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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Positive about Bok prospects 0

Posted on August 16, 2017 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has picked the best players for the Rugby Championship based on how well they did in the French series and I am really positive about their prospects, I believe they are in the best position of all the teams.

It reminds me a bit of 2013, when we won 10 of our 12 Tests. There was also a British & Irish Lions tour that year – to Australia – and we had time to bed the players in.

The Springboks played really well against France, who were a full-strength side that came out with tremendous intent. The fact that their coach Guy Noves is now under pressure to keep his job if they don’t improve in November shows how good the Boks were, in terms of attack, defence and the way they created a new team culture.

Meanwhile, Argentina were losing 3-0 to England, Australia lost to Scotland and only just beat Italy, and the All Blacks could only draw with the British & Irish Lions.

With some of our SuperRugby teams falling out early, the Springbok coaches were given extra preparation time and I think we all see that there is definitely a new culture about this Springboks group. You can see that the positivity and confidence is back, both in terms of the public and the players, after a disastrous 2016.

This has been built on respect for each other and there is a high energy within the group on the field. Their return-to-action time and kick-chase were both very good and the improvement under the good doctor, Brendan Venter, on defence was obvious. They only conceded four tries in the three Tests against France and they got off the line quickly with intensity, intent and attitude.

Return-to-action time is one of the keys for any side to succeed in the modern game. A player is likely to have to get up off the floor after a carry or cleaning at the ruck about 40 times per game and it is very hard to do this after hard contact. The standard figure in international rugby is to be off the ground in three seconds so it offers you more numbers on attack, to get your shape, or on defence to ensure your line has width. The Springboks did incredibly well with this and it is the basis of their defensive system.

The Springboks are now employing a far more aggressive line-speed, similar to what the British Lions used and it definitely gave New Zealand problems: they weren’t able to play with their normal width and freedom because they were worried about making mistakes on attack, and turnover ball is the most lethal in the game.

The architect of that defence was Andy Farrell and he worked under Brendan Venter for a few years at Saracens, so I think there will be a lot of similarity in the defensive system the Springboks employ and I believe they will certainly give the All Blacks problems this year.

Also, due to a loss of form, neither Julian Savea nor Waisake Naholo are in the New Zealand squad, so they don’t quite have the same size out wide as before. In any case, a wing very rarely defends against his opposite wing off first-phase, he’s virtually always on the second-last man, which is the fullback. The All Blacks will have Ben Smith or Israel Dagg at fullback and I’m certain our wings will be of a similar size.

What’s important for a wing these days is his ability to score tries, defend and catch high-balls, and one would never be picked at that level if they can’t catch box-kicks off lineouts.

Coetzee has obviously picked his wings for their finishing ability, work-rate and understanding of the system, and for me, Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule are the incumbents and really showed superb work-rate and an ability to pull off try-saving cover-tackles against France.

The Springboks also employ the defensive system – well, everyone does these days – of the fullback coming into the line very early, so a wing can’t just have the ability to make tackles, he also has to make line-breaks and expose the props acting as pillars round the ruck area, and has a big role in covering grubbers, he becomes the last defender. Modern-day wings will cover an enormous amount of ground in a game.

I wouldn’t rule out JP Pietersen coming back into the mix, especially in World Cup year. His decision-making is so good and he adds a calmness and maturity in the backline. He has, however, recently changed clubs from Leicester to Toulon and we all know how their owner feels about his players taking part in the Rugby Championship …

Anyway, Allister Coetzee has obviously decided to back the home-based players who really performed in the incoming series to see if they can do it as well in the Rugby Championship. Let’s not forget two of the back three played against the Hurricanes for the Lions in the SuperRugby semi-final and gave them 44 points with six tries.

So we must be positive about Allister’s wing selections until we see evidence otherwise.

Argentina showed a lot of attacking intent against England in June, but they were really playing against England B and were well-beaten. Plus the Jaguares were disappointing in SuperRugby, they blew hot and cold.

