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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: Having seen off the Aussies, time for SA franchises to take on the Kiwis 0

Posted on March 23, 2017 by Ken

 

South African rugby will get a good indication of where we’re at this weekend when the Bulls come up against the Blues in the first overseas game for a local side against New Zealand opposition.

Judging by the pace and intensity of the New Zealand derbies so far, they certainly seem to be out in front by comparison, but it’s been pleasant to see the Lions dominate the two Australian franchises they have played against and the Sharks have also beaten two Australian sides.

We’re definitely way ahead of the Australian teams, that’s as clear as day and has been convincingly shown in the first month of SuperRugby.

The one positive for the Bulls starting their tour against the Blues is that they can be quite careless in possession sometimes, they tend to make mistakes, and the Bulls have enough quality Springboks to take advantage of those.

You could see immediately when Adriaan Strauss came on last weekend against the Sunwolves how he tightened up the set-pieces, and people will realise this year how lucky the Springboks have been over the last 15 years to have John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss as hookers – all dead-eye dick throwing in at the lineouts and really good scrummagers.

The Bulls match against the Sunwolves showed the level of improvement by the Japanese side. Last year in Bloemfontein and Pretoria, the Sunwolves lost by a combined 142-20; this year they only lost 72-52, which shows how far they have come. They definitely deserve to stay in SuperRugby.

The Bulls have still to hit their straps, but guys are coming back from injury. Their first two tries against the Sunwolves were very easy – the first coming from a knock-on five metres from the line and the second from a lineout drive. You can be certain the Bulls will maul whenever they have a lineout in your 22, so why did the Sunwolves compete on that throw?

They certainly pushed the Bulls, but you can see a real emphasis from them on offloading in the tackle. It’s a high risk, high reward approach and in the first half the Bulls threw a few 50/50 passes and they never really got going, there was no flow to their game.

But the Sunwolves scrummed relatively well against them and that gave the tourists energy. The Bulls struggled because of a combination of the scrums, their own mistakes and some cracking counter-attacking tries by the Sunwolves.

It was great to see Jan Serfontein play so well. He’s a former World U21 Player of the Year and also played for the Springboks while he was still U21. It was a special try he scored running that inside line from a lineout and then around the wing. Jan has reached maturity now, having first played for the Springboks in 2013, but he was unlucky with injury last year.

The Bulls have a quality midfield unit and in fact we are really lucky in South Africa with very good, quality centres, especially at number 13 – Jan, Lionel Mapoe, Lukhanyo Am, EW Viljoen and Francois Venter. At inside centre we have Damian de Allende, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Juan de Jongh.

It was only the third week back from long-term injury for Handre Pollard and he still needs to get his kicking rhythm back, but that’s just practice.

The Lions’ performance last weekend was a definite positive, against a Reds team with so many Wallabies, to beat them so convincingly and to play so well. The tightness of their defence, in particular, will give them a lot of satisfaction.

Courtnall Skosan really put his hand up with four tries. He has a very high work-rate off the ball and always backs up his players in the middle of the field, he doesn’t just stay in the tramlines. Courtnall is always supporting with great lines and has always had a great sense of space. When he was at the Bulls, he wasn’t so quick and I know he’s gone to a speed coach and has got an extra yard or two because of that.

Because of a relative lack of wings in recent times and an over-reliance on JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, with Lwazi Mvovo, the fact that Courtnall played so well is encouraging. Centre is looking very strong, but wings need to stand up and Courtnall did just that.

The Lions’ set-piece is also so strong that they rarely need to kick to exit. They know that if they can get a scrum penalty around halfway, then they’ll be five metres from the line with the kick. For all their great attacking play, the Lions still use traditional South African strengths.

Their forwards are not overly big, but they are very sound technically and credit for that must go to Balie Swart and Johan Ackermann for how well-drilled they are.

