McKenzie’s return to the national team.

Benkenstein did have his shortcomings as an international batsman – but almost all batsmen at that level have weaknesses which they work hard to avoid being exposed. But those very flaws help make the 43-year-old an excellent batting coach because he understands the dynamics of technique and the massive importance of the mental side of batting, having wrestled with those issues himself.

The best coaches are often not the former players with the best records, simply because they have empathy for the struggling cricketer, and Graham Ford, who played such a key role in the development of players such as Benkenstein, Pollock, Jonty Rhodes and Lance Klusener at Natal, is the prime example of that.

Benkenstein and the new Proteas head coach, Ottis Gibson, are former team-mates at Durham, the English county that was only elevated into top-level cricket in 1992, and it was the arrival of the Natal captain that ended years of disappointment and elevated them into a force in the UK. So the West Indian is well aware of his new batting coach’s inspirational qualities, and he and Benkenstein added 315 for the seventh wicket in 2006 to avoid relegation. Gibson played a major role with the ball in the trophies won thereafter.

Given that South Africa’s World Cup struggles are symptomatic of muddled mental skills at key times, the arrival of one of the clearest thinkers on the game can only be a positive.

But one hopes that the skills of McKenzie, another ex-Protea who brings immense value to the changeroom, will not be lost to South African cricket now that Benkenstein has taken his place in the national set-up.

The appointment of Malibongwe Maketa as the assistant coach is also pleasing as the development of Black African coaches is vital if the transformation of South African cricket is to progress, but one obviously feels for Geoff Toyana, the Highveld Lions coach who seemed certain to be involved with the national team in some capacity.

The acquisition of a few more domestic trophies will certainly keep Toyana’s name in the conversation to succeed Gibson, however.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20171125/282325385282186

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.

A simple calculation for WP: Forward might is right 0

Posted on October 28, 2017 by Ken

 

It may not be a straightforward calculation to measure the exact amount of momentum Western Province gained from their pack in the Currie Cup final against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday, but it was simple as anything to work out that it was the visiting forwards who played the key role in their convincing 33-21 victory.

At practically every scrum, the Sharks were going backwards, and even on the one occasion they got the shove on Western Province, it still ended in a try for the visitors as eighthman Nizaam Carr broke blind and set up fellow loose forward Cobus Wiese for the try.

Western Province were also dominant on the gain-line, meeting a Sharks pack, that has powered through most other opposition this season, head-on in a brutal battle.

Western Province flyhalf Robert du Preez was a composed general behind this juggernaut pack, while opposite number Curwin Bosch lost his cool, being exposed defensively and only succeeding with 50% of his kicks at goal.

It took a while for the Western Province ace to be reflected on the scoreboard though, with the Sharks thriving in the first half as they capitalised on soft mistakes by the visitors to run up a 21-10 lead that lasted until the final moments before the break.

The Sharks were tied down in their 22 as the final hooter went and, even though Carr was held up over the line by Garth April, a five-metre scrum resulted in concerted pressure, and eventually wing Kobus van Wyk rushed out of the defensive line, allowing opposite number Dillyn Leyds to go over in the corner.

From that point on, the Sharks were on the back foot; pushed back on the gain-line, unable to get their hands on the ball and condemned to playing in the wrong areas of the field by the tactical nous of on-song flyhalf Robert du Preez.

Wiese’s 51st-minute try brought Western Province practically back on level terms and they took the lead for the first and final time when Bosch went high on wing Seabela Senatla, who brushed him off and was able to offload to centre Huw Jones, who skipped past a few defenders on his way to the tryline.

Western Province then relied on the boot of Du Preez to close out the game and they can justifiably feel proud by how they finished the season as thoroughly convincing champions, having been underwhelming in the opening half of the competition.

No team can expect to win a final with their pack being so badly beaten, but the Sharks certainly made a good fist of it for the first 35 minutes.

Despite being shoved off the ball in the opening scrum to concede a tighthead, it all started so positively for the Sharks with centre Marius Louw slicing through the Western Province defence like a can-opener to set up Odwa Ndungane, in his 251st and last game for the Sharks, with a dream try.

But glory can turn into humiliation very quickly in finals and Jones then stepped inside an on-rushing Ndungane for Western Province’s opening try just four minutes later. The Sharks will be more disappointed that they conceded a five-metre scrum, from which the try came, through players just being in the wrong place at the wrong time at a ruck, resulting in accidental offsides.

