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Ken Borland

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.

Ackers deserves enormous credit & support 0

Posted on May 01, 2017 by Ken


Johan Ackermann deserves enormous credit for the way he has transformed the Lions team over the last five years but he also deserves the public’s support for the tough decision he has made to further his career overseas with Gloucester.

Coaches always have a shelf-life with a team and guys like Alex Ferguson or Ian McIntosh staying for many years at one club are the exception rather than the rule. Ackermann has been the provider of so much to the Lions – rebuilding their culture after their morale was shattered during the John Mitchell years; up-skilling them such that they now lead the way in South Africa when it comes to the most progressive brand of rugby; helping to build Springboks who will surely do the country proud if trusted by Allister Coetzee in future; and giving them steel, not only up front amongst their highly impressive pack but also in the way they are now able to win the tight games, as they did against the Sharks last weekend.

So who can begrudge Ackers the chance to advance his own career a bit?

There is no doubt the 46-year-old would never be wrenching himself away from his Lions family and the Ellis Park supporters – the way he broke down while making the announcement of his departure makes this clear – unless he believed a move was essential to further his own highly-promising coaching career.

Ackermann has rightly been spoken of as a future Springbok coach, but there is no top-level international coach at the moment who has been employed in just one country. Steve Hansen coached Wales before joining the All Blacks staff; Eddie Jones was involved with the Australian, Japanese and South African sides before rejuvenating England; Michael Cheika coached Leinster and Stade Francais before getting the Wallabies job; Joe Schmidt is a Kiwi who coached in France before taking over Ireland, and Scotland coach Vern Cotter has the same story.

As brilliant as Ackermann has been, he has no real experience outside of coaching the Lions to a Super Rugby final and one Currie Cup crown. It can only be good for South African rugby that one of its most promising coaches spreads his wings and enjoys new horizons.

There also should be no panic at Ellis Park with the departure of their much-loved coach. As far as a replacement goes – the successor will take charge for the Currie Cup later this year – there is no need for the Lions to look further than what they already have.

The fact that the Lions have someone like the highly-rated Swys de Bruin – who has done well as a head coach before with Griquas and will undoubtedly build on the legacy of the last five years, providing great continuity – means president Kevin de Klerk and CEO Rudolf Straeuli, who have both also played key roles in the Lions’ resurgence, can kip easy when it comes to Ackermann’s successor.

Their structures are clearly in good nick – part of the wonderful legacy Ackermann has left – with both their U19 and U21 teams winning their respective provincial championships last year, so if someone has to move up from that level it should not be so high an elevation as to cause a ricked neck.

In fact, Straeuli used the terms “continuity” and “stability” several times while responding to questions about the road forward for the Lions, so it is not unreasonable to expect De Bruin, JP Ferreira (defence) and Ivan van Rooyen (conditioning) will continue in their roles and have more responsibility.

For those who believe Ackermann has turned his back on the Springbok coaching job, it seems clear that both Allister Coetzee and Rassie Erasmus are in his way for the foreseeable future.

The SA A job is an indication that he is somewhere on Saru’s radar, and he is still willing to coach the second-stringers when SuperRugby breaks for the mid-year internationals, but new challenges and experiences await overseas and it is exciting to think just how good a coach Ackermann will be when he returns to these shores.

New scrum laws will boost Argentina’s bajada 0

Posted on November 22, 2016 by Ken


Argentina is a rising power in world rugby and they are set to be boosted even further by the new scrummaging laws, which are tailor-made for their famous bajada scrum technique.

 The Springboks will be the first to tackle the Pumas since the introduction of the “crouch, bind, set” scrum engagement when they meet at the FNB Stadium on Saturday and they could be in for a shock.

Argentina was introduced into the Rugby Championship last year and made an impressive entry into the big league, proving plucky opponents as they even managed a draw against the Springboks in Mendoza.

After a largely disappointing third-place finish in last year’s competition, the Springboks will want to get into their stride far quicker this season, but the Pumas’ strength is in the pack and the new scrum laws will only magnify that.

The emphasis at scrum-time will now change from being on the “hit” to technique, something the Argentineans have been famous for and many rugby fans in the South American country are looking forward to the return of the bajada as the potent weapon it used to be.

The bajada is all about the entire pack working as a unit and channelling their power through the hooker, with the speed with which a front row can get the “hit” no longer a factor because they have to pre-bind before the engagement.

The co-ordinated, cohesive nature of the bajada scrum is exactly what the new scrum laws will favour, judging by what Springbok scrum coach Pieter de Villiers said on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a learning process for players worldwide who have practised their trade over the last 10 years with the ‘hit’ scrum and it’s a big change. Speed won’t be as important and the frustration over grey areas in decisions, especially when binds slip, often because of tricks of the trade, has been dealt with.

“It’s now very important for the scrum to stand together and have endurance and it’s become a much tougher battle. It’s more about sound technique and endurance now and it’s more important for your whole pack to work together. The pack operating as a unit is vital,” De Villiers said.

