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Ken Borland



Now for the Springboks to lay the same platform in Mendoza 0

Posted on January 23, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks touched the heights of greatness in the emotional, inspirational atmosphere of the FNB Stadium last weekend; the challenge will be for them to repeat that sort of performance in the hostile, unfamiliar surrounds of Mendoza in the return fixture against Argentina on Saturday night.

The 73-13 victory over the Pumas as the country celebrated the Nelson Mandela Sports and Culture Day was the biggest win ever in the Rugby Championship or the Tri-Nations that preceded it, and the Springboks were rightly lauded for the record nine tries they scored in producing some dazzling attacking play.

But the foundation for that win was laid up front by the massive ball-carrying efforts of Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts, and the set-piece excellence of the tight five.

Given the time and space, and the platform to shine, the backline then showed what they are capable of.

It is little surprise that coach Heyneke Meyer has chosen the same starting XV to take on Argentina this weekend, with the only change to the squad being the promotion of Jano Vermaak to reserve scrumhalf in the absence of Fourie du Preez, who will not be part of any of South Africa’s away games, as per the wishes of his Japanese club, Suntory Sungoliath.

The continuity that Meyer has engendered through his selections has allowed the confidence in the side to grow markedly through seven consecutive wins. It is still early days in the Rugby Championship, but at the moment the two sides on an upward trajectory are the Springboks and their arch-rivals, the All Blacks.

But to ensure that they keep tracking the world’s number one side, the South Africans are going to have to bend their backs and put in another big effort in Mendoza.

A year ago, almost to the day, that hunger was missing as South Africa scraped a fortuitous draw against Argentina at the same venue.

As the actress may well have said to the bishop, “it’s what you put in that counts”, and the Springboks will have to put in an even bigger effort amongst the forwards to soften the Pumas in front of their most passionate supporters.

The Springboks have obviously adjusted better than expected to the requirements of the new scrum laws but the return of the bajada, which seems tailor-made to the new engagement sequence, cannot be far off.

The loss of the injured Patricio Albacete will place the Pumas lineout under even more pressure, following the dominance of Juandre Kruger and Etzebeth last weekend, and the effectiveness of the rolling maul – there seemed to be a total lack of a defensive plan against it from Argentina – means that set-piece should once again provide a great attacking platform for the Springboks.

The improvement shown at the breakdown will be under even more scrutiny this weekend as the Springboks will have to adapt to the vagaries of referee Steve Walsh, who will have a vocal crowd on his back in the most intimate of venues. The hostile atmosphere in the sunken stadium is epitomised by its name – the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas – which literally means Argentina’s Falklands Islands Stadium, a defiant show of the country’s claim on that territory.

If the Springboks do get the same sort of front-foot ball they enjoyed last weekend, then they can be expected to canter to victory once again. The arrival of Willie le Roux and JJ Engelbrecht, and the continued spark shown by Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers, has allowed the Springboks to bury suggestions they are dour and one-dimensional on attack.

And one of the most encouraging features of the opening round win was the crisp, snappy service provided by scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar – Meyer said it was the best game the Ulster-based veteran had produced under his coaching.

Adding Le Roux to the mix at fullback has certainly brought an extra dimension with the Cheetahs star’s vision and ability to put others in space reminiscent of the great Andre Joubert.

The form of Morne Steyn at flyhalf has also been superb in all departments all year.

The only player who didn’t shine last weekend was wing Bjorn Basson, although it’s fair to say the run of play didn’t go his way. The Bulls player will need to make himself more involved, however, if the temptation to move Le Roux to wing and play Pat Lambie at fullback is not to take seed in Meyer’s mind.

Lambie came off the bench last weekend and set up the seventh try with a superb break, epitomising the tremendous impact that the bench had. Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Vermaak, Lambie and Jan Serfontein could all easily distinguish themselves in the starting line-up and the softening-up process the Springboks employ – their subdue and penetrate style – is hugely boosted by having such a powerful bench.