Eighthman Daniel du Preez then muscled his way over in the 18th minute, but it would end up as a bad day for the twins as Jean-Luc had to be helped off the field moments later with an ankle injury, and Daniel would be yellow-carded late in the second half for tackling a player off the ball.

Having their most physical forward excluded from the gain-line battle certainly didn’t help the Sharks, but to be fair, Western Province were already dominating the scrums and had kept Jean-Luc in check up until his departure.

The home crowd would have hoped the phenomenal long-range drop goal Bosch fired over off a retreating scrum would mean the youngster was settling into the game, but unfortunately the pressure was inexorably transferred on to him and the Springbok hopeful did not handle it well.

The game-management of Robert du Preez was outstanding, though, and the other chief heroes for Western Province in a fine all-round display were Wilco Louw, the player of the match for the way he provided the foundation for the huge scrummaging display that laid the platform for victory; Jones, the Scotsman who brought tremendous physical presence and great feet to the midfield, and Carr, the workhorse of the team.

The Western Province front row, with Bongi Mbonambi and JC Janse van Rensburg providing powerful support to Louw, is where the victory had its starting point though.

 

The John McFarland Column: In praise of the Crusaders, SuperRugby champions 0

Posted on August 10, 2017 by Ken

 

Congratulations to the Crusaders for winning the SuperRugby final and one can only give them credit for an unbelievable season.

They lost just one game, against the Hurricanes in Wellington, and they are the first team to win the final after flying across the Indian Ocean.

Keeping the Lions to just two tries – even with just 14 men – was a heck of a defensive effort, especially with all the flying they had to do.

But the Crusaders are a very experienced group built on a tremendous forward pack. Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Israel Dagg, in the backline, are four world-class players and guys like Matt Todd and Ryan Crotty are really solid players too.

The Crusaders’ set-pieces were very strong and, as predicted, it was a different kettle of fish in the lineouts for the Lions, with Whitelock making some crucial steals, and they negated the lineout drive.

The Lions’ strength is built on forward dominance, at the lineout and scrum, but with four international front-rowers in their squad, the Crusaders stood up very well. They have an international-class tight five, plus Luke Romano off the bench and Kieran Read is one of the best lineout forwards in the world.

You could see how much it meant for the Lions – they really wanted to send off Johan Ackermann on a high – but the red card obviously had a huge effect.

It was the right decision by the officials, there’s no two ways about it.

The decision by Elton Jantjies to send up the high kick would have been because their ball was a bit slow, but then the chaser (flank Kwagga Smith) was sprinting and not even looking at the ball. The rule is quite clear that if you land up under the guy catching the ball – who is now in a very vulnerable position – it’s a red card.

In the Varsity Cup, there is already the rule that if the defending team catches an up-and-under and calls for the mark, then it’s a free kick, which makes teams less prone to try the high kick.

In a lot of situations, you’re dealing with specialists (the wings) doing the chasing and catching, but the problem comes when someone not used to it, it’s not their role, ends up doing the chasing or catching.

But rugby must never lose the contest for the high ball, it’s been part of the game since the 1930s in Ireland when the Garryowen was used in the rain.

If it’s a fair contest and both sets of eyes are on the ball, then all good, but Kwagga probably needed to wait until David Havili had come down before trying to tackle him.

The Crusaders were well in control at that stage, but the Lions are known for their finishing at altitude and it was 14-10 with 14 men in the second half and they were pushing hard.

Defensively, Kieran Read’s brilliant tackle on Elton Jantjies forced the turnover and a 70-metre try as the Lions ran out of width and Ross Cronje had to try and chase the wing; while Read’s own try came when Ruan Combrinck was the last defender at the goalposts, so the Lions were obviously in trouble there.

The Crusaders built up a big enough lead to force Jantjies not to kick for poles, but the Lions need to realise the importance of taking your points in finals rugby. It reminds me of 2012 with the Bulls in New Zealand when we lost 28-13 to the Crusaders in Christchurch. We outscored them two tries to one, but Dan Carter kicked six penalties and a drop goal. That’s always the right mindset in playoffs, especially at altitude because the game can change very quickly.

As the Crusaders coach back then, Todd Blackadder, used to say: “You must take every point,” and the New Zealand side certainly did that in this year’s final.

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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