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Ken Borland



Super summer for Proteas, never mind your last game 0

Posted on April 17, 2017 by Ken

 

They say you’re only as good as your last game, but that would be an unfair measure of the Standard Bank Proteas’ brilliance over a remarkable summer during which their resurgence left them as the number one ranked side in ODI cricket and the nearest challengers to India for supremacy in the Test format.

Of course, their second-placed ranking in Tests is thanks to them beating New Zealand 1-0 in their series that ended last week, with the Proteas escaping probable defeat in the final Test thanks to rain on the last day.

Then again, this Proteas side has shown before that they are at their best under pressure and who knows what Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, with the help of the tail, might have achieved on the fifth day in Hamilton.

South Africa’s next assignment is the major challenge of a tour to England, but they can take heart from the fact that the conditions they overcame in New Zealand are probably the nearest to what they will experience in the United Kingdom during their visit for three ODIs, the Champions Trophy, three T20 internationals and four Tests, starting on May 19.

“We feel nicely set up for England having won all three series in New Zealand, which is not done often down there. Obviously we’re all gearing up towards the Champions Trophy and the fact that we won the ODI series 3-2 by winning what was like a final at Eden Park will be good going forward.

“Conditions were probably closest to what we will find on the England tour, there was always seam movement but not excessive bounce, which is what we expect in England. We’ve used various combinations and we have an idea for what works. We’re particularly pleased that all-rounders came to the fore and that batsmen in the lower-order were winning us games,” assistant coach Adrian Birrell said upon the Proteas’ return to South Africa.

For the Test matches, there are question marks over opener Stephen Cook and veteran middle-order batsman and part-time off-spinner JP Duminy. It will be interesting to see whether the selectors will branch out towards a new-look future team by making a couple of changes to the batting line-up.

But to make a change at the top of the order for the third Test in Hamilton, and introduce a debutant in Theunis de Bruyn batting out of position in place of Cook, was probably not the wisest move, and senior opener Dean Elgar spoke about how such selections cause uncertainty in the batting line-up.

“We had a good thing going but selection is out of the players’ control, it’s one of those things. It’s not easy for Stephen, I’ve been through it before and you can go into a dark place. The team has still been winning though, so it’s very difficult, especially when you know how much hard work he has put in and he’s a massive team guy.

“But the general thing with batsmen is that if you think you’re safe, you’re not. Your head is always on the chopping block and a good ball or a bad decision could cost you your spot. It’s unsettling that a guy like him can be left out when he’s been working his butt off,” Elgar said.

Cook will be preparing for the England tour by playing for Durham in the County Championship, while De Bruyn, who predictably failed in Hamilton having not been given the best chance to succeed, should be chosen for the SA A tour that precedes the Proteas’ trip, allowing the selectors to compare their form.

Or will Aiden Markram, also surely a certainty for the SA A squad, be the bolter who makes his debut in the first Test at Lord’s from July 6?

Or does De Bruyn not deserve another chance given that nobody should be dropped after just one game?

These are the questions that the selectors have left themselves with.

South Africa will certainly go to England with a settled attack though.

Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander had the Black Caps batsmen under constant pressure, relieved only by the sheer class of Kane Williamson, and spinner Keshav Maharaj will go to England raring to go after a stellar tour of New Zealand in which he topped the averages with 15 wickets in three Tests at an average of just 19.93.

There is a chance, however, that the Proteas will go the route of four seamers against England, in which case Chris Morris, full of runs and wickets at the back end of the summer, should be turned to as an all-rounder.

As brilliantly as the players have performed, enormous credit must go to coach Russell Domingo and his staff.

Nine months ago, it did not seem likely that Domingo would be taking the Proteas to England. Whether he is going to continue after the tour is another uncertainty hanging over the Proteas, but Elgar has no doubt he is the man to take the team further forward.

“If I can say one word to sum up the summer it’s that we are grateful. A year ago we were fading away, worrying about our own performance, but since then we’ve started playing for the badge and the environment has a big role in making it all possible. The last year has been amazing, but we must stay humble because we’re still not number one in Tests.

“But personally I would love to see Russell stay on, he’s still got the best years of his coaching career ahead of him over the next couple of years. He’s getting better with age. I’m a big Russell Domingo fan and I’d be more than happy if he stayed on.”

Sanzar’s SuperRugby Christmas present is likely to be meh 0

Posted on February 20, 2017 by Ken

 

Rugby fans who have had enough of the current fatigue-inducing set-up will be eagerly anticipating Christmas and the expected announcement by Sanzar of a new SuperRugby format from 2016. But what they find in their stocking might still leave them unimpressed because Sanzar are unlikely to go the most obvious route of two pools of nine, eight matches home and away and semi-finals and a final.