So Saturday’s Test is a really good opportunity for the Springboks to hopefully get a good win that sets them on the road for the really difficult part of the Rugby Championship – those three away games in the middle that South Africa always get and which are very difficult because of all the flying.

Our best performance in Argentina in the last few years came in 2015 when we trained in South Africa and only left on the Wednesday, arriving on the Thursday evening. We had a captain’s run and then went to Buenos Aires for a convincing 26-12 win.

Our worst display in Argentina was in Mendoza when we drew 16-16 in 2012 and we had to sit in the bus for two hours just to get to practice. I remember there was even a stray dog running faster than our coach was going!

The Springboks have the opportunity this year to play hit-and-run Tests in Perth and Salta and that makes you much more alert. They can stay on South African time and not change their body clocks, like we used to do at the Bulls when we would leave for Australasia on a Tuesday evening, arrive on Thursday morning and usually win our first game. It was definitely a winning formula.

The Springboks have a fantastic record in Port Elizabeth [17 wins & 2 draws in their last 20 Tests there] and I’m looking forward to this new-look side continuing in the same positive manner against Argentina on Saturday and hopefully gaining a really good win.

 

 

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.

Sheer delight for SA rugby 0

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Ken

 

Following the awful disappointments of 2016, what a sheer delight the last three weeks of Springbok rugby have been, culminating in the series whitewash over France in front of more than 55 000 people at Ellis Park, as well as a wonderful game the night before at Orlando Stadium between the SA A and French Barbarians sides.

Apart from the winning, up-tempo rugby played by both the Springboks and their second-stringers, the other similarity between the two teams is that both clearly enjoy a wonderful team culture.

It cannot be understated how important a role a good team environment will play in the success of a side and we saw last year how the Proteas cricket team drastically improved their results after a “culture camp”.

At the top level, teams are very similar in terms of physicality, conditioning and skill, so the crucial extra 1% that gives sides the edge is often found on the mental side of sport – happy players committed to a cause or a “brotherhood”, to use the in-vogue expression, will give more out on the field.

Sure, Brendan Venter and Franco Smith have come along and brought considerable technical expertise to the Springboks, but I have never, in 25 years of covering South African rugby, seen a squad speak more about just how happy they were to be together and how much they loved the environment than the current group under Allister Coetzee and his fellow coaches. The captaincy of Warren Whiteley must also be mentioned because there’s no doubt he has played a big role in the team culture as well.

It is a similar culture, borne from adversity, that is seen in Whiteley’s Lions team and it is also evident in the SA A side under Johan Ackermann. It was clearly displayed at the end of the game against the French Barbarians in Orlando when scrumhalf Jano Vermaak was spontaneously, just for the sheer joy of it, lifted on to the shoulders of his team-mates after kicking the last conversion, and when the whole squad sang stirring songs together, bobbing in a tight embrace, after the trophy presentation.

The fact that Ackermann has managed to create that culture in the SA A side in just a few weeks is testament to what a fine coach he is and hopefully he will be back in South Africa soon after increasing his experience and knowledge with Gloucester in the United Kingdom.

Ackermann, a former Springbok lock, first made his name as a coach through his technical and tactical acumen in the set-pieces, but he also has the ability to inspire a team, a crucial man-management skill in any coach.

Singing along with the SA A team were a bunch of supporters in the far grandstand and I believe playing top rugby in Soweto has a great future. The SA A game was played at 8pm on a Friday night the day before a Test at Ellis Park, so the crowd was always going to be small.

But I know it is in SA Rugby’s future plan to play more games in Soweto, and to stage them at 3pm in the afternoon and not during a Test week in the same city. There’s no doubt we will then see the crowds pouring in, because there is a great love for the game in Soweto, but access remains a problem.

