for quality writing

Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: Why I think the Boks will win in Perth 0

Posted on September 07, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks have so many guys playing well at the moment that I see us getting the result against Australia in Perth on Saturday, even though the Wallabies have been very competitive against the All Blacks for the last 120 minutes – it’s just the first 40 minutes of the first Test in which they were hammered.

Australian rugby is not at its strongest state at the moment and there has been a losing culture around the players from SuperRugby and a two-game loss to New Zealand, which has been their traditional start to the Rugby Championship.

They did come very close to winning in Dunedin and they probably should have won that match, but they haven’t been convincing, whereas the Springboks are full of confidence, belief in their systems and they have momentum. You can just see the positivity in the camp.

On the back of two losses, the Wallabies will be in a motivated and desperate state, but the confidence is not quite there.

Australia don’t have the same weapons as the Springboks do and they don’t have much of a kicking game. In fact they don’t want to kick, everything is about ball-in-hand for them, so obviously if the Springbok defence stands up well, opportunities could be created by the Wallabies trying to play under pressure.

There has been an exceptional improvement in the Springbok defence and the players are working so hard for each other, they’re getting off the line and smashing the opposition. It just shows that defence can be a weapon as well.

Australia will want to carry the ball a lot, they want to outscore teams, but the Springbok defence has proven quite lethal in stopping attacks and forcing turnovers, and then finishing those off.

Australia have a few good ball-carriers at centre, but the Springbok defence has been very good from first phase and they coped well against France, who had big wings and midfielders.

The Wallabies will try to beat you through phase play, which means they can become very vulnerable themselves later on in the movement, around phases five to 10, when the attack is not as structured and there’s a chance for turnovers.

Australia also don’t have the best scrum and Stephen Moore being out will affect that even more. Their back row is also a lot younger than it was previously.

Centre Tevita Kuridrani is the big threat in their team with the way he runs inwards at the lineout vacuum – that area between the last player in the lineout and the first backline defender. He can be a handful running hard and headlong into that hole.

Flyhalf Bernard Foley is definitely a threat as well, especially around middle rucks, because he has good feet and gets quite flat so he is able to go at the inside pillars.

We just don’t know from week-to-week though what team Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will pick, which is the difference between the teams because we virtually know the Springbok team from one to 23. It’s settled, which is a big advantage, and they’ve had combinations now for five Tests and they’ve performed really well. The biggest positive for the Springboks is that consistency of selection, which means the players are confident in the people around them.

The Perth crowd can also be 50/50 when it comes to who they support between South Africa and the Wallabies, but the pitch is very removed from the stands, so the crowd is quite a long way back. It also makes it a bit difficult for the kickers because the stadium is just different to most others.

The other unknown is that the Boks have not been in a losing position in any Test so far this year, they’ve been in control after the first 20-30 minutes of every game. So that is the only box unticked – if they are 10-15 points down after the first half-hour or 40 minutes, can they come back? That is the only question mark against them, but I’m sure they can do that if necessary as well.

There’s real hope that we can win in Perth for the first time since 2009. Elton Jantjies is in such a rich vein of form, the defence is so strong and the attack has been lethal – scoring at least four tries in every Test this year has been phenomenal.

 

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.

John McFarland Column: Boks are in a dark space & I know how that feels 0

Posted on November 23, 2016 by Ken

 

It was obviously a big shock for the Springboks to have lost to Italy at the weekend and everybody involved will feel that they have let the country down. But it’s now about going forward and getting things right for this weekend’s game against Wales.

The key is the coach, the wolf pack follows the pace of the leader and if he’s energised and shows how hard he wants to fight, then the rest will follow.

The nice thing about sport is that you get the chance to turn things around the next week and a good win against Wales will maybe show that the players have settled in better into the new game-plan.

In any coach’s life, they will go through a crisis, they will have a bad loss, because nobody wins 100% of the time. Every coach has their time under pressure, even the best coaches – for example Jose’ Mourinho at Chelsea or Eddie Jones at the Reds.

They’ve got to know what to do and how to put it right the following week.

In my time with the Springboks, I was part of the squad that lost to Japan at the World Cup. That was also a big blow to all our careers and I remember the day itself very well.

During the week everyone was filled with euphoria, we had landed in London, had the World Cup welcome, and we were really over-confident.

Japan certainly deserved their win, as did Italy last weekend.

On that Saturday evening in Brighton, it felt like being in a dark hole, certainly the players were feeling that. We had a very short meeting, some of the senior guys stood up and said it wasn’t good enough and we had to make sure we came back. We were still in the World Cup, so we were lucky that we had the chance to turn it around.

When you lose like that, everyone goes in different directions, especially when it’s the national team. Nobody looks anyone in the eyes, everyone feels a huge responsibility for their role in the disaster.

As part of the coaching staff, you pore through the video, looking at what was good and what was bad, preparing yourself for a really critical review of exactly what went wrong and how to better it. You deal with the team and also individuals in one-on-one situations.

