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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: A special win for the Springboks 0

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Ken

 

It was really a quite special win for the Springboks over France at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, against a side that definitely turned up, were hard to break down and were the best French side available on that Saturday.

The match was brutal on the gain-line, there were double-hits, they smashed the Springboks and the Springboks smashed them, so it was a great Test for the home side to come through, especially with five debutants in the 23-man squad. It’s a great start to their 2017 season.

The match was in the balance at 16-14 and then came the penalty try. Given how quickly the officials made up their minds, it must have been a clearcut decision.

The Springbok attack was definitely based around getting to the middle of the field and there were a lot of tip-on passes from the forward pods, which creates indecision in the defence, one-on-one tackles and lightning-quick ball. It’s quite an effective tactic against a rush defence.

From middle rucks, sometimes the outside back-row forward would come hard off the scrumhalf, who would either play him or go behind his back to Elton Jantjies, which makes the defence sit a bit and creates space.

There was a lot of quality passing from the Springboks, which was not in evidence last year, and there was definitely more attacking understanding and ball-in-hand play.

It was great that Jantjies looked so composed, and he and Ross Cronje, who gave very slick service and was a threat around the edges, directed play well; they always had a couple of options and it created indecision in the French defence. Because Elton is the only specialist flyhalf in the squad, he’s not looking over his shoulder and he feels he has Allister Coetzee’s total backing, he can run the show. It’s the sort of thing a key decision-maker wants.

Andries Coetzee, in his first Test, showed real pace, especially in the outside channels, he showed one or two lovely touches and was willing to run the ball back from deep, he really had a go.

The ball-carries of Malcolm Marx were exceptional and the Springboks made a lot of blindside probes, guys like Marx running a hard line close to the ruck, and he bounced off defenders at will, also creating more space. When was the last time we saw such a physically dominant performance by a South African hooker?

The scrum was very compact, it looked in good shape and form and was used as a good platform. The Springboks had two very experienced props, plus with their locks and loose forwards, there was no shortage of beef behind them.

The lineout also functioned really well, Eben Etzebeth was really good, and the Springboks won most of their pressure throws. There were not many easy balls at number two in the lineout, and it’s very difficult to attack from the front of the lineout. So they were very adventurous with their lineout tactics and Marx’s throwing was spot-on.

It was also a superbly-executed try off a throw to the back, a move which was very difficult to defend against. It’s very special to score those sort of tries at Test level, so credit to the coaches, it takes some doing.

In terms of the kicking game, South Africa cleared their lines very well and were never under pressure from kickoffs, it was just one hit up and then back to Jantjies, who kicked it to halfway. In the middle areas of the field, they would drive to suck in forwards and then Cronje would kick, and there was excellent execution of that too.

It was also a very much improved defensive display from the Springboks, credit to Brendan Venter for the best defensive performance by a South African team this year. There was brutality on the gain-line, great field-coverage and, at the end of the game, their willingness to put their bodies on the line and keep the French out was tremendous.

The defence looked organised and in the French faces for the whole game, and it will only get better as the players settle into the system. What was most impressive was how disciplined they were, so France only had one penalty shot at goal.

A small area of improvement that is needed was that they became a little compressed from wide rucks and were caught a little short on numbers in the outside channels. They came off the line quite hard and if France were able to get the ball behind their first line of attackers then they did find space.

The Springboks also closed very early at fullback, Coetzee came very early into the line, which means you then rely a lot on the scrumhalf for cover. Everyone does it these days, but sometimes perhaps the fullback should not be so quick to come up.

But it was a good start for the first Test and you can see the team is much more bonded, the leadership has set the right tone. Warren Whiteley is so selfless and empathetic, as alluded to in this column when he got the Springbok captain’s job, so he is in tune with his team.

France will obviously be a different animal in Durban, especially because they have just been physically dominated. But the whole Springbok side worked so hard, to keep a Test side pointless in the last 25 minutes at altitude is an amazing effort and it speaks to South Africa having a really strong bench.

It was a really positive start and we hope for more over the next two weeks.

And good luck too to the South African U20s for their Junior World Cup semi-final. It’s going to be a really big challenge against the England U20s, but I hope they can come through.

 

Anxious times for Coetzee as his plans are undermined 0

Posted on May 09, 2017 by Ken

 

The way his plans for his crucial second year as Springbok coach are being undermined by injuries and overseas departures, Allister Coetzee could be forgiven for starting to take Valium as his appointment with the feisty French looms ever nearer.

Coetzee was spared the axe by SA Rugby after a 2016 campaign that had most Springbok fans in need of post-traumatic stress drugs, and he has also been given more support in terms of more experienced assistants and training camps during SuperRugby.

But there is little doubt that Coetzee needs to produce a series win from the three Tests against France in Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg in June if he is to still be Springbok coach for the Rugby Championship. There are ongoing shadowy moves involving Rassie Erasmus that will have Coetzee perpetually looking over his shoulder.

