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John McFarland Column – Defence and touring are the talking points 0

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Ken

 

Two of the main talking points among South African SuperRugby followers at the moment are the apparent slackening in the defence of the local franchises and the resting of players for the away matches against the Jaguares and Sunwolves.

Questions have been raised about the defence of the South African franchises, especially after the Bulls leaked six tries against the Blues in Auckland last weekend. But it’s not just the Bulls – there are a lot more tries being scored this year in general.

The reason is that over the last year the attack has gone a lot wider and there are more players behind the ball. Sure, the rules have changed a bit, like the tackle law favouring more offloads, but the game has changed over the last year with people more willing now to leave forwards in the wide channels.

Most teams now play 2-4-2 or 1-3-3-1 with their forwards spread out across the field, and we are seeing more loose forwards standing in the backline.

In terms of the tries the Blues scored against the Bulls, we often saw two forwards in the outer extremities running against backs. When you have a big man on a smaller man, you’re more likely to be able to get an offload away. The Blues were able to score either because the Bulls simply ran out of numbers or they were able to effect excellent offloads by having support players behind the ball.

Three or four years ago, teams would have their forwards in two pods of four, but now they leave them in channels across the field and you will often see a hooker or back-row forward in the 15-metres-from-touch zone. The All Blacks have been doing this for the last five years and England did it between 2000 and 2003.

The reason it’s being done is because it’s now been proved, thanks to every player being fitted with a GPS that measures how many metres they have run and at what speed, that a lot less energy is used if the forwards are spread across the field than if they follow the ball. That’s how this new trend has evolved.

I actually thought the quality of the Bulls defence was very good in the first half, but they were found out in the second half when they just ran out of steam, too much juice had been taken out of their legs. That meant the Bulls’ backs and wings were always in a numbers situation, they could not get their width back and get back into line, so they were always under pressure.

To be fair though, the try from the restart was because at the kickoff you usually leave players back – the three outside backs and the scrumhalf on the chip-kick – and with four players out of the defensive line you will be vulnerable. But it was a good try and the Blues’ first try also featured fantastic offloads.

It’s difficult to stop offloads in the wide channels because you’re also dealing with footwork because of all the space available out there.

We always faced these same difficulties against New Zealand sides and some days we were more successful dealing with them than on others. The keys are a high level of conditioning, especially amongst the forwards, and to work hard at the breakdown. If you can’t get tacklers over the ball to slow it down, then the opposition just gets quick ball and quicker ball, and momentum, and then it’s difficult to set a defensive line. That’s what happened to the Bulls and it put Jamba Ulengo under real pressure on the wing.

But Pine Pienaar is an experienced defensive coach, now in his fourth year in the job, and he will be very aware of all this and will know how to fix it. After all, the Blue Bulls made the Currie Cup final last year and you don’t get there without having a good defence.

Handre Pollard had a better game and I’m looking forward to him coming through, he’s going a level up every week.

But it’s an horrendous draw for the Bulls to have all those away games up front, it’s the hardest draw in Super Rugby because you can never get on the front foot. Even a brilliant coach like John Plumtree was let go by the Sharks in 2013 after that sort of draw, and Allister Coetzee also had a season starting with numerous away games with the Stormers.

So it can happen that you get on a downward spiral. Super Rugby is such a tough competition that you always go through crises, but it’s how you deal with them that counts.

There have been suggestions that South African teams are concentrating more on attack to the detriment of their defence, but they will always get enough time during the week to work on their defence, that will never change. Generally teams train for 50 minutes on the Monday, then Tuesday is virtually a full session, the major day for defence, with contact. Then on Thursday attack will be the focus, but it’s not true that teams are concentrating too much on attack!

Each coach will have equal time to work within that on their area, teams split their time evenly between attack and defence.

In terms of weakened teams going to play the Jaguares in Argentina, that would have been pre-planned. Teams have to rest their frontline players in accordance with the Saru guidelines and it’s a helluva trip. You leave on the Sunday morning, flying 10-11 hours to Sao Paulo, where you have a three-hour wait before flying for four hours to Buenos Aires, only arriving on Monday afternoon, so you can’t train then. Teams will have a light practice on the Tuesday, with just one major session on the Thursday.

And coming back from Argentina is even worse!

What coaches like Johan Ackermann and Franco Smith have done is look at their next games and those have been vital, the problem with travelling to Argentina is always the game after that one, but that’s just the nature of the competition.

Singapore is also 10 hours away and it’s very humid and hot there. The Stormers took it as a chance to get some fringe guys some rugby.

Teams are merely following medical advice on how to keep their players fresh and get their best rugby out of them, plus players are more susceptible to ailments on these long trips.