Orlando Stadium is also a magnificent venue, modern, spacious and with one of the best views of the field, from any vantage point, you will see.  The fact that top rugby did not return earlier to Orlando after the memorable 2010 Super Rugby final that inspired such goodwill is a great pity.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-kzn/20170701/282321090023086

The John McFarland Column: Tremendous effort by the Springboks 0

Posted on June 29, 2017 by Ken

 

For Springbok captain Warren Whiteley to be ruled out on the morning of the third Test against France would definitely have been quite upsetting for the guys, because it is difficult to lose your captain and leader when they thought that he would play.

So to score those tries and get the points they did at Ellis Park last weekend was a tremendous effort by the Springboks and Allister Coetzee will be really pleased with the defence and work-rate of his team.

There are many ways to score tries in rugby and it was great to see some inventiveness from the Springboks, for example when Jan Serfontein jumped at the front of the lineout and then sent the ball down to Eben Etzebeth, for them to maul the space defended by the scrumhalf, which is so difficult to defend. So credit to the coaching staff for the ideas they came up with.

The first try, by Jesse Kriel, just shows how hard the Springboks were working off the ball, which was one of the most impressive aspects of their performance, it shows the culture of the team. The kick-chase induced an error from the French back three, there was a wild pass and it was pounced on, giving Kriel an easy run-in for what we call a “culture try”.

You can see that the players are in such a good space and it is evident that they enjoy each other’s company. The players have all been so positive about their experiences with the Springboks this year and you can see their happiness by the way they celebrate their tries, for example the Rudy Paige effort off the back of a well-worked lineout drive.

So you have to credit Allister Coetzee and all the coaching staff for how far they have come and how they have turned things around. Warren and Allister and the assistant coaches deserve credit for the culture they’re building.

The country also got behind them and there was a steady increase in the crowd until there were 55 000 people at Ellis Park, which was great.

The Springboks ticked so many boxes in the series against France and they should be full of confidence now for the Rugby Championship. If one compares them with the way Australia and Argentina have performed, then the Springboks are definitely in with a real shout in the Rugby Championship.

The Springboks will have had even more time together before they play Argentina home and away, and they should enjoy the continuity of two-and-a-half months together in one block, which is a major positive.

The big thing for the Springboks will be the three away games in the middle of the tournament, which are always hard. But if they can get two wins on the road, then they’ll definitely be in with a shout. The Lions won all their games on tour and the Sharks won a match as well, while all our SuperRugby teams have done well in Argentina, so that’s encouraging.

The real ones to win though are the New Zealand Tests and I just hope the tournament is not over by the final game as it normally is because the draw usually really suits New Zealand. Let’s hope it all comes down to the Test in Cape Town between the Springboks and All Blacks on October 7.

Some combinations really put their hands up, such as the two locks, with Franco Mostert really announcing himself as a player at this upper level. The quality of his work-rate, tackling and cleaning out was phenomenal and he would certainly have been one of the contenders for man of the series.

As was Jan Serfontein. We’ve always known his ability but he has had a fair amount of injuries over the last few years. He’s such a quiet, down-to-earth guy, but against a player like Gael Fickou, who is a real big unit, Jan put in some massive tackles.

The balance of the back row was also very good and Siya Kolisi had the best three Tests he has managed to string together in his career. He was world-class and not just at the things we know he can do – he always carries well and we know he can stop momentum, but his work on the floor and his effort and skill to get up for that intercept in Durban were exceptional.

Malcolm Marx also really announced himself, he was outstanding in all three games, a beast with ball in hand and his basics were so good too.

Although it was a real advantage for the Springboks to play at altitude, those were three quality wins. France did not really click in the last Test, they obviously had the mindset to try and out-play the Springboks, but the home side’s defence was really, really good. One can say that the French were at the end of a long season, but they were well-beaten in each Test.

To average more than 36 points per game takes some doing at Test level and they scored tries through their defence, set play and kicking game, which was great to see.