The Springboks have the ideal chance on Saturday to make up for the dismal showing on the previous trip to Argentina. The confidence is there, the game plan is in place; all that’s needed now is the hunger to quell what will be a fiery Pumas response to the humiliation they suffered at the FNB Stadium.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-23-boks-vs-argentina-bring-it-home-at-hostile-mendoza/#.WIdV01N97IU

Boks honour Madiba with inspired rout of Argentina 0

Posted on January 20, 2017 by Ken

 

Captain Jean de Villiers praised “Madiba Magic” for once again inspiring the Springboks as they registered a record-breaking 73-13 annihilation of Argentina in their opening Rugby Championship game at FNB Stadium on Saturday.

The Springboks returned to Soweto to be part of Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day to honour the unwell Father of the Nation. The tremendous atmosphere undoubtedly inspired them as they played in front of an audience that was far more representative of the demographics of the country than usual, thanks to Bafana Bafana playing before them in a 2-0 victory over Burkina Faso.

“The atmosphere was fantastic and we definitely enjoyed it. Today was about more than just rugby and sport, it was about the whole of South Africa, uniting the nation and celebrating someone who did that so well. The Madiba Magic worked for us again,” De Villiers said.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer also tapped into the occasion in motivating his team.

“The team talk was simple: I told them it was a special occasion and they should produce a big performance to make Madiba proud, and also to show a lot of soccer supporters who haven’t seen us play before what we can do,” Meyer said after the game. “It was one of those days when everything went right, what stood out was how clinical we were and we built an innings well.”

But the biggest victory in the history of the Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship didn’t just happen thanks to everything coming together magically day-of. Meyer is renowned as a tactician and strategist and plenty of homework has gone into this year’s Sanzar tournament, with the coach pointing out how much more time he has had to prepare this time around.

The attention to detail was most obvious in the scrum laws, where a new engagement sequence was being used for the first time. Far from the new laws hurting the Springbok forwards, as some quarters in Australia have suggested, it seems South Africa, under the astute guidance of former French prop Pieter de Villiers, might well be pioneers in this new era of scrummaging. The highly respected Pumas scrum was dominated throughout and they even conceded a try from a tighthead late in the second half.

As Meyer pointed out, the entire coaching team deserved credit for the impressive performance. Meyer has made it his mission to fix the Springboks’ breakdown woes, the main cause of the controversial quarterfinal exit from the 2011 World Cup, and the acquisition of Scottish breakdown expert Richie Gray has clearly paid dividends as South Africa were far more efficient in the rucks than when they last played Argentina and were held to a messy 16-16 draw. Four of the nine Springbok tries came from rolling mauls, the speciality of forward coach Johan van Graan, while the lineout was imperious and the defence excellent under John McFarland. The backs, under the guidance of Ricardo Loubscher, played with an air of adventure and intent that has not always been apparent.

Meyer is a strong proponent of laying a solid platform in a Test, building pressure, and the Springboks eased into Saturday’s match with three penalties in the first quarter from Morne Steyn, all from a long way out. The in-form flyhalf would go on to miss just one of his 13 kicks at goal as he netted 28 points – the third most in a Sanzar Test – and he also distributed slickly, a lovely inside pass for Duane Vermeulen’s try and the counter-attack he sparked that led to JJ Engelbrecht’s touchdown shortly before half-time being the highlights.

It was Vermeulen’s break on the half-hour that led to the Springboks’ opening try, the eighthman making an impressive return to top-flight rugby after a knee injury. After several penalties, and seeing several rolling mauls pulled down, referee Chris Pollock, in conjunction with the TMO, had little choice but to award a penalty try and a yellow card after Pumas hooker Eusebio Guinazu deliberately slapped down a pass to prevent Ruan Pienaar from scoring a try in an overlap.

Engelbrecht’s try, after Steyn’s counter-attack and a deft chip by Willie le Roux, was the Springboks’ second, but they proceeded to run riot in the second half as seven further tries were scored to break the previous Sanzar record of eight (scored by South Africa against Australia at Loftus Versfeld in 1997).