But the problems Coetzee already faces in terms of selecting his squad would be enough to send someone of less tenacious character running for the hills.

A run of injuries has sidelined his two most capped local flyhalves and his first three choices for inside centre. Another midfield star has decided to pursue his career overseas as has a potential scrumhalf candidate, a position in which Coetzee has real problems.

In fact, if you run through the list of names of local players currently available for the backline, it makes gloomy reading.

And thus we come to the thorny issue of overseas players. The new 30 caps criterion of SA Rugby only comes into effect from July 1, so there are obviously going to be a bunch of foreign-based players included for the French series.

If one had to pick a backline only from the ranks of the SuperRugby franchises, it would be sorely lacking in the experience which is so important at Test level.

On current form, the uncapped Ross Cronje should probably be the starting scrumhalf, but Faf de Klerk, although suffering from the vagaries of form at the moment, must surely feature somewhere, especially since he played in 11 of the Springboks’ 12 Tests last year.

Cobus Reinach is the scrumhalf heading overseas and will be ineligible after July 1 because he only has 10 caps.

At flyhalf, Coetzee is faced with a repeat of last year’s problem when he was without Pat Lambie and Handre Pollard. The Bulls man is a non-starter for the French series, leaving the coach to gamble between a rusty Lambie or a frustrating Elton Jantjies, a man who looks top-class in SuperRugby but has been as hesitant as a vegan in a butchery at Test level.

But hopefully there will be a change in approach from the Springboks this year, a move towards the up-tempo, ball-in-hand style of the Lions, and Jantjies will surely feel more comfortable in that sort of environment.

The Springboks have a history of throwing Lambie into battle when in need of a rescue act, but it would surely not be fair on the 26-year-old to toss him back into Test action after probably just three SuperRugby games.

Curwin Bosch has burst on to the scene for the Sharks, but it would be heaping too much pressure on to the 19-year-old’s shoulders to expect him to play flyhalf for the Springboks, especially when you have Jantjies to call on.

Bosch could well be selected at fullback for the Springboks, however, with Jesse Kriel and Warrick Gelant only producing glimpses of form for the Bulls.

Lwazi Mvovo is likely to be on the one wing for the Springboks and Courtnall Skosan certainly looks like someone who can be relied upon if called to make the step up. The local depth at wing is not great, with Ruan Combrinck out with a long-term injury and Seabelo Senatla and Sergeal Petersen battling to get on the field.

One does not like to dwell on the defensive frailties of players, but for all their brilliance with ball in hand, Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ismaiel, Dillyn Leyds and Cheslin Kolbe have all shown weaknesses in defence that Test opposition will definitely focus on.

Lionel Mapoe and Francois Venter have put their hands up for the outside centre berth, but Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh, the last three players to wear the number 12 jersey for the Springboks, are all currently injured.

De Allende and De Jongh might return to action just before the June international window, but the confirmation last week that Jan Serfontein has given in to the agents flashing lots of numbers on their calculators and will head overseas is most untimely.

While Serfontein can still play against France, will Coetzee be willing to make an investment in a player who will be stranded on 29 Tests, if he plays all three internationals in June, and therefore won’t be eligible for selection for the Rugby Championship?

While I fully understand the reasons players leave to perform overseas, I have it on good authority that Serfontein is managed by an agency that only gets a commission if they land the player an overseas deal.

So obviously his agent was unlikely to recommend the improved contracts that were on the table from both the Bulls and SA Rugby. In fact, there was an unconfirmed report from France that Serfontein had already signed a three-year deal with Montpellier back in January.

Surely SA Rugby could have a case for negotiating in bad faith against the Essentially sports management company and cancel their agents’ licence? This same company hardly covered their names in glory with the way they handled the departures of SA cricketers Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott on Kolpak deals earlier this year …

That leaves someone like the uncapped Burger Odendaal as the frontrunner for the inside centre position and as tempting as it may be to pick a backline purely from SuperRugby players, their total number of caps might then amount to less than 50.

Which means there is the likelihood that the likes of Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar and Morne and Francois Steyn will be winging their way back to South Africa in an effort to make up for their undistinguished recent efforts for the Springboks.

One cannot blame desperate coaches for trying anything to save their own skins, but bringing back all those former stars would surely be a retrograde step in terms of the future of Springbok rugby.

https://www.alloutrugby.com/euro-boks-retro-injuries/

French rugby might not have seen the last of Hernandez 0

Posted on September 01, 2014 by Ken

French rugby might not have seen the last of Argentine backline star Juan Martin Hernandez, with the 31-year-old confirming this week that he will consider returning to European rugby in 2015.

Hernandez left Racing Metro last month despite still having 11 months remaining on his contract, to head back to Argentina to concentrate on Test duty and their looming entry into SuperRugby.

But their participation in SuperRugby only starts in 2016, so Hernandez will obviously have to find a stop-gap club for 2015.

