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Ken Borland



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.

Pace quartet key to Lions’ triumph, but batsmen & back-up bowlers too 0

Posted on May 05, 2016 by Ken

 

The presence of all four first-choice pace bowlers in the top five of the Sunfoil Series averages was obviously a key factor in the Highveld Lions clinching the four-day title with a match to spare, but Geoff Toyana also praised the batsmen and the back-up bowlers for their vital role in the franchise’s third trophy in three seasons.

Dwaine Pretorius (19 wickets @ 18.52), Chris Morris (27 @ 20.44), Kagiso Rabada (34 @ 21.67) and Hardus Viljoen (31 @ 22.22) proved the adage that bowlers win matches as they played key roles in the Lions’ six wins, but they could not have done it without the support provided by the batsmen.

Captain Stephen Cook was obviously the outstanding contributor in this regard with 889 runs at 68.38, including five centuries, but the contributions of Temba Bavuma (545 @ 77.85), Neil McKenzie (487 @ 48.70) and Thami Tsolekile (424 @ 42.40) were also immense.

Back-up bowlers like Sean Jamison, with 12 wickets in three games, Pumelela Matshikwe (7wkts) and Eddie Leie (13wkts) were also crucial in filling in when the top four weren’t around.

“That combination of Kagiso, Chris, Hardus and Dwaine was really special, but we were fortunate because our depth was very good. We beat the Cobras by an innings with only Dwaine playing out of those, so those other bowlers don’t get the headlines but they really came through for us.

“With the bat, Stephen scoring five centuries was really special, plus there was his experience and leadership, while Neil was also in the runs and Temba came back from the Test team and did the business for us,” Toyana said.

It is the first time the Lions have won the four-day title since 1999/2000, in the pre-franchise days when they played as Gauteng, and Toyana said that made the triumph extra special.

“It’s the trophy we’ve wanted all these years and I’m very happy for the squad because it was tough last season, when we finished last in all competitions. But the belief in the squad was there because we did not make many changes, it was just a change in attitude that did the trick,” Toyana said.

Cheetahs standing in the way of new Sharks era 0

Posted on July 31, 2015 by Ken

 

A dangerous Toyota Cheetahs side are standing in the way of the Cell C Sharks starting their new era on a winning note when the two neighbouring franchises start their Vodacom SuperRugby campaigns at Kings Park on Saturday.

New Sharks coach Gary Gold has been preaching pragmatism ahead of the match, particularly since the Cheetahs are highly adept at punishing mistakes and he doesn’t want his players getting ahead of themselves in their efforts to play more entertaining rugby.

“The danger comes with those expectations and I don’t want the players believing that it will be easy, especially since the Cheetahs have been a bit of a nemesis for the Sharks. The way they play – they’re not conservative – means they are hard to manage.

“If we’re not on top of our game then we’ll get beaten. We need to give them respect and play properly. They’re a good team, with mobile forwards, experienced halfbacks and plenty of danger at the back. They are very capable of punishing mistakes so we need to play with some pragmatism, it’s going to be a really tough game,” Gold warned.

It seems all the talk of playing running rugby and scoring tries will have to be put aside for the time being, the intense humidity at this time of year in Durban making the ball difficult to handle, with the Sharks looking to use their obvious strength in the tight five to lay the platform.

“We need the tight five to step up and get us ascendancy in the set-pieces. That’s critical for us when conditions are going to make it hard to move the ball around,” Gold confirmed to The Citizen on Friday.

The draining effects of the sapping humidity also counts against a free-flowing game, but the Cheetahs are the sort of side that will be waiting to pounce on the slightest of chances to counter-attack.

There is the ball-stealing threat of Coenie Oosthuizen, the sniping runs of Sarel Pretorius and the trickery of Willie le Roux for the Sharks to worry about, while the Cheetahs have made up for the loss of Johan Goosen at flyhalf by selecting the experienced former Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen.

