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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: SuperRugby quarters a good wake-up call for Lions 0

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Ken

 

It was probably a good thing for the Lions that their SuperRugby quarterfinal against the Sharks was so close because it was a good wake-up call for them.

Nevertheless, the Lions extended their record to not having lost to a South African franchise to 17 matches, dating back to their loss to the Bulls on May 2, 2015, in Pretoria, which is a phenomenal record.

It’s always difficult playing against a team back-to-back and sometimes you’re just not that mentally sharp. The Sharks certainly had more desperation about them, especially in the first half, which translated into a 14-3 halftime lead.

The key in the second half was the yellow cards and the one-man advantage they created, and the Lions took advantage of their numerical superiority.

I’m sure the Lions will be far more alert against the Hurricanes in their semi-final this weekend, especially since the defending champions gave them a good touch-up at Ellis Park and in the final last year.

The pressure game of the Hurricanes, especially their rush-defence, is hard to deal with, even though they do concede a lot of line-breaks. But they also force a lot of turnovers and there’s a big risk/reward factor in their play.

It’s going to be really interesting though how long they can keep rushing at altitude; it certainly gets harder after 30 minutes of line-speed at altitude with your tongue hanging out!

The Lions have to score points and make a statement in the first 20 minutes, and when they have enjoyed success in the last two years in the playoff games against New Zealand sides, that’s what they’ve done.

The Lions certainly have the set-pieces to put big pressure on the Hurricanes, it’s going to be a fascinating battle up front. I don’t see the Hurricanes competing at the lineouts because the Lions’ mauling is so good, they’re going to prefer to stay down and compete on the ground, try and kill the drive at source.

It will be very interesting to see how the Lions deal with Elton Jantjies this week after he obviously did not have a great game against the Sharks. For the Lions to be removing a key player from the field after just more than an hour says it all.

But Elton is highly self-critical and he really thinks about the game a lot. It will be a case of going back to basics for him and the Lions coaching staff will be reminding him of how good he is, he is the starting Springbok flyhalf after all and he played every minute of the series against France, which shows how great his season has been. There will be an honest video review and feedback and the player will roll up his sleeves, but he will be supported by everyone in the Lions camp.

I’m sure the other players will be 100% behind him in every aspect, because they know how important he is to the team on attack.

The Lions will not train very much this week because they need to be super-fresh for the semi-final. By now everybody knows the game-plan and it will be all about execution and accuracy. Short, sharp sessions will hopefully bring reward on the weekend with the Lions at their best.

I think the Lions will come through against the Hurricanes, especially since last weekend’s game was just what they needed.

In the other semi-final, I think the Crusaders will beat the Chiefs, they will just be too good for them.

But everyone starts at zero again in the semi-finals, previous results and form don’t matter!

 


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: 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.

 

 

 

 

The Lions & the Springboks are totally different environments 0

Posted on August 15, 2016 by Ken

 

So it didn’t quite end in jubilation, but the Lions’ SuperRugby campaign still brought enormous pride and good feeling over their rags-to-riches story, and the public will carry many of those emotions into the Rugby Championship that starts next weekend.

But it is vital to realise that the Springboks and the Test arena are entirely different environments to the Lions and SuperRugby, and comments calling for the whole of Johan Ackermann’s team to be promoted to the national side or for coach Allister Coetzee to simply copy the game plan are ill-informed, ill-judged and have the potential to be divisive.

The health of any rugby team has a lot to do with its unity of purpose and their togetherness as people, and one could sense some frustration this week when the Springbok management and some of the players were constantly asked questions that referred back to the Lions.

Hopefully Lions captain Warren Whiteley, whose hard work on the field and wise words off it are nothing short of inspirational, put that all to bed this week when he highlighted in no uncertain terms that the Springboks are different.

“There’s no debate about using the same playing style, these are two different sides and we are not talking about unions any more. You’re talking about a team at provincial level against a national side. Sure, we as Lions players can bring confidence to the Springboks and there are similarities in the way we are trying to play. But there’s a step up when you come to the Springboks and the intensity and speed with which we’ve been training is at another level to the Lions,” Whiteley said this week.

Last weekend’s column bemoaned the parlous state of the Currie Cup, South Africa’s flagship rugby competition, but the performance of the Lions is one of the reasons for optimism when it comes to South African rugby.

Amidst the ritz and glitz of the Olympics there was another reason for cheer, even if the Blitzbokke flattered to deceive and had to settle for a bronze medal (still a notable achievement and more than New Zealand or Australia could manage). I’m talking about Rasta Rashivenge being given the honour of refereeing the Sevens final, an appointment that continues a long line of excellence when it comes to South African officials.

They receive way more criticism than plaudits simply because of human nature, but our referees and the high standards they maintain is one of the best stories in South African rugby.

Some of the media were privileged this week to be able to sit down with leading referee Jaco Peyper for an information session just to help us scribes better understand why certain decisions are made on the field and how the officials are interpreting the details of the laws these days.

Peyper said a referee makes about 400 decisions in every game and there will always be little mistakes, but the important thing is to ensure these do not have a major impact on the game.

He also said it is important to note that the key focus areas that referees are blowing these days have been decided in consultation with the coaches and other stakeholders, notably medical staff. They have had their say on what the shape of the game should look like and how to make it safer, and the referee’s job is to facilitate that.

