for quality writing

Ken Borland



Whatever they say, Lions prove travel is hard & territory is vital 0

Posted on July 29, 2017 by Ken

 

Whatever anyone may say, there are still two inviolable truths that apply in rugby – travel is hard and territory is vital – as the Lions proved in their remarkable 44-29 win over the Hurricanes in their SuperRugby semifinal at Ellis Park on Saturday.

It was an incredible victory because the Lions were trailing 22-3 after half-an-hour. Whatever mistakes they made, under the immense pressure of a Hurricanes side that was in their faces, were punished by the visitors, whose every touch turned to gold.

But a try just before halftime, prop Jacques van Rooyen carrying a hapless defender with him as he barged powerfully over the line, gave the Lions hope and, more importantly, showed them how to play in the second half.

The try had come after a penalty was kicked to touch and a couple of lineout drives had the Hurricanes back-pedalling. It was noticeable that flyhalf Elton Jantjies was twice pushed back from over the line when he tried to go it alone, but give the ball to a big, strong forward to carry and it was a totally different story.

The Lions had tried to beat the Hurricanes at their own game in the first half, taking quick tap penalties and spreading the ball wide, and they were being destroyed.

But, to their immense credit, those plans changed in the second half.

There was a much greater emphasis on territory, with the big boots of wing Ruan Combrinck and fullback Andries Coetzee playing a key role, they drove from the lineout and used the set-pieces to get the Hurricanes on the back foot.

As the altitude and travel kicked in, the Hurricanes wilted and they barely fired a shot in the second half, all the momentum going the Lions’ way.

The Hurricanes are absolutely ruthless on turnover or openfield ball and, after Jantjies had kicked an early penalty set up by the forwards, the visitors quickly reminded the Lions of that fact.

A pass from Jantjies missed scrumhalf Ross Cronje on a wraparound move and Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara twice kicked the ball through before winning the race for the touchdown.

But the Hurricanes are also extremely efficient at creating tries and a turnover from impressive eighthman Brad Shields enabled them to do just that in the 11th minute.

It was a disappointing defensive read from the Lions after the lineout, with too many defenders bunched in midfield, allowing flyhalf Beauden Barrett to come roaring through a big hole on the wraparound, and then freeing wing Wes Goosen on the outside for the try.

On the half-hour, there was a particularly poor moment of bad decision-making by the Lions as they were awarded a penalty inside their own half, but instead of kicking to the corner and squeezing the Hurricanes, they played into their hands by taking a quick tap and trying to run.

There was a hint of Cronje being played at the ruck as lock Sam Lousi knocked the ball out of his hands, but there was no doubt about flank Ardie Savea’s finishing ability as he pounced on the loose ball and roared away.

There was an early chance in the second half for the Lions to make amends, as they won a penalty. This time they set the lineout and then a midfield ruck, which created some space on the left. Cronje, who handled with aplomb the obvious pressure there was focused on him at the breakdowns, dived over from a ruck close to the tryline.

Jantjies, who put the disappointment of his poor goalkicking against the Sharks in last weekend’s quarterfinal behind him by nailing a solid six-from-eight against the Hurricanes, added the conversion and suddenly the Lions were just 17-22 behind and one could sense the momentum shift.

If there is one criticism of the Hurricanes side, it would be that they are not the most patient side and, with the Lions bossing territory through the boots of Combrinck and Coetzee, the frustrated visitors tried a dinky little chip kick from their own territory.

It was gathered by Combrinck, who burst into the Hurricanes’ 22 and forced a penalty for offsides. The Springboks are surely going to have to recall the powerful wing now that he is back to his best after injury.

The Lions once again set the lineout and hooker Malcolm Marx carried strongly to force his way over for the try, Jantjies’ conversion coming off the post to leave the scores level at 22-22.

But the kickoffs and exits are such vital parts of the game these days and, when the Lions dilly-dallied after receiving the kickoff, a well-timed counter-ruck by the Hurricanes turned over possession, which was then simply shipped down the backline until there were no more defenders left and outside centre Ngani Laumape was able to cross for the try.

Fullback Jordy Barrett converted, but they would be the last points the Hurricanes scored as the last 20 minutes were one big hiding for the defending champions.

Combrinck again broke clear but was tackled deep inside the Hurricanes’ 22, with flyhalf Beauden Barrett then playing the ball on the ground and being yellow-carded by referee Jaco Peyper. It was such a cynical foul in the red zone that there could be no buts about it, and Jantjies kicked the penalty to close the gap to 25-29.