Speaking about Ackers, he would not be talking about his Gloucester offer unless he was looking for a counter-offer from the Lions or SA rugby, or was seriously considering taking it. But perhaps he wants to go somewhere outside his comfort zone, where he can work with different players from all over the world. They are players he has not signed, so he would have to impress them and create unity in that new team.

Michael Cheika has coached in a couple of places overseas, Eddie Jones has been all over, Steve Hansen coached for a bit in Wales and Wayne Smith had some time with Northampton, and if you have aspirations to be an international coach then you have to broaden your horizons.

It’s a difficult decision for Johan, but going to Gloucester would certainly improve his coaching set and those sort of offers don’t come around often. But there will be a whole host of factors for him to consider, most importantly his family.

There’s been no word on whether Swys de Bruin would go with him, but as a head coach you need people around you with the same philosophy and drive, who you trust implicitly, and normally the English clubs allow you to bring one assistant with you. You need people who will back you when things are not going so good.

The Cheetahs host the Sharks this weekend having struggled in Buenos Aires. To be fair, the Jaguares played very well and got points on the board early on. So the Cheetahs were compelled to play catch-up rugby and they will be a bit upset with the tries they conceded. You don’t want to be chasing the game away from home, especially not in SuperRugby, and the Cheetahs made a lot of errors which put them under pressure, they basically leaked tries.

For one-off trips like to Argentina, the teams are tending to rest guys to freshen them up because it is a long trip. After all, it still comes down to beating the South African sides and then you have a great chance of going far in the competition, particularly since we are guaranteed two quarterfinals.

The Six Nations has come to an end and England’s record of 18 wins in a row was a terrific achievement. That included four wins over Australia, with three in a row Down Under, and a win over the Springboks, so there were top-quality sides beaten in that run.

The Six Nations is such a tribal tournament that all the games are hotly contested and nobody gave England an easy ride. Ireland probably feel the same way about the English as the Springboks do and they showed tremendous passion and fully deserved their win last weekend.

But England have now won two Six Nations titles on the trot, they’ve got the monkey off their back about the successive wins, and now they can get on with their World Cup preparation. The pool draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup takes place in Kyoto, Japan, on 10 May, and with Argentina ranked ninth, there will be a pool of death with them in it. That pool will have three quality teams in it – Argentina, one of New Zealand, England, Australia or Ireland, and one of Scotland, France, Ireland or Wales, so everyone will want to avoid that pool.

There’s a pool of death in every World Cup, with hosts England losing out to Australia and Wales in 2015, Scotland failing to advance ahead of England and Argentina in 2011, and Ireland finishing below Argentina and France in 2007.

PS: Here’s another request to SuperSport to please schedule Friday night SuperRugby games – we’re again left with all the South African games crammed into Saturday!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

I know a week is a long time in sport, but … 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken

 

I’ve always known that a week can be a long time in the world of sport, but I go away for eight nights to the bush of northern Limpopo and return to find rugby’s entire landscape changing with indecent haste compared to the months of feet-dragging that often characterise a game that has been presided over at some stages by dinosaurs or the old farts of the straw-chair brigade.

One of the changes I saw coming before my departure. I always love unintended consequences and it was former Springboks and Bulls defence coach John McFarland who pointed out to me that the rulemakers’ new emphasis on keeping tackles lower, away from the head and shoulders, was at least partly responsible for the sudden rash of offloads we have seen from the South African teams, who have traditionally preferred taking contact and winning some hard-earned, psychologically-meaningful centimetres.

So it’s not just a mindset change amongst our franchise coaches and players, but also that tacklers are now being forced down below the arms, allowing the hands to be free to keep the ball alive.

Time will tell whether that more skilful approach is carried through to the Springboks, but the national team has already had better preparation than last year with a camp and they look better resourced too in terms of coaching staff.