The presence of Ireland and British Lions flyhalf Jonathan Sexton and the arrival of Springbok Johan Goosen may also have prompted Hernandez’s decision.

“I’m only without a club for the Rugby Championship and the Tests in November and then we will see what happens. 2015 is a new year,” Hernandez said rather cryptically last week.

Hernandez, like so many other Argentinians, came to France to develop his game and he said his time at Racing Metro had done much for his career.

“You try to reach a very good level as a rugby player and the standard is more high in France than in Argentina. It was a big step coming to France but 90% of the players in Argentina develop their game in Europe.

“Racing Metro were a very good, strong team and when I joined them they had just gone into the first division. So I was around for the construction of the team. It was my decision to go, but I think Racing Metro will have a great season to come and maybe they will be European and Top 14 champions,” Hernandez said.

The gifted utility back has played a measly 44 Tests in 10 years and the injury curse that has so afflicted his career struck again this weekend when he withdrew from the Test against the Springboks in Pretoria with a groin injury. Some Argentinian journalists at Loftus Versfeld called Hernandez’s injury problems more mental than physical.

The smart money at the moment is on El Mago joining his former club, Stade Francais, because Hugo Bonneval, a player they relied on heavily at fullback last season, is on the injured list.

 

 

Eric Series – the man behind Singapore’s SuperRugby bid 0

Posted on July 31, 2014 by Ken

 

The man behind the favourites to become SuperRugby’s 18th franchise is French-born, studied in Paris and has citizenship in Mauritius.

Eric Series is the brains and financial muscle behind Singapore’s bid to host one of SuperRugby’s expansion franchises from 2016 and will be in South Africa this week to have discussions with SARU chief executive Jurie Roux.

The 18th franchise – debuting in 2016 alongside the Southern Kings and an Argentinian team – will be playing in the South African Conference and Singapore’s bid is the favourite because the Republic is firmly in their corner.

Sanzar have confirmed that Singapore and Japan are the two bidders remaining in contention, having rejected proposals from South Africa’s Mpumalanga Pumas, Namibia, Kenya, three interested parties from the United Kingdom and two from North America.

The main reason for South Africa to favour Singapore ahead of Japan is that the city-state is only a 10-and-a-half hour flight away, while the 2019 Rugby World Cup hosts are a further eight hours north-east. Flying to Australia and New Zealand from Singapore is also much easier than from Japan.

Series, a businessman who studied law and economics, has been heavily involved in rugby for the last three years through his ownership of the Asia Pacific Dragons, a Barbarians-style invitational team that showcases the talent outside of Australasia. Getting strong Pacific Islanders representation into SuperRugby would be another big attraction for Sanzar.

The 37-year-old also has major business interests in New Zealand – Sealegs, the makers of amphibious vehicles, are the “Marine” sponsors of the All Blacks and last year Series became an investor in the Chiefs. He is also the chairman of Samoa Water.

Counting against Singapore is the fact that Japan has much more of a rugby culture, the IRB (who have no say in the Sanzar decision) would obviously favour the 2019 World Cup hosts and they have much better local players and a thriving league.

But Singapore’s team would be built around Pacific Islanders, who have the physicality to survive in the most gruelling competition on earth (largely because of the travel), and Series has pointed out that there is already a precedent for getting other players in Asia involved through the Asia Pacific Dragons.

“We firmly believe that the Pacific Islands players must be strongly represented in the expanded format in 2016 and the composition of our Asia Pacific Dragons side is the ideal platform to include these players and also to capitalise on the growth in Asia,” Series told The Sunday Samoan.

“The issue has always been where the Pacific Islands team could play and how it could work commercially. This is where the Asia Pacific Dragons provides the perfect platform. Pacific Islands players are the heart of our squads, with other players being selected from the whole region.

“Sanzar have already publically stated that any new team must be competitive. That would be a given with Islanders being at the core of our squad, but we would also see the option for more Japanese players having opportunities to gain SuperRugby experience as well and create a meaningful pathway for Asian players in the future.”

Cherry Blossoms coach Eddie Jones has revealed himself as the president of the Japanese bid’s fan club and Australia are also favouring them.

The former Wallabies coach has been an eager basher of Singapore’s bid, describing it as “a joke”.

“Sanzar will lose all credibility if Singapore is selected to serve South African interests with a less demanding travel load. If travel is the deciding factor, then Dubai should be selected and rugby ethos and history ignored altogether,” Jones said.

But Sanzar have shown they are not asses when it comes to spotting the best financial deal and the deep pockets of Series, and the answer he provides to the Islander “problem”, could well see Australia isolated.

The strong support of the Singapore government, who are driving large sums of money into sports development, adds further lustre to the Series bid.

Ultimately, however, the three founding nations – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – have to agree or else the decision will have to go to mediation, as was the case in 2009 when the Melbourne Rebels won a franchise ahead of the Southern Kings.

 

 

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