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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column – Not enough emphasis on defence 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken

 

To see so many tries scored against the South African teams in SuperRugby last weekend – 26 in all – was disappointing and it’s not great when your top franchises are conceding so many tries in particular, but the problem is that there has just not been enough emphasis on defence.

Look at the value SA Rugby put on defence after Jacques Nienaber left halfway through 2016: they appointed Chean Roux in his position and he will freely admit that he was an absolute rookie defence coach at that stage. What does that say about how they rate defence and defence coaches?

We’ve now had the national indaba and the Springboks are on to their fourth defence coach under Allister Coetzee, but I’m sure Brendan Venter will do a really good job because he has the experience and the skills, and was the architect of the Saracens defensive system that has taken them to the European Champions Cup final.

But there was no national defence coach when the indaba was convened, so I wonder if there was input on defence at that gathering? After conceding a record score against New Zealand, defence was an obvious area that needed fixing.

It’s not Allister’s fault of course because he was handed his staff; now he has been given the staff he wants and I expect to see a massive improvement in the Springboks this year.

There are problems, but the people who coach defence in the franchises will, of course, care deeply about the defensive performances. In 2013, I remember when the Springboks conceded five tries against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, but we needed the bonus point to win the Rugby Championship and we played a high-tempo game, which a lot of people said was one of the best Test matches ever played. But I stewed over those five tries for a month; but then at least we only conceded one try, to France, on the whole European tour thereafter.

So our defence in general is not in a great situation at present and whether it is due to conditioning problems or the speed of the modern game is open to debate. But you can never win a rugby match if you are conceding that many tries.

There’s obviously currently an emphasis on attacking skills but I’m certain the defence coaches are still being given sufficient time with their teams, and they would have done a lot of work on certain aspects of how the opposition attack. Like the Australian middle ruck attack, for instance, where the flyhalf goes hard for the line with a wing or centre like Israel Folau hard on their shoulder.

It’s no surprise when the New Zealand teams employ the kick-pass, especially the Hurricanes.

They employ the rush defence, therefore their wings have to be high and so there is always space behind them. Beauden Barrett would have had a lot of practice doing the kick-pass in training because he would see and have a high understanding of that space all the time.

The Stormers left too much of the field free, nearly 20 metres of space, and with players set in the wide channels, that’s not the smartest move.

In order to make sure you cover the width of the field, you need your tight five to work really hard close to the ruck, to set the breakdown correctly with good placing between the three pillars, and then the outside backs go wider.

The Bulls obviously had problems with their defence and if you said it started with their conditioning then you would not be far off. They also have folding problems, they’re just not setting the breakdown around the corner and so they end up with insufficient numbers.

They were also caught out by grubbers and so one has to ask questions about the back three’s positional play. They need to co-ordinate better to cover those and they need a much higher work-rate.

The Southern Kings have also had defensive problems and so it is only really the Lions and Sharks, who are defending in the same fashion as always, who can be satisfied with their defence.

The Lions have shown a great defensive improvement and one must credit JP Ferreira for improving their consistency in this regard.

The Lions are rolling through nicely and it will be a phenomenal tour if they can beat the Brumbies, which will make it probably the first unbeaten tour by a South African team – a tremendous achievement, and they’ve been winning with bonus points!

We know Australian rugby is at an all-time low and they have even more defensive problems, but their forwards are really their soft underbelly and the Lions have exposed that to great effect.

And the quality of finishing this weekend by Courtnall Skosan and Sylvian Mahuza was top-class. As we get closer to the Springbok selection, it’s a good time for players to remind the national coach that they are out there by scoring skilful tries like that.

In South Africa, skills development seems to be more coach-driven, but in New Zealand, the players take personal responsibility for it. An example at the Kubota Spears is Patrick Osborne, who has played at the top level as a wing, but he works hard on his kicking. He’s playing as a right-footer on the left wing, so he’s constantly working on his left-footed grubbers and other kicks, he does that consistently.

To see a top New Zealand SuperRugby player take individual responsibility like that was quite an eye-opener.

 

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.

Why CSA have said no to more franchises 1

Posted on May 02, 2017 by Ken

 

Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat explained on Tuesday that Cricket South Africa have said no to the idea of increasing the number of franchises because they want to give more attention to the semi-professional level that is the second tier of domestic cricket.

There has been speculation over the last couple of years that the number of franchises would be increased from six to either seven or eight. But Lorgat said this has now been put on the backburner, with CSA deciding instead to focus on the next level down.

“The decision actually came out of our domestic review, which was a very detailed report and indicated that there is work to be done at the semi-professional level. We are open-minded about it and there might come a day when we move from six franchises.

“But extra franchises have got to be sustainable and we’re only now at the point where each franchise is, at the very worst, breaking even, although I expect them all to announce surpluses at the end of this financial year at the end of the month. But now we want to grow the base and what we now call semi-professional, we want to make that professional.