One of those additional resources is Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and it may be just as well that he has earned a promotion because he might be out of a decent Super Rugby job next year. If we believe what the New Zealand media tell us, then the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings will be axed from Super Rugby under the new, hopefully improved format for 2018 that is yet to be unveiled.

Harold Verster, the CEO of the Cheetahs, cheerfully told the world though that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and that the rumbling noise he hears is not a rampaging stampede of buffalo at all, but the sound of the Grey College-Free State-somewhere else in the country pipeline running smoothly. He says the Cheetahs are safe.

You cannot be nearly as optimistic about the Kings, however. They would seem to be sitting ducks as not only are they struggling on the field but they are a financial drain on the South African Rugby Union and money always shouts loudest when it comes to administrators, like politicians.

Speaking of politicians, you cannot escape the irony that Cheeky Watson, the self-proclaimed messiah of transformation, has now left Eastern Cape rugby and has done more damage to the nursery of Black rugby in our country than anything since a Nationalist government functionary.

If you called him a blood-sucking tick you would probably be understating his effect. The man has been a full-blown parasite on the game in that vulnerable region, more like the deadly malaria protozoans that kill half-a-million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Later this year, the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand in what should be the rugby highlight of 2017, but this type of proper tour probably won’t become more common given the news this week that a new global rugby calendar is being introduced. Coming into effect in 2020, it has reducing player workload as one of its main tenets.

Tours by northern hemisphere teams to the southern hemisphere will be pushed back to July, but this will allow Super Rugby to be completed in one fell swoop from February to June. This is a good thing and will come into effect in 2019, because that is a World Cup year.

The 2023 World Cup is another story of course, with South Africa seemingly ranged against France and Ireland for the right to host the tournament. If you can believe what came out of sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s mouth this week, then government is now backing the bid.

Then again, Mbalula might just have been trying to distract from the fiasco that was Durban’s Commonwealth Games bid. The chairman of that bid was Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, but that’s a story for another day.

The thrills and drama of the Sunfoil Series 0

Posted on February 24, 2017 by Ken

 

The Sunfoil Series – the four-day domestic franchise competition – came down to the most thrilling of conclusions last weekend with the Knights claiming the title by just 1.78 points, the equivalent of 89 runs over a tournament that lasted 10 weeks, once again proving that, at least in the minds of the players and the aficionados of the sport, it is the premier trophy in the local game.

Nicky Boje, the Knights coach, confirmed that the four-day competition was the main target in their minds this season, and the other franchise coaches made similar comments through the campaign.

The thing about four-day cricket is that it provides the most all-encompassing test of a player’s skills and of a team’s quality – it’s essentially 40 days of cricket, 96 overs a day, so an examination that can last 3840 overs.

And it still came down to the narrowest of margins, so small in fact that Knights captain Theunis de Bruyn gave a large part of the credit for his team’s triumph to a partnership of just 10 runs between the last pair in their penultimate game against the Cape Cobras.

Akhona Kula and Tshepo Ntuli took the Knights’ first innings in Paarl from 143 for nine to 153 to get them one batting point – 150 is set as the milestone for the first batting bonus point, make 149 and you get zero. Even though the Knights went on to lose the match by 151 runs, that single point made their life a lot easier in the final game against the Highveld Lions because it meant they were targeting 430 in 100 overs rather than around 480.

“It allowed us to believe a little bit more,” De Bruyn said, and we all know belief plays a massive role in any achievement.

I just wish Cricket South Africa had a bit more belief in their four-day competition. It would be unrealistic to expect huge crowds to attend, but they could certainly do more to generate greater interest in the tournament that makes our Test cricketers. They have scheduled media sessions with the franchises before T20 and Momentum One-Day Cup games, why not before Sunfoil Series matches?  Their decision to no longer pay for a scorer to sit in the press box during four-day games suggests their attitude is to cut investment in the competition rather than promote it.

Scorers are an essential help to the media in terms of getting all their stats and figures correct, and it is heartening that CSA’s official statistician, Andrew Samson, is very much a long-format man.