The Springboks will be a little riled, however, that the lineout was not at its best at Ellis Park, but again, the late change due to the withdrawal of Whiteley left them with less jumping options. But the lineout did really well in the first two Tests.

Allister could have picked some of the old guard, but he was very consistent in his selection and backed the guys in South Africa, the players who had been at the camp in Plettenberg Bay, and his systems. He also backed key members of his team. For instance, Lionel Mapoe was very good in Durban, but he then rewarded Jesse Kriel for his very good display in the first Test.

Continuity and consistency in selection builds confidence amongst the players.

It was good that he was able to give Ruan Dreyer a start and some experience at international level, and what a reward he got at his first scrum! Those are the little battles that are great for a pack of forwards, like being able to control the ball at the back of a scrum and then scoring.

I still have not heard anyone from SA Rugby congratulate the players or coaching staff on a job well done, which amazes me! Why has nobody publicly congratulated them on the way they played and the manner in which they brought the public back and reinstored belief in the Springbok brand?

France have a lot of work to do, they definitely have talented players, but they need to look at their game plan and conditioning, which was not up to the level required at Test level. But it’s a very long season in France, they basically play from August to June, so they need to look at their structure and contracting of players.

The British and Irish Lions game against the All Blacks was quite a Test and at one stage the Lions had made it quite a tight battle. They had their chances, but against New Zealand you must finish, especially in Auckland.

The Lions’ try from a counter-attack was absolutely brilliant – the run from the back by Liam Williams and the way it was finished, it was one of the great British Lions tries.

But they will be seething that they conceded a very soft try from a quick tap, to allow such a compressed defensive line meant they did not have time to get any width and it was very dozy. In the biggest Test of their careers, there’s no way they can blame fatigue.

The All Blacks were deadly again off turnover and open-field ball and Rieko Ioane produced two special finishes, showing sheer speed.

The Lions also need a bit more to their play than Conor Murray box-kicking, even though that’s probably their advantage over the All Blacks. They got quite good returns from the tactic at the start, with Ben Smith dropping a few, but they did not take all their chances. New Zealand will score an average of three or four tries per game, so you must score tries to beat them.

The highlight of the first Test was the way the All Blacks played against the Lions’ rush-defence: they used the blind side a lot and played close to the ruck off Aaron Smith. They still scored four tries despite all the disruptions to their backline.

Smith also never telegraphed which side he was going to pass to, which most scrumhalves indicate by their body language or the way they stand, and he was constantly testing pillars one to three around the ruck. Because it was never clear which side he was going to play, it was very difficult for the defence to get set. So the All Blacks were constantly getting momentum and tiring out the Lions forwards, which is why they were so passive in the set-pieces.

There has been a lot of talk about Jerome Kaino preying on Murray’s non-kicking foot and it was a tactic that originated with Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12 League. Teams generally put up a wall on the right side of the maul or ruck in order to protect the kick, but the blindside was not guarded and that would also have been Murray’s blind spot.

Steve Hansen and the New Zealand media have vociferously condemned Warren Gatland’s claims of deliberate dangerous play, but there’s no doubt they wanted to make sure Conor Murray always felt the heat. If they touch him after he has kicked then it’s unfair, you are not allowed to play the kicker after the ball has gone. The All Blacks are not always whiter than white!

I hope the second Test is as good though. The Lions need a more athletic pack, with Maro Itoje at lock, and they should stick with Ben Te’o for longer in midfield, he played well. It will be exciting if the Lions can get the win and set up a series finale back in Auckland, but unfortunately I don’t really see it happening.

For South African rugby, it’s back to SuperRugby now and I hope the country will get behind our most realistic winners – the Lions. After the Test series, they are all full of confidence and they have a wonderful run-in to the final games.

I managed to bump into Rudolf Straeuli while I was in South Africa and he confirmed that he is very much looking forward to hosting the New Zealand teams at 3pm in the afternoon!

 

 


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.