Teams

Sharks: 15-SP Marais, 14-S’bura Sithole, 13-Waylon Murray, 12-Heimar Williams, 11-Lwazi Mvovo, 10-Pat Lambie, 9-Cobus Reinach, 8-Tera Mtembu, 7-Renaldo Bothma, 6-Marcell Coetzee, 5-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4-Mouritz Botha, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Kyle Cooper, 17-Dale Chadwick, 18-Matt Stevens, 19-Marco Wentzel, 20-Jean Deysel, 21-Conrad Hoffmann, 22-Fred Zeilinga, 23-Odwa Ndungane.

Cheetahs: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Clayton Blommetjies, 13-Francois Venter, 12-Michael van der Spuy, 11-Raymond Rhule, 10-Joe Pietersen, 9-Sarel Pretorius, 8-Willie Britz, 7-Teboho Mohoje, 6-Jean Cook, 5-Francois Uys, 4-Lood de Jager, 3-Coenie Oosthuizen, 2-Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1-Danie Minnie. Replacements – 16-Stephan Coetzee, 17- BG Uys, 18-Maks van Dyk, 19-Carl Wegner, 20-Boom Prinsloo, 21-Tian Meyer, 22-Willie du Plessis, 23-Cornal Hendricks.

 

Smit wants to hear the applause at King’s Park this year 0

Posted on July 28, 2015 by Ken

 

Sharks CEO John Smit is hoping to regularly hear the applause of 30 000 people at Kings Park this year as his team mount a strong SuperRugby challenge, but he’s hoping too that other South African franchises are also pushing hard for the title because that will be the greatest benefit to the Springboks’ World Cup campaign.

Smit told The Citizen that there are enormous benefits to be gained from SuperRugby for the Springboks, remembering how crucial the tournament was in 2007 when he led South Africa to the World Cup crown in Paris. Earlier that year, the Bulls and Sharks had competed in the SuperRugby final, with the Bulls snatching a dramatic Bryan Habana-inspired one-point victory.

“The big thing in 2007 was that the Bulls and Sharks had such successful campaigns and so we were very well prepared for the World Cup. If you’ve got a SuperRugby title-chase to focus on, then the World Cup doesn’t become a distraction and SuperRugby was the best platform and preparation for our win in France.

“I hope it’s the same case this year and we have two or three teams right up there because you’re playing against the guys you have to beat at the World Cup. The players should go out intending to win SuperRugby this year and your best-performing players should be the Springboks. That’s what happened in 2007, we had the guys to win the World Cup and they were confident and well-prepared from SuperRugby,” Smit said.

The former Springbok captain is also hoping that Sharks rugby emerges from an unhappy 2013 in which crowd numbers dropped dramatically at King’s Park in response to an unpopular non-possession based game plan employed by Jake White.

“We’re still 14% behind on our season ticket sales but I’d like to see more than 30 000 people at King’s Park on Saturday for our opening game against the Cheetahs. Time will tell, it’s a big challenge, but we’ve been working hard on our marketing, getting the fans closer to the players, having open days and more interaction, whereas they were removed before.

“We had a good squad last year and we could have won the competition, but the environment possibly wasn’t good enough. This year we have an even better squad and a better environment,” Smit said.

The “better environment” is mostly due to Smit letting go of White in what must have been a tough decision for South Africa’s longest-serving Test captain to make; fortunately he has found a top-class replacement in Gary Gold, a former Springbok assistant coach.

“It’s been a pretty seamless transition and Gary has put in place such instrumental plans. He, Brendan Venter and defence coach Michael Horak were all at London Irish together and Gary has fitted in as if he’s been here the whole time.

“So there’s nothing too new happening with the team, Gary understood the vision and his arrival has certainly been a positive,” Smit said.

In terms of the Sharks’ SuperRugby rivals, Smit expects a fierce derby against the Cheetahs this weekend, even though their small pool of players means they will find it hard to maintain a challenge throughout the competition, while the Stormers have a history of success behind them.

But Smit is most concerned by the Bulls, who he says have been able to gather a powerful squad together in Pretoria.

“The Bulls are going to pose a far bigger challenge this year. In the last two or three years, they’ve come a long way, quietly going about their business, and they’ve made some key signings, especially those three Free Staters who will have a massive impact in the pack.

“Pierre Spies is back off the bench and, in the meantime, Victor Matfield will captain the side. Not too many squads have that sort of depth of leadership,” Smit said.

 

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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".
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