After that game we had a long trip to Birmingham, five hours on a bus, and not one word was spoken. We stopped for lunch and there was still very little chat.

We kept the physical routine the same that week, but we made some key changes in other areas of our schedule.

On the Monday morning the players had their usual gym and recovery sessions, but then instead of a review of the game, we had an inquest. Every player got up and took responsibility for their part in the defeat, and said what they were going to get right and bring to the table for the next weekend.

Believe me, tears were shed because it’s pretty galling that the game you played with such joy as a child can put you in such a dark space.

Responsibility was taken by the whole group. Heyneke Meyer stood at the front and said this is the way we are going to do it from now on.

With all that cleaned out of the way, I remember there was a new focus from the players, everyone made a tremendous shift. Jean de Villiers led from the front, he said we will fix this, we will put it right, as did all the senior players. Training was very physical and intense that week as you’d expect from a wounded Springbok team.

Then they put on a real performance of pride and passion in beating Samoa 46-6, allowing them zero tries as we absolutely smashed them backwards. Duane Vermeulen was only meant to play about 50 minutes, but he played the full 80 and put in a real shift at the coalface.

Unfortunately Jean de Villiers was injured in that match and had to return home, but we won all our games after losing to Japan and pushed the All Blacks to within two points in the World Cup semifinal, the difference being a Dan Carter drop goal and an overturned penalty.

We were all really proud at the fact that we had come back and pushed New Zealand really close, putting on a far better performance against them than Australia did in the final, and then we took the bronze medal from Argentina in convincing fashion.

Heyneke Meyer pulled the team together with his staff and senior players, the core group pushed the boat in the right direction. From the Monday after the Japan loss, we were one team and we knew that one more defeat would put us out of the World Cup.

Some of the squad have been involved in both defeats to Japan and Italy and hopefully they can turn it around now like they did in the World Cup.

It’s always a battle of the gainline against Wales, with Jamie Roberts, Alex Cuthbert and Dan Biggar, and the Springboks will need to be really defensively solid in the backs … and obviously take their opportunities much better than they did against Italy.

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

Held together by bandages & gauze, but Jannie still relishes the challenge 0

Posted on November 16, 2016 by Ken

 

The tight five is characteristically the place where the players are held together by bandages and gauze, such is the high-impact workload they have to shoulder in rugby seasons that are just getting longer and harder. But there’s one man in the Springbok pack who has been particularly burdened with a massive workload, and that is tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis.

The 30-year-old played in every SuperRugby match last year and in all 16 games for the Sharks this year, as well as every Test in 2012 and all three in 2013 thus far. But Du Plessis, a qualified medical doctor, says he’s relishing the challenge.

“I hope I become like leather: you know, the more you use it, the tougher and better it becomes. I don’t want to tempt fate and say I’m playing so much that I’m going to break down. I want to play 40 games a year for the next five years,” Du Plessis said after the Springboks’ training session in Fourways on Wednesday.

While the scrummaging skills and experience of the Bethlehem-born Du Plessis are invaluable in the crucial tighthead position – many ex-forwards say it’s the first position that should be chosen in a team – the other reason for why the Grey College-product is hogging the number three jersey is the lack of depth in his position in the country.

The current Springbok squad has five props in it and Du Plessis is the only one who can be regarded as a specialist tighthead, the foundation of a solid scrum.

The Springbok brains trust have identified Coenie Oosthuizen, the Cheetahs loosehead, as the next best tighthead in the land and coach Heyneke Meyer said the lack of depth has left him little choice but to develop the 24-year-old as the next choice number three for the 2015 World Cup.

“I truly believe we are in trouble with tightheads in South Africa,” Meyer said. “If you look at it, most of the guys are injured and at one stage we had the best tightheads in the world, but now there are a lot of inexperienced guys playing there.

“We feel Coenie is the second tighthead in the squad and we need to give him some game time. A tighthead is like great wine, it only gets better with time. Coenie is only 24 and we need someone who is the next tighthead who has time to develop and will be there for a long time.

“If Coenie doesn’t play there in Test match rugby, he won’t be right for the next World Cup. With Gurthro Steenkamp and Trevor Nyakane, they are great impact players, and we have a lot of looseheads with Beast as well. But we’re under pressure on the tighthead side,” Meyer said.

But there is also a lot of anti-Coenie-at-tighthead feeling around rugby circles, with many wondering why Cheetahs number three Lourens Adriaanse, an unused member of the Springbok squad in June, or impressive Sharks youngster Wiehahn Herbst aren’t given a chance.

Tighthead prop is a specialist position, like hooker or scrumhalf, and what Meyer is doing is a bit like trying to convert your second-choice outside centre into a scrumhalf just because he’s a great player. Coaches have to make tough decisions and, however brilliant Oosthuizen is and however much depth there is at loosehead, you can only have two in a match-day squad. Trying to turn a loosehead into a tighthead is fraught with danger, as we saw with previous coach Peter de Villiers’ unsuccessful attempts with John Smit.