 

The John McFarland Column: The Springboks’ best performance under Allister Coetzee 0

Posted on June 22, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s self-evident that the Springboks really played well to beat France 37-15 in the second Test in Durban, but I would say it was the best performance of Allister Coetzee’s tenure as national coach by a long way.

It has been so pleasing to see the Springboks put together two quality wins, in which they have scored eight tries, and it is obvious they have found the right balance between attack and defence.

I must say that I am a little concerned by the silence from the Saru executive because after two excellent performances with Allister Coetzee under pressure, he clearly deserves the mandate going forward.

Nobody did to France in the Six Nations or the home series last year what the Springboks have done to them over the last fortnight and real credit must go to Allister for the team culture he has instilled and the way it is working – that was a sensational victory at Kings Park.

The defence has been the biggest thing that has changed and the Springboks all work incredibly hard off the ball; they sprint on the kick-chase and they get off the floor so quickly. These are the trademarks of a Brendan Venter-coached team – work-rate and physicality.

Siya Kolisi was obviously the standout player with his intercept try and his ability to win ball off the floor, but the whole team excelled.

When they were on their own line for 25 phases and kept repelling the French side, that showed the culture and relationships between the players; attitude and how players feel about the environment always come out in how a team defends, and that was the best defensive performance by a South African side this season.

In terms of attack, it was pleasing to see some very clever plays, guys running short lines off scrumhalf or off the inside backs. When Raymond Rhule broke through off a lineout, the Springboks were clearly targeting the inside defence. We kept finding props with our wingers or hard-running backs.

It is also clear that a tremendous amount of work has been done on the passing and timing of the runs from first receiver; to be able to do this in the face of a rush defence, for example when Pieter-Steph du Toit passed to Coenie Oosthuizen for a sublime try, shows that the attacking play has definitely gone a level up. So hats off to everybody for a great performance.

The SA A team was a bit of a concern though and their defence was not so good against a scratch French Barbarians side, and they allowed Freddie Michalak to roll back the years at flyhalf.

What’s worrying about the  SA A side is that they have so many players over the age of 30 in key positions. There should be a clear national pathway from the U20s to the A side and then on to the Springboks, but the current selection shows no real growth or development for the future. The SA A side must use guys who have come through from the U20 level, so we can see how they cope outside of their natural SuperRugby environment.

Guys who have impressed at SA U20 level should be chosen because we know what Lwazi Mvovo, Lionel Cronje, who is also going to Japan now, and Jano Vermaaak can do. They need guys like Ivan van Zyl, Curwin Bosch, Burger Odendaal and Louis Schreuder to play – 22 and 23 year-olds with big futures. The SA A team should be about future Springboks and not Springboks of old. They must give young players a go, guys who have big futures and they must be in their 20s. They’ve basically selected this team as a Springboks B side and they must show more foresight.

The SA A side should also give coaches experience and it was pleasing to see JP Ferreira involved with their defence.

The SA U20s finished well, but to lose to an England side shorn of six players and others with the senior side in the semi-final was unacceptable. Then New Zealand klapped England by a long way in the semi-final, which showed South African rugby still has a long way to go to make up the gap.

The SA U20s need more tours against national schoolboy sides, to experience different environments. They will probably have played all the Northern Hemisphere sides in South Africa, where the hosts should win. The boys need to experience different conditions and a crowd that is not behind you. They need to step up and improve and a tour somewhere in November/December would be good.

Finally, it was a great privilege for Kubota to be able to play in the Mauritius 10s last weekend. The Bulls and Cheetahs sent their full SuperRugby sides and it was brilliant for a Japanese side to be involved in that.

The Beachcomber World Club Tens as a format was an eye-opener and I really enjoyed seeing everyone again. I hope the excellent organisation of the tournament can now be brought to South Africa, in either pre or post season, that would be fantastic. Mauritius was really enjoyable for everyone who was involved

Well done to the Blue Bulls for winning the tournament, although it’s fair to say they do need a few cups.

 

 

 


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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