The Lions then roared back on to attack; their efforts looked a little aimless at times, but at least they kept the ball alive and Cronje eventually found centre Harold Vorster coming through on a good line for the try that gave the Lions the lead for the first time since the fifth minute.

When flank Kwagga Smith misread a ruck for a collapsed maul and was penalised for hands-in, it meant Jordy Barrett would have his fifth and final shot at goal, but crucially he missed and the Lions’ momentum was not broken.

The Lions have one of the best scrums in the competition and they used it in the 73rd minute to destroy the Hurricanes set-piece and provide fantastic front-foot ball for the backs, which Jantjies used to go sniping over for another try, his conversion stretching the lead to 39-29.

It meant the Hurricanes would have to play from their own territory and a long pass from Perenara was duly intercepted by replacement hooker Akker van der Merwe, who was pleased to have Smith roaring up in support just as the attack seemed to be dying, the flank crossing for the final try.

This time there was no conversion from Jantjies, but there was no denying the Lions as they completed their remarkable triumph.

They showed once again that once the tide is with them, when they have the bit between their teeth, there is no stopping them.

Scorers

LionsTries – Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith. Conversions – Jantjies (4). Penalties – Jantjies (2).

HurricanesTries – TJ Perenara. Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape. Conversions – Jordy Barrett (3). Penalty – Barrett.

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.

 

Big Trevor & the lollipop: Meyer leaving nothing to chance 0

Posted on December 22, 2016 by Ken

Being one of the largest specimens of humanity in Pretoria, Trevor Nyakane is not exactly hard to spot. But I was nevertheless very excited to see him at Loftus Versfeld the other day, mostly because of what he was doing.

The Bulls prop was busy with Springbok assistant coach John McFarland practising lineout throwing, with the defence guru using the big metal “lollipop stick” he designed exactly for this purpose to replicate Victor Matfield’s hands soaring high above the opposition and claiming the throw that sets up the maul that sets up the try that wins South Africa the World Cup later this year.

I was intrigued because I figured this may mean Nyakane is being groomed to play hooker for the Springboks.

There has not been much for the Bulls to be happy about this season, but Nyakane has been one of the few shining lights at Loftus Versfeld, and here, at the same venue, he was showing the adaptability that has already seen him master the tighthead position, having left the Cheetahs as a loosehead at the start of the year.

I was very excited because, if Nyakane could play as a back-up No 2 it would mean Heyneke Meyer could name just two hookers in his squad, thereby freeing up a place that could help unblock the amazing loose forward log-jam he has to wrestle with.

Because the World Cup in England will be just an overnight flight away from South Africa, it means Nyakane could sit on the bench if one of the two match-day hookers went down on the eve of a game, with a replacement being flown over if the injury was more long-term.

At the moment, Meyer can only take five loose forwards to the World Cup (with Oupa Mohoje going as a lock), so Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Willem Alberts, Schalk Burger and Marcell Coetzee would appear to be the frontrunners. But that would mean leaving quality, in-form players such as Jaco Kriel, Warren Whiteley, Siya Kolisi and Nizaam Carr behind, so any scheme that could sneak one of those on to the plane to England should be investigated.

Unfortunately it’s turned out that this was one of the many occasions when I was getting ahead of myself and Nyakane is definitely not being groomed as a hooker and Meyer will choose three No 2s in the World Cup squad.

But it is one of the many examples of how detailed Meyer’s planning is for the World Cup because Nyakane is being trained as a back-up thrower should the on-field hooker get a yellow card. Of which Bismarck du Plessis has many.

It’s an emergency policy for 10 minutes, but it has happened a couple of times to the Springboks in the last two years, with Vermeulen notably forced to throw into the lineout against Ireland last year.

It’s another of the many one-percenters that Meyer reckons could decide the World Cup and the Springbok coach has gone into minute detail in his planning. That includes poring over the minutiae of every previous tournament and the venues where his team will play. He has even gone into the weather records and keeps an eye on the long-term forecasts.

Unfortunately there still seems to be no solution to the problem that will see the likes of Kriel, Whiteley, Kolisi and Carr staying at home!