The massive victory had its foundation in the ability of ferocious ball-carriers like Eben Etzebeth, Willem Alberts, Vermeulen and Adriaan Strauss to smash their way over the advantage line from the steady supply of front-foot balls they were allowed to enjoy by the Springboks’ dominance in the scrums and lineouts.

Apart from the magnificent performance of the pack, Meyer will also have to mull over selection because alongside as the starting XV played, there were some performances off the bench that were equally compelling.

What wonderful depth the Springbok coach has at his disposal when Strauss – named man of the match – can be replaced by the best hooker in the world in Bismarck du Plessis, while the two substitute props, Gurthro Steenkamp and Coenie Oosthuizen, seamlessly continued the great work of Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis.

While Etzebeth stole the show with his rampaging display, Juandre Kruger was superb in the lineouts and the Springboks don’t lose much when Flip van der Merwe enters the fray. Siya Kolisi was all energy when he came on in the 65th minute, while Pat Lambie and Jan Serfontein both made telling runs that led to tries in their short cameos.

But it was the 25-minute display by substitute scrumhalf Fourie du Preez that had most tongues wagging. It’s a great pity that his Japanese club, Suntory Sungoliath, will only allow him to play in the Springboks’ home fixtures, because the 2007 World Cup hero oozed class and he also seems to get the best out of starting halfback Pienaar.

“I’m very happy with both the scrumhalves. That was Ruan’s best performance since I started coaching him, while Fourie showed he still has a lot of speed, he was brilliant and he still managed to pick up the tempo even more. I think he brought out the best in Ruan, and Jano Vermaak and Piet van Zyl must step up now too.

“One of our really strong points was our unbelievable bench. Usually things become loose when you bring on a lot of replacements, but the subs were awesome today. I was even able to take my captain off with 25 minutes left,” Meyer said.

While 52,000 people at the FNB Stadium were treated to a wonderful main show on a great day, the scary thing is the Springboks could well have won by more. In the first half especially, their backs fluffed chances due to poor handling and a lack of cohesion.

“We still didn’t use all our opportunities, we created a couple that we didn’t capitalise on. And to put everything in perspective, we were playing against a team that had two yellow cards and we scored an intercept try,” De Villiers admitted.

“We expect a totally different beast in Mendoza, they’ll be hurting. But we need to enjoy this win, days like this don’t come along very often, and we have some confidence to build on.”

We will have to wait until the Springboks have played a couple more games in this tournament before we have enough evidence for a final verdict on their ability to unseat the world champion All Blacks, who ensured a torrid debut for Ewen McKenzie as Wallabies coach as they thumped Australia 47-29 in Sydney.

It was a very poor night for the Pumas, who were also disrupted by losing two key players in lock Patricio Albacete and fullback Juan Martin Hernandez in the first half. How much of that was down to the Springboks’ brilliance is difficult to quantify. But the portents are good for a much stronger South African challenge in this year’s Rugby Championship.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-19-springboks-pummel-pumas/#.WIH421N97IU

All eyes on FNB Stadium as football, rugby & music share the stage 0

Posted on December 19, 2016 by Ken

 

Notwithstanding the awful events in Cairo, the eyes of much of the sporting world will be on South Africa on Saturday as a football international and a rugby Test are played at the same stadium on the same day.

Bafana Bafana will take on Burkina Faso in a friendly at FNB Stadium from 1.30pm, to be followed by the Springboks’ Rugby Championship opener against Argentina from 5pm, and it’s all to celebrate the birthday of Nelson Mandela, the Messiah from the Transkei, as the Parlotones call Madiba.

With a music concert to come after the rugby match, there is plenty of scope for things to get messy as a soccer field has to be turned into an international rugby pitch.

For the sake of the ailing former president’s good name, let’s hope everything works smoothly.

But the Springboks have a different kind of mess to try and avoid on Saturday.