Interestingly, there are some well-known phrases in our rugby lexicon, like “downward pressure”, “the direction of the hands when passing” and “bringing the catcher of the ball down safely” that don’t appear anywhere in the laws of the game.

This has led to some confusion amongst the public when watching games and the referees and TMOs don’t take any of those polluting myths into account, most often leading to filthy language in the lounge. For a clear and thorough view of the laws, including the opportunity to discuss issues with leading referees, I would recommend going to http://www.sareferees.com/

 

 

Coetzee does not know which game will pitch up in Tshwane Open 0

Posted on December 06, 2015 by Ken

 

Local hero George Coetzee says he does not know which game is going to pitch up – the good one or the bad one – when he tees it up at Pretoria Country Club, his home course, in the first round of the Tshwane Open on Thursday.

The Tshwane Open, which has a purse of R18.5 million, is the last co-sanctioned event of the season in South Africa and Coetzee would obviously like to improve on his previous performances this summer – he missed the cut in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the SA Open and the Africa Open, while only finishing T16th in the restricted-field Nedbank Golf Challenge and T24th at the Joburg Open.

But the world number 87 was not overly confident after practising at Pretoria Country Club on Wednesday.

“It’s great to have a tournament in Tshwane and unbelievable for me that it’s at my home course, where I imagined I was playing in the British Open growing up. I hope knowing this course as well as I do is in my favour, but at the moment I don’t know whether I’m going to play well or badly. I find out on Thursday morning on the first tee … ” Coetzee said.

The 28-year-old, who claimed a breakthrough maiden European Tour title in last year’s Joburg Open, has undergone some well-publicised changes to his game that have looked ill-advised given that he hasn’t come close to winning a strokeplay title since then. But Coetzee said on Wednesday that the changes are starting to work as they become imbedded in his game.

“There are a few things I’ve been working on, and every round I play, there’s a bit more of that coming through,” he said.

South Africa’s other main hope for the R2.9 million first prize is Trevor Fisher Junior, but it’s been a bit of a zoo for the first-time European Tour winner after his triumph in last weekend’s Africa Open at East London Golf Club.

“I’m still on a high, but it’s been tough with all the calls and messages and with all the excitement I’ve hardly slept. But last week is now in the past and I just want to get out on to the first tee and play. I don’t want to get comfortable, I want to try and win again as soon as possible,” Fisher Junior said. “If it will take a week or 10 months, I don’t know. There are such small margins in golf.”

Englishman Ross Fisher is the defending champion after winning the 2014 Tshwane Open at Copperleaf by three strokes, and he said the key to playing well at Pretoria Country Club was strategy off the tee.

“It’s a very different course to Copperleaf, a lot shorter and more fiddly, there’s a lot of positional play off the tees so you’re hitting a lot of irons and not many drivers. Being strategic is going to play a critical role,” Fisher said.

Fisher has the build and good looks of a model and “driving for show” is probably the strong point of his game. The world number 66 realises that he’s going to have to play a much more tactical game at this parklands course.

“I prefer quite long and tight courses because driver is my strength, but I’ve come up with my own game plan,” he said.

Fisher can also take confidence from his excellent recent form and, having finished strongly with rounds of 71-69-72 for tied-23rd in last weekend’s WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral’s tough Blue Monster, he can expect the going to be a bit easier at Pretoria Country Club.

“It’s been a very good start to the season. Finishing second at Sun City was a great start, I had a decent three weeks in the desert and I’m really pleased I came back well at Doral.

“This course should be easier because the winds were pretty strong and there was a lot of water at Doral, but there’s still trouble out there,” said the third-placed golfer on the Race to Dubai.

Matteo Manassero, the youngest winner on the European Tour, is another overseas talent to watch because he clearly likes the course.

“It’s a good course, a fun course, that’s opened out for an old type of course. You can shoot really low or make a mess of it, so it’s a really well-designed golf course. It’s enjoyable and my type of course,” Manassero said.

Conversely, Coetzee may be at home, but he does not feel entirely comfortable.

“I didn’t build my game at this golf course. I putted well to shoot good scores here, but it’s a drawers’ golf course. There is a lot of risk and reward and on a lot of holes you can take it on. There are some advantages to knowing the course as well as I do, but it suits a certain type of golfer. Hopefully I make enough putts to make up for that,” Coetzee admitted.

Other locals to watch are Jean Hugo, who finished in the top-20 in last week’s Africa Open and celebrated a win at Pretoria Country Club in the last Sunshine Tour event played here – a  2011 Vodacom Origins of Golf event; Jaco van Zyl, who was strongly in contention at East London Golf Club, and Keith Horne, who has the experience to know when to attack and when to box clever.

Englishman Andy Sullivan, the winner of back-to-back titles in the SA and Joburg Opens, is sitting at the top of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit and is ninth in the Race to Dubai, and has proven himself to be lethal at altitude, while the other strong overseas contenders are Morten Orum Madsen, the 2014 SA Open winner down the road at Glendower, Gregory Bourdy, the four-time European Tour winner from France, and Korea’s Byeong-Hun An, the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur Championship.

http://citizen.co.za/342188/toss-up-before-tshwane-open-tee-up/



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