Although Oosthuizen is an ox of a man – weighing 125kg and standing 1.83m – tighthead is a highly technical position where size and strength are not enough on their own.

Ask Jannie du Plessis himself.

“It is really flipping difficult to change from loosehead to tighthead, ask the looseheads who’ve tried. It’s a completely different position with a different set of skills. But I hope Coenie does well in the position, he’s done well enough when he has come on at tighthead, so then everyone won’t make such a big thing about it and me playing every game,” Du Plessis said.

The other problem with Oosthuizen playing tighthead is that he will be stuck in the scrum for longer and the Springboks stand to dilute two of his major weapons – his exceptional ability in carrying the ball and the pressure he brings to the breakdown.

And Oosthuizen’s switch is happening at a time of great uncertainty amongst front-rankers with the new scrum rules coming into effect for the Rugby Championship.

After protests over the number of collapsed scrums, the International Rugby Board [IRB] have introduced new calls governing the engagement. The new sequence is “crouch, bind, set”, requiring the props to bind before the scrum sets.

But the IRB, in their wisdom, have introduced the new protocol at Test level as well, without trialling it first in SuperRugby. So the top players in the Southern Hemisphere are all going into a crucial part of the game, for which match-swinging penalties are often given, blind, without any competitive experience of the changes.

“The scrums are an uncertainty for us. You have to play the cards that are dealt you, but the situation is that this is the first time in a Test series where we play the new rules. This year we are going straight into the new rules and we don’t know what to expect,” Meyer admitted.

Du Plessis, who has seen most things in the dark and dingy world of scrums, thinks even these new rules might not last.

“Normally you have a few games to get used to new laws, like they did with the ELVs. But the challenge now is to adapt right away. It might be a shambles and then they change it again.

“Since I started playing, this will be the sixth or seventh change to the scrum laws, so they are definitely chopping and changing and maybe they are scratching a place where it’s not itching… ” Du Plessis said.

The major difference that front-rankers will experience, with the “hit” taken out of the equation, is that scrums are going to last much longer now, according to Du Plessis.

“It’s going to be a big change. In the past you relied on speed because the gap between the front rows was big. Now because you’re binding first, you are much closer together and you can’t rely on speed.

“Scrums are going to be about generating more power and they will last much longer, so we’ll have to work harder. It won’t be so much about power and speed and more about endurance.

“They’ve said the scrum has to be steady now and they’re going to force scrumhalves to put the ball in straight, but it sounds like election promises to me: we hear that every year,” Du Plessis said.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-08-rugby-tightheads-at-a-loose-end/#.WCxJxvl97IU

Aussies looking for plenty of intel in ODI series 0

Posted on September 25, 2016 by Ken

 

The Australian cricket team have arrived in South Africa and are looking forward to getting plenty of knowledge from their five-match ODI series against the Proteas that starts at Centurion next Friday.

That the Australians have at least one eye on the Test series they will host against South Africa in November is borne out by their selection for the ODI matches, with three uncapped pace bowlers included in Daniel WorrallJoe Mennie and Chris Tremain, leaving John Hastings (23 ODIs) and Scott Boland (10 caps) to lead the attack. Leggie Adam Zampa, who has played just a dozen ODIs, is the frontline spinner.

South Africa, under pressure to arrest their slide to fourth in the ODI rankings, by way of contrast have chosen what is expected to be their Test attack in Australia, minus Vernon Philander.

“We do have quite a turnover of players in our ODI side but that’s because we want to give the Test players a break. The guys handle it very well, they’ve been fantastic, and it allows us to give players chances at this level, we chop and change the bowlers so Steve Smith knows he has a lot of depth in that department.

“We want to make sure everyone gets game time, we’re looking ahead to major championships and players must adapt. There are good reasons for Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood not being here – we have a Test series coming up and we want to give them a break.

“So this ODI series will be a challenge for some good young players and hopefully our fast bowlers can step up. We have pace and swing from the three debutants, John Hastings has done very well for us in the past and Scotty Boland did very well last year,” Australia coach Darren Lehmann said at their Sandton hotel on Wednesday.

“A few of South Africa’s bowling attack are also part of the Test squad so it’s a chance to play against them and hopefully get into rhythm against them. Their batsmen are also generally the same in Tests, so we can learn from bowling at them too,” captain Smith said.

Australia are fresh off a 4-1 ODI series win in Sri Lanka with George Bailey enjoying a prolific series, and with Smith and David Warner the obvious other threats in a strong batting line-up.

Both the captain and coach said South Africa were a top-class side in their own conditions.

“These conditions are probably the most similar to Australia, so it’s not so foreign, generally there’s good pace and bounce. It should be exciting one-day cricket with good scores, I’m sure it will be different to Sri Lanka,” Smith said.



↑ Top