The Springbok scrum has not always lived up to its reputation in recent years and those dastardly Australians who seem to spend their life trying to avoid proper scrums have even taken a couple of pot shots at the South Africans, saying the new laws will expose them more than anyone else.

The new engagement places a higher premium on scrummaging technique rather than skill in winning the “hit” and it is the Springboks’ lack of depth at tighthead prop, the most technical position in the pack, that suggests Saturday night could be a tough time for them.

De Villiers, having played 69 times for France, is well aware that the Pumas are masters of the dark arts of scrummaging.

“Their passion for scrummaging will always be there. They’re short, stocky guys and difficult to move and we expect them to have a strong, stable base at scrum time,” De Villiers said.

Jannie du Plessis is right up there with the best tightheads in world rugby but he has played so much over the last two years that a serious injury seems almost inevitable and there are no other specialist number threes in the Springbok squad. Coach Heyneke Meyer believes the sky is the limit for young Coenie Oosthuizen, the Cheetahs loosehead he is converting into a tighthead.

De Villiers expressed confidence in Oosthuizen’s ability to make the change, if not with the same enthusiasm as Meyer has done.

“Coenie is progressing very well. You must remember everyone is starting with a clean slate now because of the new laws and it’s important to see how Coenie adapts. But even the top tightheads in world rugby have to start afresh,” De Villiers said.

Meanwhile, Springbok backline coach Ricardo Loubscher stressed that despite all the attention focused on the scrums, the Argentines’ backline strengths are not being ignored.

“Most of their backs play in Europe and they are world-class. Given the opportunity, they can finish, their outside backs are quick and have had plenty of exposure to sevens rugby. So we need to prepare well against them too,” Loubscher warned.

Another area where South African has not looked too clever in terms of depth has been scrumhalf and the new lenient approach to choosing overseas-based players made it inevitable that Meyer would call on Fourie du Preez, one of the players he built the champion Bulls team around.

The Springbok coach has made it clear he is relying on Du Preez’s experience and game management abilities to lift their performance and Loubscher said those strengths were already evident on the training field.

“He’s a world-class player, there’s no need to elaborate on his credentials. He just slotted right back in, I was impressed, I thought he did really well in training. He brings great experience to the team, you can see the way he talks with players like JJ Engelbrecht and Willie le Roux, who haven’t played in the Rugby Championship before, and he makes it much easier for me as the backline coach,” Loubscher said.

Sharks rediscover attacking mojo but danger lurks in Dunedin 0

Posted on June 26, 2015 by Ken


The Sharks did enough in the closing hour of their loss to the Chiefs last weekend to suggest they may have rediscovered their attacking mojo and their offensive capabilities have been further boosted ahead of their Vodacom SuperRugby match against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

Wings Piet Lindeque and Odwa Ndungane did precious little against the Chiefs, and before that the Sharks had an unsuccessful experiment with “bolter” Sean Robinson, so it will be a great relief for them to have two tried-and-tested Springboks in JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo back this weekend.

The Sharks did not field their best team against the Chiefs, but nevertheless would have been dismayed by their awful start which they saw them concede 24 points in the first 17 minutes. They played superbly thereafter to score four tries and were only denied a second bonus point by an injury-time penalty, but they were not able to catch the defending champions.

The Highlanders, however, are a team that have not won a match this season – and in fact for almost a whole year – and it is not overstating matters to say the Sharks, with several starters back, will be targeting this game as a must-win affair on an overseas tour that sees them taking on the high-flying Reds in Brisbane next week.

The Highlanders are similar to the Sharks in the respect that they too have a star-studded side, but it has just not been able to click. But several things spell danger for the Sharks. The Otago men are at home, they will be refreshed and have had a chance to clear their heads after a bye, and Brad Thorn, an immensely proud All Black, will be playing his 100th SuperRugby match (92 for the Crusaders) alongside similarly fierce, proven competitors in Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock and Ma’a Nonu.

For all the renewed confidence in terms of attack, the focus for the Sharks must once again be the set-pieces, because it is the pack that anchors their side and the Highlanders are strong up front. Unless they deliver the goods in the primary phases, the Sharks aren’t going to be able to attack effectively no matter who their weapons are.

The Stormers are the other South African team overseas at the moment and they take on the Blues in Auckland. Fortunately they aren’t playing at the daunting Eden Park, but instead at a regional venue in Albany. Nevertheless, it is a clash that should have rugby fans glued to their chairs in front of the TV as the powerful, in-form Stormers take on a hungry Blues team that has retained their attacking prowess but has also been one of the best defensive sides this season.

Bryan Habana will be playing his 50th match for the Stormers and, having appeared 61 times for the Bulls as well, joins former Reds and Force lock Nathan Sharpe as the only players to appear in 50 matches for two franchises. Habana will also be a key man as he marks Frank Halai, one of the leading try-scorers this year.