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-columnists/408023/kb-col/

Former Bok defence coach John McFarland on the BaaBaas game & England coming up 0

Posted on November 08, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s a big week for Springbok coach Allister Coetzee after what was, frankly, a poor performance against the Barbarians, and I find it hard to believe a number of our commentators regarded it as an acceptable display, although it is not a foregone conclusion that England will beat South Africa at Twickenham this weekend.

It was a fantastic comeback against the Barbarians – yet another one!

The Springboks did really well to come back from 19-31 down, but they have to turn over less ball at the breakdown. To concede 25 turnovers is completely unacceptable at this level and if they do that against England then they will be hammered. A Barbarians team without much international experience managed to exploit all that turnover ball and England will have even more speed on the wings.

The Springbok defence has to improve, it was continuously providing overlap situations from middle rucks. There is a need to work a lot harder to set the breakdown ie the defence is ready to go before the attack.

The key at international level is never to lose your width but against the BaaBaas the defence wasn’t set quickly enough and there were too many forwards behind or next to the ruck, which will lead to huge problems for the wings. There were structural weaknesses, but I expect a more experienced Springbok team to play this weekend and they will make better decisions on both attack and defence.

As the game progressed, because of this shortage of numbers in defence, Sergeal Petersen would come in and hit the second-last attacker, but he needs to stand wide of a man like Naiyaravoro and wait for the inside players to come and help, hope the numbers arrive to help get him into touch. But he’s not the first big wing the Springboks have played against and I fully expect JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana to be on the wings this weekend and they are used to playing against guys like that.

The positives the Springboks can take into the England match are that their lineout kept them in the game in the first half and they scored a great try through the drive by Pieter-Steph du Toit when the Barbarians stood off, this was a well thought-out tactic and England are bound to do the same as the BaaBaas.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg was quite explosive with ball in hand and finished well, he got over the advantage line well. But he had a lot of space at Wembley which he won’t get at top international level.

Francois Venter showed good hands and support skills for his try, but it will be a difficult decision for Allister Coetzee to choose them against England because Lionel Mapoe and Damian de Allende have been his midfield for most of the year and they are settled together. Maybe he’ll pick the Lions combination of Janse van Rensburg and Mapoe because they know each other and are comfortable together.

Pat Lambie obviously hasn’t played much for a long time and was a bit too deep at times, plus his timing wasn’t quite there. But it was the first time he’s played at flyhalf since June and he just needs game time, we’ll see him at his best only towards the end of the tour. He’s obviously a class act, but it will be interesting to see if Allister goes with him or Elton Jantjies this weekend.

The Springboks have quite categorically stated that they are going to use the kicking game with an attacking line to get the ball back, that is not revolutionary! The accuracy of the kick will be of the utmost importance – is it contestable? – because all of our back three are very good in the air and the forwards will have to have a high work-rate to get underneath the kick and react to the positive tackle from JP or Bryan.

England don’t really play with a sweeper so there is chip space behind the line, especially on box-kicks.

I know people want a specialist at six, but the breakdown is actually the whole team’s job, not just the openside flank’s. The problem against the Barbarians was that too often the carrier would lead with the ball, which allows the choke tackle, and the BaaBaas were destructive with the ball on the floor.

Generally at Test level you want to keep the penalties you concede to less than 10 and your turnovers conceded at around 12, and then you’ve got a chance of winning. But poor technique and knowledge of the game plan and system they were playing meant the players did not instinctively react to where the ball was going. The Springboks did carry the ball more than usual though because they were playing catch-up for most of the game.

England have very good ball-carriers (the Vunipola brothers are quite a handful), their goalkicking is a real strength and their lineout is vastly improved. I think they’ll target having a high ball-in-play figure against South Africa because they will suspect the Springboks’ conditioning may not be at a level to match them at the back end of the year, a few them looked a bit short of a gallop last weekend. Eddie Jones teams tend to play a set way, I think they’ll target our tight five forwards on the blindside with their backs, especially from scrums.

The Springboks have their backs against the wall, but Twickenham has been a good hunting ground especially when South Africa have been under pressure. In 2006, Jake White was under real pressure and won there, and the next year we won the World Cup, while in 2012, under Heyneke Meyer, we came through by a single point after a disappointing Rugby Championship.

The Springboks won there in 2014 as well and the common factor in both those years was that Ernie Els presented the jerseys, he even sat in on the team talks and was at the captain’s practice. He spoke for longer than even Heyneke did and it was one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve heard. He’s always as motivated for this game as the players are and I hope he’ll be in London again for the game!

 

 

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.

 

 



↑ Top