Their last meeting with Argentina ended in a 16-16 draw in Mendoza last August as the Pumas turned the breakdowns, now the most important facet of rugby, into a messy scramble for possession. The naïve Springboks failed to protect their ball in the rucks, the cleaners weren’t there to hold off a horde of spoilers, and South Africa could never get their game plan going and were fortunate to escape with a draw thanks to a charge-down try by Frans Steyn.

This year, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has tried to ensure the breakdowns are an area of strength for his team. Not only has he hired a Scot – Richie Gray – as a specialist consultant for that key area, but he has also chosen a back row that features two players renown for their ability in the rucks in eighthman Duane Vermeulen and openside flank Francois Louw.

With Siya Kolisi, another loose forward who plays to the ball, on the bench it is clear Meyer has placed new emphasis on the breakdowns.

Of course, quick ball still has to be used wisely and much will depend on how sharp scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and subsititute Fourie du Preez, a hero of yesterday making an international comeback a la George Smith, are when it comes to controlling the game and distributing to the backline.

It’s easy to picture Saturday’s groundbreaking Test becoming a dour battle for territory.

Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn spoke this week about righting the wrongs of that Mendoza shocker and using a kicking game to pin Argentina in their own half, while not spending too much time in their own territory.

Meyer sometimes errs on the side of caution in selection and strategy, but it is encouraging that he has chosen the likes of Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht and Bjorn Basson in the backline.

All of them have formidable attacking strengths but they have also all made defensive blunders this year that would have been enough to send them to church on Sunday for forgiveness. But there’s no doubt fullback Le Roux has added vision and spark to the backline, Engelbrecht has the pace and strength to cut defences to shreds and Basson has brilliant ability in the air and tremendous pace on the counter-attack.

Forward play has traditionally been the strength of the Pumas and Meyer has identified that it is amongst the backs, where veterans Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers are playing as well as they ever have, where the Springboks could have a clear edge.

The Argentina team has been rocked by the absence of star loose forward Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and highly-rated prop Marcos Ayerza, but it is still crucial that the Springboks have done their homework on the new scrum laws, that seem tailor-made to the famous bajada scrum employed by the Pumas.

A weak scrum has done irreparable damage to several team’s chances already this year, but Meyer is a great believer in laying a platform up front in the set-pieces.

A great deal of work has also been done on the Springbok lineout, where the rapidly-maturing Juandre Kruger has returned in the number five jersey.

Providing everyone does their job clinically, the Springboks should have too much firepower for Argentina, who lost 27-6 to the Springboks in Cape Town in their Rugby Championship debut last year.

Speaking of debuts, Ewen McKenzie will make his first appearance as the new Australian coach when they take on the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday.

McKenzie, the Queensland Reds coach until last month, has put his trust mostly in a bunch of players who led the Brumbies into the SuperRugby final.

Chief among those is Matt Toomua, the debutant who has been put in the crucial flyhalf position, ahead of Reds pivot Quade Cooper, who is back in the Wallabies squad after falling out with previous coach Robbie Deans.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-16-preview-boks-and-bafana-have-their-work-cut-out-at-fnb-stadium/#.WFkjr1N97IU

Beware the slip-up as Springboks take on Argentina 0

Posted on December 09, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springboks open their Rugby Championship campaign with a game against Argentina at the FNB Stadium on Saturday that has huge potential to be a real banana peel of a match – everyone expects South Africa to maintain their unbeaten record against the Pumas, but a slip-up and a defeat on home turf is still a definite possibility.

Duane Vermeulen, a powerful, physical eighthman, returns to the back of the scrum after a season once again disrupted by injury, while Juandre Kruger, a brilliant lineout organiser and jumper, is back in the number five jersey.

There are a couple of new faces on the bench as well – although the actual visages of scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and prop Gurthro Steenkamp are famous all over the rugby world as experienced former World Cup winners.

Vermeulen comes in for the injured Pierre Spies, the Bulls’ eighthman whose abilities are way more highly rated by the Springbok management than by those who base their opinion on televised displays.