Because the Southern Kings had such a dramatic impact on rugby in the Eastern Cape, certainly in terms of crowd figures, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) seem to have accepted that they can no longer leave such a massive region out in the cold even though they lost the promotion/relegation series to the Lions. And Argentina, full Sanzar partners now, look set to be rewarded with a place in SuperRugby as well, expanding the competition to 17 teams. Judging by the noises coming out of New Zealand and Australia, some sort of Japanese involvement is also being strongly considered to make it an even 18.

But the same Australian demands that impacted so heavily on the previous broadcasting agreement, which brings in all the money and therefore decides the format, seem set to ensure common sense does not apply. In order to sustain the ailing code of rugby union in Australia, they want their own conference, even if they have to share it with some New Zealand teams.

So the three proposals that Sanzar are considering are to keep the status quo (yes, many stakeholders, most of them living on a big island, actually think the current format is great), to split into South African and Australasian conferences, or to expand the competition even more and include other Asian teams, and the USA and Canada as well.

It would appear the two-conference system has been most positively received by Saru, and hopefully their negotiators will show much more skill when Sanzar meet in Sydney next week than the muppets who negotiated the previous deal. That could mean six South African franchises, which play each other home and away, making 10 fixtures. If the Australasian conference is split into two pools, with Japan in one and Argentina in the other, then they, too, could play 10 round-robin matches. The idea is then for the top six or eight teams across the conferences to play in the finals. If six teams go through and play each other, that’s five more matches. A semi-final and a final would then mean a maximum of 17 games per team – much cleaner, much simpler and less of a slog than SuperRugby is at the moment for all concerned.

What is vital is that Sanzar consult the players, on whom they rely to sell their product. There is a strong suggestion that the current exodus of players from the southern hemisphere to Europe is not just because of the power of the euro, but also because they are on their last legs due to the unceasing intensity and quantity of rugby Sanzar has foisted on them.

Bulls captain Pierre Spies, one of many on the injured list after the prolonged SuperRugby campaign, is pegging his hopes on change. “I’d really like to see the competition end before the international season. That three-week break for the internationals in June is a waste. I’d like to see all the focus on SuperRugby, get that done with and then give all the teams three or four weeks to prepare for the Tests. We could then finish the Rugby Championship at the end of October and either go back to our franchises or prepare for the end-of-year tour. I’d prefer there to be one global schedule and to finish SuperRugby in one go. That would also give all the teams one extra bye,” Spies told Daily Maverick on Thursday.

There does seem to be growing agreement on the sense of having one global rugby season. The International Rugby Players’ Association has come out in favour of it and even Sanzar CEO Greg Peters has said it makes sense. “The idea of moving June to July, in a Sanzar context, certainly holds a lot of appeal, for a lot of reasons,” Peters told The Herald Sun. “We could complete the SuperRugby season without a break, which is something in an ideal world we would want to do. Then you would move straight into the international program, have a short break, the Rugby Championship, short break, and then the Spring Tours. We would certainly be interested in sitting down with the northern unions and getting their views about whether it would work. And obviously we are interested in the views of the players’ associations as well.”

The Currie Cup Premier Division also looks set to change, with a new eight team format apparently agreed to in principle by the Saru executive committee, just two years after they went to great lengths to justify a cut to six teams. The phrase “political expediency” immediately springs to mind, but the thought of the Kings and the Pumas, who have dominated the First Division in recent times and are based in the rapidly-growing centre of Nelspruit, competing at the top table does have appeal.

The administrators sit in the boardrooms and make the decisions over lavish lunches, changing tune according to their own vested interests, but it is the players who have to go out, put their bodies on the line, and make these formats work.

“I’ve only been playing SuperRugby for six years and I’m struggling to get on the field now,” says Springbok star Francois Steyn, who has been out of action since May after two operations for compartment syndrome in the leg – an over-use injury.

“In South African rugby, we all worry about saying something wrong and stepping on someone’s toes, so I should probably keep my mouth shut. But it’s all about bringing the fans out and less rugby is probably better. Then the top players can play for longer. At this rate, if you play for 10 years, you’re a lucky guy.”

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-30-quo-vadis-superrugby/#.WKrl_2997IU

Sleeker Currie Cup leaves everyone with something to play for 0

Posted on October 17, 2012 by Ken

The sleek new six-team Currie Cup Premier Division has certainly ensured a more competitive format and, heading into this weekend’s final round-robin fixtures, all the teams remain in contention for the semi-finals, while the bottom four can all qualify for the knockout stages or finish last and be forced into a promotion/relegation battle.