The Oracle, as our media call him – I’m not sure what the BBC Test Match Special team call him but he is also their official statistician – has just brought out a book, The Moon is Toast, which is a celebration of all the quirky statistics the wonderful game of cricket throws up, written in the format of a year-long diary.

Copies of the book are available from http://tinyurl.com/hgbulfp and the wry humour of Samson makes what could become a boring read into an entertaining delight.

Long-form cricket obviously lends itself to more statistical gems than the wham-bam! of limited-overs cricket and the greater scope for all sorts of possibilities to occur was shown by the dramatic conclusion of our own four-day competition.

The longer the game, the greater the chance of an amazing comeback, just as the New South Wales team did in their recent Sheffield Shield game against Queensland at the Sydney Cricket Ground. They were two for two in their first innings before going on to make 603 for six declared which, Samson tells me, is only the fourth time in all first-class cricket that a team has lost their first two wickets for two or less runs but still gone on to score more than 600.

The South African example is Griqualand West recovering from one for two and then three for three to make 602 all out against Rhodesia in Kimberley in 1930, thanks to a double-century by the exotically-named Xenophon Balaskas, the Test all-rounder.

SA rugby needs decency more than anything else 0

Posted on January 12, 2017 by Ken

 

In terms of rugby, the New Year is all about finding answers to the question “What is wrong with South African rugby?”, but two incidents in the last month show that, perhaps more than anything else, some of our players and administrators have to ditch their self-serving attitudes and get back to the old values of the game that were rooted in common decency and humility.

The recent actions of the Western Province Rugby Football Union and current Springbok player Johan Goosen suggest the problems are more about individuals being rotten to the core rather than structural issues.

Let’s start with Goosen and I’m not going to say anything more about his on-field performance than my feeling he has flattered to deceive, although the fact that he never had a start at flyhalf is a mitigating factor.

But his tawdry actions in trying to get out of a lucrative contract with Racing Metro, that he only signed a few months ago and that netted him €500 000 a year until 2020, indicate this is a man of scant integrity and someone who clearly does not put team ahead of self.

A couple of weeks ago Goosen announced his retirement from rugby at the age of just 24, following one of his more injury-free years and his return to international rugby, saying he was going to become commercial director of a Free State based agricultural company.

Of course no one is really going to believe that and his name has since appeared on a Cheetahs training squad list and it has since been said that Goosen is ultimately going to Gloucester, once Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad becomes the English club’s majority shareholder.

With flagrant disregard for any ethical considerations, Goosen has taken advantage of a loophole in French labour law which makes all fixed-term rugby contracts temporary. Hence a player can be released from his contract without penalty if he finds fulltime employment – ostensibly Goosen’s dubious “commercial director” job.

The actions of Western Province rugby are just as cynical and what little faith their loyal supporters had in their administrators must now have almost totally dissipated.

They had applied for liquidation of the business arm of WP Rugby and then, just a day after that was granted by the Cape High Court, the Western Province Rugby Football Union announced that the insolvent company had been bought by one of their other companies.

Having put Western Province rugby into financial strife, the likes of president Thelo Wakefield and CEO Paul Zacks are glibly trying to slip through a loophole in thoroughly dishonourable fashion to evade their creditors, most notably with sponsorship company Aerios.

And these are the calibre of administrators that have been put in charge of one of the most legendary brands in rugby?!

Goosen has surely played his last game in the Green and Gold because people of such deviousness really should not be representing our country. He should also not be allowed to play Super Rugby and the Springbok coach must ensure his players will make the nation proud, not embarrass us on an international stage; the good of the game must come before the avaricious accumulation of individual wealth.

Wakefield must also surely fall on his sword. This is not some village rugby team he is mishandling, but one of the proudest rugby legacies in the world, whose fans should be feeling deeply humiliated.

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  • Thought of the Day

    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".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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