The Stormers defence has been excellent again this season, conceding just 11 tries, the least in the tournament, and they will need to be at their best against a Blues team that has pace to burn and plenty of vision and skill.

Rene Ranger has been shifted to the wing by the Aucklanders, which has allowed the exciting Francis Saili to come in at outside centre, while fullback Charles Piutau has also been one of the most impressive runners in the tournament this year.

Where the Stormers do have an edge is up front and Eben Etzebeth has returned on the bench to provide them with even more impact in the second half.

The form of Blues veterans Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu has been something of a concern, but the brilliant Steven Luatua has been the outstanding forward and is the frontrunner to fill the shoes of the superb Jerome Kaino in the All Blacks side.

The Stormers tactics should be obvious: The lineout has won 25% of the opposition’s ball so far this season, so the likes of Joe Pietersen, Gary van Aswegen, Dewald Duvenhage and replacements Elton Jantjies and Louis Schreuder will be focusing on the territorial battle, allowing the visitors to pressurise the Blues at the set-piece in their own half.

The fact they are playing in the area of Auckland where most of the South African expatriates live should also help to make the Stormers feel at home.

The Southern Kings have won everyone (except maybe the die-hards in Joburg) over with their committed displays in their debut season of SuperRugby.

They have done a particularly good job against Australian teams and on Saturday they will look to complete an unbeaten sweep against the Force, Rebels, Brumbies and Waratahs when they take on the New South Welshmen in Port Elizabeth.

The Waratahs were irked by what they deemed to be sub-standard refereeing last weekend in their defeat to the Bulls, but this time they have one of the best, the vastly experienced Jonathan Kaplan, in charge.

Kaplan won’t put up with the nonsense they tried at Loftus Versfeld, camping offsides and not releasing in the tackle, so unless the Waratahs sort out their discipline, their hopes in the Australian Conference could be killed off once and for all.

The Kings went to Bloemfontein last weekend and put up a good fight against the Cheetahs, who just had too much pace and attacking skill for them.

The Waratahs attack was way less impressive against the Bulls and, sensibly seeing that all eight have played for the Wallabies, they rely on their pack to get them go-forward.

The Kings went hand-to-hand against the Cheetahs forwards and matched them in all but the breakdowns, and if they get parity again, combined with their never-say-die spirit, they could keep the Waratahs winless in South Africa since May 2009.

The Bulls did what was required of them last weekend to beat the Waratahs, but their opponents on Saturday, the Hurricanes, are much better at keeping the ball alive and stretching defences.

The Bulls have not particularly enjoyed their previous dates with the Hurricanes in Pretoria, losing four of their last seven encounters, including a 37-18 thumping in 2002.

Keeping their defence intact against a team that is most adept with ball in hand will be the focus for the Bulls, and coach Frans Ludeke has included hard-tackling veteran Wynand Olivier at inside centre in place of the injured Jan Serfontein and fetcher-flank Deon Stegmann in an effort to slow down the Hurricanes’ possession at the rucks.

The Hurricanes have arrived in South Africa with wing Julian Savea in tow, fresh from his court appearance on a charge of assaulting his partner, and will be eager to arrest a slide that has seen them lose two of their last three matches, after a four-game winning streak.

The Hurricanes had enough opportunity last weekend to beat the Stormers and they had a strong wind behind them in the first half but didn’t take enough advantage of it.

The Stormers had the kicking game – and the lineout – to keep the Wellingtonians under pressure after the break and there is no doubt the Bulls will be employing similar tactics in the rarefied atmosphere of Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. DM


Stormers (v Blues, Friday 9:35): Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Gary van Aswegen, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Scarra Ntubeni, Pat Cilliers, Eben Etzebeth, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Elton Jantjies, Damian de Allende.

The Sharks (v Highlanders, Saturday 9:35): Riaan Viljoen, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Meyer Bosman, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Charl McLeod, Lubabalo Mtembu, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst. Replacements: Craig Burden, JC Janse van Rensburg, Anton Bresler, Jean Deysel, Tian Meyer, Piet Lindeque, Odwa Ndungane/Derick Minnie.

Southern Kings (v Waratahs, Saturday 17:05): George Whitehead, Sergeal Petersen, Ronnie Cooke, Andries Strauss, Siyanda Grey, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter, Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, Rynier Bernardo, Steven Sykes, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Virgile Lacombe, Grant Kemp, David Bulbring, Luke Watson, Nicolas Vergallo, Waylon Murray, Siviwe Soyzwapi.

Bulls (v Hurricanes, Saturday 19:10): Jürgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Frik Kirsten, Grant Hattingh, Arno Botha, Francois Hougaard, Louis Fouchè, Lionel Mapoe.

Other fixtures:

Rebels v Chiefs (Friday, 11:40); Force v Reds (Saturday, 11:40); Brumbies v Crusaders (Sunday, 7:05).

Bye: Cheetahs. ©

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