The Lions proved last year that you need home advantage to win SuperRugby, but they needed to be at their best in the knockout games, hence their decision to rest players for their last round-robin game in Argentina.

 

 

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.

For now, Hoskins just wants to talk about the good times 0

Posted on September 03, 2016 by Ken

 

South African rugby followers are going to hear more from outgoing president Oregan Hoskins when the time is right, he said, but for now he wants to dwell on the positives of his 10-year term which ended when he stood down earlier this month.

‘I have always been truthful and I will talk, but it’s just a question of timing. There are legal issues that mean I can’t say anything now, but once I am not beholden to anyone then I will speak,” Hoskins told Saturday Citizen.

“You can never please everybody as president, but there are some great memories, from being the first person of colour to become president, spending a weekend in Bloemfontein with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, being a director of the Rugby World Cup and living in the houses of friends all over South Africa, rather than staying in hotels. It was an opportunity to get to know South Africans of all colours and creeds and there are unbelievable memories,” Hoskins said.

Transformation and the structure of the game are two issues still bedevilling South African rugby, with Hoskins saying progress had been made in the former.

“I’ve seen transformation happen at all levels, I’ve seen it in the supporters and it makes me so proud, that was a victory for me. Ten years ago there were lots of questions about the national team, but now it is less of a big issue. The major stakeholders, government and sponsors need to jointly govern transformation.

“There’s no doubt the structure of South African rugby is totally flawed and we are still a long way off getting it right. Many of our efforts don’t grow because of the poor system and until there is total equity ownership of all rugby entities from clubs to franchises, it’s going to be very difficult to satisfy the political demands rugby faces,” Hoskins said.

Tendai Mtawarira will equal Os du Randt’s record for the most capped Springbok prop on Saturday in Argentina, but Hoskins remembers him in tears in his house in 2009 when his Test career was still at a fledgling stage.

“I’ll never forget a young Beast walking into my house in Westville in tears because Makhenkesi Stofile had phoned and said he can’t play for the Springboks anymore because he wasn’t a South African citizen. Beast was broken and I made it my duty to make sure he played for the Springboks. I got to meet Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, then at Home Affairs, and pleaded with her and she gave Beast citizenship there and then, so he became a Springbok again,” Hoskins recalled.

Helping to bring stability in the Springbok coaching position will also be a lasting legacy of Hoskins’.

Helping to grow rugby in Africa will be Hoskins’ focus in the game for the time being, with a shipment of kit on its way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo thanks to his efforts already.

Organisers learning the hard way about tournament integrity 0

Posted on April 26, 2016 by Ken

 

The organisers of the Varsity Cup rugby tournament look set to learn the hard way that, in order for followers to remain invested in their product, the integrity of a sporting competition is most important.

By “integrity” I mean that the way the tournament is run and governed has to be seen to be giving all the competing teams an equal chance, a level playing field. Like English Premier League football, where every team plays the others home and away and the top team on the log wins the trophy.

For students, the Varsity Cup has been a breath of fresh air, a place to hang out with your bros and, no doubt, check out the ladies, all accompanied by typically student quantities of alcohol. But for the organisers, the real target has always been television, where the big money is, hence their decision to play matches this year off-campus.

And for television viewers, a level playing field will be more important than any of the many gimmicks they have come up with in terms of rule-changes. Perhaps Varsity Sports should have paid more attention to simplifying their complex eligibility rules than to coming up with weird and wonderful law variations that, frankly, make me consider the Varsity Cup to be the IPL of South African sport.

The allegation that Pukke had an ineligible player on the park while they beat Maties in the showpiece final is obviously a PR disaster. But it was made even worse because Varsity Sports had already made their bed by earlier slapping an extremely harsh 12-point penalty on the UKZN Impi for the same technical offence – both teams having had their players cleared by the tournament-appointed auditors, KPMG – ensuring that the KwaZulu-Natalians, who have dominated the Varsity Shield for two seasons, no longer had any chance of promotion.

The harsh decision, which their advocate presciently warned was creating a dangerous precedent, caused further disgruntlement for a side that had been forced to play some of their home matches at the ground of their biggest rivals, Wits, albeit because of the unrest that was sweeping university campuses.

UKZN were already feeling like they weren’t really wanted in the big league and there were even allegations from elsewhere in the country that Varsity Sports wanted to ensure foundation members UCT and Wits were in the Varsity Cup, partly because of the cost of playing games in the relatively-isolated province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Whether they remain consistent and strip Pukke of the title or reinstate UKZN, the Varsity Cup management are in a quandary, their failure to run the tournament in a professional manner having been exposed.