 

“Duane can bring something different, he’s physical and unbelievably good on the ground, he’s like an extra openside flank because he competes very well for the ball. He’s good in the lineout too and I expect a good performance from him,” Meyer said on Wednesday.

Kruger, a good communicator in the lineout, returns in place of Flip van der Merwe, who moved from his normal number four position to number five to add some fire to the pack for their last Test against the combative Samoans in June.

For the time being, Meyer has decided to ease the Japan-based Du Preez into action off the bench, with Ruan Pienaar again the starting scrumhalf.

While we all wait with bated breath to see whether the talismanic 31-year-old can still dominate proceedings on the field as he did during his prime, there is no doubting Du Preez’s off-field value in guiding and motivating the Springboks.

“It would be unfair to expect and a lot to ask for Fourie to come straight in and start during his off-season, and it’s the right thing for the team for him to ease back in. He will definitely get game time and that’s a lot of experience to bring on,” Meyer said.

Meyer said Pienaar’s retention in the number nine jersey was all part of his desire for continuity.

“Ruan is the number one choice, he’s the guy in the saddle and we’ve opted for continuity.

“I don’t want to chop and change every week, we’ve won six Tests on the trot and we want to take that momentum forward. We’ve only had one week’s proper preparation for this Test, so that’s why I wanted to keep continuity. Because we’ve had very little time to prepare, continuity has been the deciding factor in selection,” Meyer said.

Because of this policy, the in-form Adriaan Strauss also retains the number two jersey ahead of the benched Bismarck du Plessis, who is considered the best hooker in the world.

The other key features of the selection are Meyer placing his faith in Willie le Roux at fullback and Bjorn Basson on the left wing, while the scavenging skills of Siya Kolisi see him earn the loose forward reserve’s spot on the bench ahead of ball-carrier and tackler Marcell Coetzee, a result of the coach’s new emphasis on the breakdown.

The defensive frailties of Basson are a concern and the awful mistake he made in the Bulls’ 22 during the SuperRugby final led to the match-winning, last-minute try by the Brumbies. JJ Engelbrecht, the outside centre for Saturday’s Test, has also shown a propensity to rush out of the defensive line, and the cut-throat intensity of international rugby means such mistakes can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

“We’ve only had one defence session during the week and it’s difficult to fix things like that in that time. But they are both great players and I have a lot of confidence in our defence, we’ve only been conceding a little more than one try per Test on average.

“Bjorn and JJ are both brilliant attackers and that means the other guys need to defend too. I want an attacking mindset, they say the best form of defence is attack, and even the best backline in the world will make mistakes now and then,” Meyer said.

Kolisi confirmed that the breakdown would be his key focus.

“I want to become more of an openside flank and I’ve been working hard on slowing down the ball and getting to the ball first. Richie Gray [the Springboks’ new breakdown consultant] really knows what he is talking about and he’s had us getting quickly off the ground.

“These days you can’t play with nobody for the breakdown, you need quick ball in order to score tries, and we’re looking forward to getting better in that department.

“It’s my first game in the Rugby Championship, so it’s huge for me. I don’t feel entrenched in the squad because there are a lot of good loose forwards, and I must perform well every week to stay part of the 23,” Kolisi said.

Meyer said pace to the breakdowns would be crucial against Argentina because they employ similar tactics to the All Blacks.

“Argentina give you the outside gaps and then counter-ruck you, like the All Blacks do. So cleaning out at the rucks is very important,” Meyer said.

Meyer will hope for the same precision and attention to detail in all facets of the game if the Springboks are to avoid turning the celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s birthday into a sorry start to the Rugby Championship.

Team: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bjorn Basson, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Juandre Kruger, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16-Bismarck du Plessis, 17-Gurthro Steenkamp, 18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Flip van der Merwe, 20-Siya Kolisi, 21-Fourie du Preez, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-15-rugby-championship-boks-lineup-will-have-its-hands-full-against-argentina/#.WFPh-rJ97IU



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