Both the Sharks (30pts) and Lions (28pts) can sally forth into the last round of games secure in the knowledge that they have already clinched home semi-finals because the gap between them and the chasing pack is too large to be bridged.

Western Province and Griquas are tied on 20 points, while Free State and the Blue Bulls languish on 18.

Whoever finishes last on the Premier Division log will have to play promotion/relegation against the Watson father-and-son combination of the EP Kings after the ambitious Port Elizabeth team topped the First Division standings with an unbeaten 14-game run.

The Free State Cheetahs, after a poor season in which they have won just three of their nine games thus far, are probably most under pressure as they travel to Newlands to take on a Western Province outfit restored to full strength by their Springboks.

And Western Province will not be lacking any motivation as they are after a semi-final place and will be desperate to avoid the ignominy of a relegation battle, which will happen if they lose on Saturday and the Bulls beat the Lions in Johannesburg and Griquas upset the Sharks.

Lady Luck may have turned her face away from the Lions for much of this year, but the troubled defending champions have once again done extremely well in the Currie Cup and, because they have already sown up a home semi-final, can afford to rest some key players on Saturday, perhaps increasing the hopes of the Bulls.

For the Bulls, the permutations are simple. Win, and a semi-final place is their’s, lose and they will have to stave off relegation. (There is a third, more arcane possibility and that is if the Bulls lose but collect two bonus points then they can still finish fourth or fifth depending on how Griquas and Free State do).

The Bulls, with their strict adherence to game plan, and the Cheetahs, with a laissez-faire willingness to attack from anywhere, are on different ends of the playing spectrum but they have both landed themselves in trouble this season.

The Bulls can at least call upon a host of Springboks – Zane Kirchner, Morne Steyn, Jacques Potgieter, Flip van der Merwe, Juandre Kruger, Francois Hougaard, Bjorn Basson, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Dean Greyling – to try and turn their fortunes around at the death.

Western Province supporters, fed a steady diet of under-performance by a side that has gone trophy-less since 2001, are also putting their hopes in returning Springboks, with coach Allister Coetzee naming Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, Duane Vermeulen, Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth and Tiaan Liebenberg in the starting line-up.

Coetzee has recently relaxed the defence-minded regimen he instituted with the Stormers, but against a team that likes an expansive game like the Cheetahs do, the argument that Western Province should perhaps play it tight and squeeze the visitors carries some weight.

Sharks coach John Plumtree, still haunted by last season’s events when he chose all his returning Springboks for the Currie Cup final and saw a more cohesive Lions team saunter to a 42-16 triumph, has meanwhile decided to phase his returning internationals back into action this time and only Pat Lambie makes it into the starting XV. Prop Jannie du Plessis, hooker Craig Burden and flank Marcell Coetzee are on the bench.

Tendai Mtawarira, Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo have the weekend off and will add tremendously to the depth in the squad when they return to contention for the semi-finals.

Griquas, meanwhile, have surprised each and everyone with their bold rugby and coach Pote Human has reaped the rewards of consistency in selection. He hasn’t got the depth to play around with like the bigger unions, however, so perhaps he had little other option, but Griquas have certainly impressed after most critics had them down for the relegation battle at the end of the season.

The Sharks have had a torrid time against the Griquas in Kimberley of late, but if the Northern Cape team can beat the log-leaders in Durban, it will be an enormous upset.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will no doubt also be an engrossed observer as Lambie starts at flyhalf for the first time since the early stages of SuperRugby.

It all adds up to an intriguing final weekend of action, the margins between failure and success being ridiculously small.

 

Weekend fixtures

Friday – Sharks v Griquas (Durban, 7.10pm)

Saturday – Western Province v Free State Cheetahs (Cape Town, 5.05pm)

Lions v Blue Bulls (Johannesburg, 7.10pm)

 

Log

Pos

Team

P

W

D

L

PF

PA

PD

TF

TA

BPts

Pts

1

The Sharks

9

6

0

3

250

230

20

27

18

6

30

2

MTN Golden Lions

9

6

0

3

256

229

27

24

23

4

28

3

DHL Western Province

9

4

0

5

236

211

25

23

17

4

20

4

GWK Griquas

9

4

0

5

247

271

-24

28

30

4

20

5

Toyota Free State Cheetahs

9

3

0

6

253

269

-16

24

28

6

18

6

Vodacom Blue Bulls

9

4

0

5

230

262

-32

19

29

2

18

 



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