But they are not the only ones.

Sanzaar just don’t seem able to settle on a SuperRugby format that will work, with the current competition clearly lopsided in favour of some teams. Some sides don’t have to play the top teams from last year, while some franchises, like the Bulls and Stormers, don’t even have to tour New Zealand, while the Lions and Sharks do.

A competition that was confusing before has become even more complex and unfair, alienating supporters.

Social media was alive this week with another example of an organisation that is playing fast and loose with the integrity of the game – Cricket Australia.

The first day/night Test against New Zealand last November was not an overwhelming success, whatever CA have been saying in the many propaganda press releases they have sent out this week. It was all over in three days, which rather nullifies the commercial advantages because of two days of lost television coverage, and the views of the players involved was hardly one of unbridled enthusiasm.

The problems with seeing the pink ball once it becomes worn meant the Adelaide Oval pitch was a grassy seamer, and 224 was the highest innings total.

AB de Villiers was quite right to point out that the prior experience Australia have of playing in those conditions was a massive advantage, especially in the potentially decisive final Test of the series, at that level where the margins are so small. Perhaps they’re trying to pull a fast one because South Africa was triumphant in the last two Test tours Down Under?

It would be akin to the Springboks being asked to play a Test with a new scrum rule they had never played under.

The concept of day/night Test cricket is a good one, but I have a feeling it will only work if the white clothes go and a white ball is used.

What to do with our bunch of U19 losers? 0

Posted on February 15, 2016 by Ken

 

 

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula will no doubt call them “a bunch of losers”, while many cricket followers, judging by the comments I’ve seen, would want even harsher punishment meted out to the South African U19 team after their dismal display in the ICC junior world cup.

I would normally feel sorry for a group of young men with such expectation heaped on their shoulders to go and perform in a strange land like Bangladesh, especially since their predecessors, the special team led by Ray Jennings, Aiden Markram and Kagiso Rabada, claimed the title in the last tournament two years ago.

But when any South African team loses to Namibia and someone close to the squad slams them for their arrogance and lack of discipline and accuses some of them of just wanting to bolster their CVs before heading overseas, then I begin to wonder whether being charitable is the right response or should they face the music?

Coach Lawrence Mahatlane has come in for brutal criticism, but then he is an easy target. Being Black African, his appointment was immediately greeted with a chorus of “quota appointment”; having not played first-class cricket also counted against him.

I have had many private discussions about cricket with Mahatlane and, in fact, I have played in teams coached by him. Although the level of play and the pressures were obviously vastly different, I can assure sceptics that Mahatlane is as passionate about the game as anyone, including Jennings, and is immensely knowledgeable.

From what I have heard in private from people surrounding the squad, Mahatlane may have been on a hiding to nothing. The health of our U19 cricket always fluctuates, there has been a cycle of great sides and more mediocre ones for decades.

But while one can forgive players for maybe not having as much talent as some of their predecessors, there is absolutely no excuse for a lack of work ethic nor for an attitude that suggests “we have already made it”.

I would describe Mahatlane as someone who cares for his players, but perhaps, behind the scenes, they did not have the necessary respect for their coach, for whatever reason, be it his skin colour or his lack of a playing record.

Jennings was a master of getting such destructive attitudes out in the open and removing them from the set-up, but he also boasted healthy experience as a coach.

With the shocking results of the U19 team coming at the same time as the senior side were struggling against England, alarming questions bordering on panic were asked about the health of the game in South Africa in general.

We should take care not to lose sight of the bigger picture and the context in which these results have occurred. There is an awful amount of negativity feeding into cricket at the moment and this was undoubtedly partly to blame for the disaster in Bangladesh. If players already have it in their heads to emigrate and play for another country, how is the team going to perform, no matter how inspiring the management was?

For those blaming quotas, there was only a pair of Black African players in the loss to Namibia.

To counter-balance that, Namibia played in the CocaCola Khaya Majola Week – the U19 interprovincial – and their performance was underwhelming. They beat Limpopo and North-West on first innings, but lost to Western Province and Northern Cape and were thrashed by 192 runs by Easterns.

Those results perhaps show that there was something seriously wrong with the selection of the national U19 team.

Mahatlane’s position is probably untenable but I hope a place is found for him somewhere else in the pipeline because he has a lot to offer. In the meantime, South Africa have lost a top-class coach in Pierre de Bruyn, who would have been an ideal fit for the Junior Proteas, but is off to take up a lucrative contract in county cricket.

As Mahatlane pointed out, though, one of the key facets of U19 cricket is learning and improving as players, and hopefully the current South African squad has learnt some brutal lessons.

 

 

 

 

 

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    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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