“At the moment there are only seven full-time contracts per provincial team in the system and it’s arguable whether players are able to sustain themselves on those contracts. So we want to lift that up and we will take the same money we would have used for a seventh franchise to uplift semi-pro cricket,” Lorgat said at the launch of the Africa Cup 2017 at the Wanderers on Tuesday.

An exodus of players to earn pounds in English cricket has taken its toll on the South African game, and Lorgat said CSA hoped raising the standard and lucrativeness of cricket below franchise level would encourage players to stay.

“If we can raise the competitive nature of that cricket then we can use that tier to hopefully sustain guys until they get a crack at franchise level. The Africa Cup has brought more names to the fore and I know the coaches are excited about the opportunity it gives players to shine. We’ve identified the second tier as being an area where we need to widen opportunity,” Lorgat said.

The Africa Cup is the T20 competition that has kicked off the last two seasons and is considered the bridge between senior provincial and franchise cricket, with the 12 CSA provinces plus KZN Inland and Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya playing in a tournament that mixes fully professional cricketers with those from the semi-pro ranks.

The Africa Cup has been the gateway to success for players like Heinrich Klaasen, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi and Andile Phehlukwayo, who are all now part of the Proteas’ plans.

Lorgat confirmed that following the Africa Cup in August/September and the introduction of the new showpiece global T20 league in November/December, the existing franchises’ CSA T2O Challenge will now shift to late summer, probably in April 2018.

“There is a risk of too much T20 cricket, but access of opportunity is really the driver and it also brings more transformation players to the fore. We have to develop players and give them opportunities to aspire towards developing into something more. We have the Africa Cup and the T20 global league and we’ve got to have something in between.

“First-class and 50-over cricket are acknowledged as being crucial in the development of players, whether there are supporters watching or not, so it will be the same for the CSA T2O Challenge at the end of the season,” Lorgat said.

The draw for the Africa Cup, which starts on August 25 and will be hosted on successive weekends by Benoni, Potchefstroom, Bloemfontein and Kimberley, was made on Tuesday and defending champions Eastern Province find themselves in the same pool as hosts North-West, dominant provincial side Northerns and Gauteng.

Draw

Pool A   (Willowmoore Park, 25-27 August): Easterns, Western Province, South-Western Districts, Namibia.

Pool B   (Senwes Park, 1-3 September): North-West, Northerns, Gauteng, Eastern Province.

Pool C   (Mangaung Oval, 9-11 September): Free State, KZN Inland, Zimbabwe, Boland.

Pool D   (Diamond Oval, 15-17 September): Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Kenya, Border.

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-cricket/1484582/domestic-cricket-isnt-going-to-get-bigger-anytime-soon-says-csa/

SA Rugby had to listen to stakeholders’ bark or face the bite – Roux 0

Posted on May 01, 2017 by Ken

 

According to Saru CEO Jurie Roux, South African rugby had to listen to the bark coming from broadcasters and all other stakeholders in the game and cut the number of SuperRugby franchises or face the bite of economic hardship and potential disaster further down the road.

Roux was speaking on Monday at the launch of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, the new tournament that will slot in at the level below SuperRugby, following Sanzaar’s announcement at the weekend that South Africa will only be able to field four teams from next year.

“Our stakeholders – sponsors, fans, broadcasters and media – have been speaking very clearly about the lack of integrity in the competition because not everyone plays everyone else, and the confusing format of SuperRugby. Broadcasters wanted change to come immediately otherwise they warned us we were going to run into contracting issues.

“And the economic reality is that we cannot sustain six franchises, we can survive with five but then we’d have to sacrifice other things, and neither can we sustain it from the player point of view either. So it’s high time that tough decisions were made for the good of South African rugby, that’s what the staff are paid for and the office bearers are elected for.

“Ultimately it’s a numbers decision, the numbers of spectators and viewers are in decline and there’s obviously an issue with what stadiums are providing as well. Plus half our franchises lose more matches than they win, so they’re not providing quality competition,” Roux said at the Bill Jardine Stadium on Monday.

The CEO said politics and emotion had governed the previous decision to expand to six franchises, but he hopes the newly formed franchise committee, and the Saru general council that will ultimately consider their proposal, lays those factors aside when they consider which two franchises should be cut from Super Rugby.

“The ultimate competition was probably Super 12, but there was some selfishness, some mandates from country’s high-performance units and a lot of revenue and political factors that led to the expansion. The reality is that there will always be some politics involved, but emotions are tougher to manage and I’m sad to say a lot of rugby decisions have been based on them.

“My plea to the franchise committee is to make a swift recommendation, not based on politics or emotion, so that nobody can accuse us of stalling. I will push as hard as I can to have this decision made as quickly as possible, at most within a month’s time,” Roux said.

The CEO suggested another four professional franchises could play as a group in other overseas tournaments, while adding that the 14 provincial unions had to continue as semi-professional entities looking after the broad base of the South African rugby pyramid – the amateur and school teams.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170411/282144996206681

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.



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