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Ken Borland



Chapter & verse from Coetzee, and then what? 0

Posted on December 10, 2017 by Ken

 

In the next week, national coach Allister Coetzee will have to give chapter and verse on what happened to the Springboks this year to the SA Rugby executive council and if he stays true to his public pronouncements after the loss to Wales, then he will describe his charges as “a side that is on the up” and having “a really healthy team environment”.

Which is nothing but a sop for a South African public that rightly expects top-class performances from their national rugby team. Instead, the Springboks have endured a decidedly mediocre year, without a single rousing victory for Coetzee to rave about at his performance review. Victories over France, Argentina and Italy are not results we would expect the Springboks to boast about, and neither were two draws against a very average Australian side.

The results have been disappointing enough but to add insult to injury, the Springboks are playing such uninspired rugby that it feels like we are back to the most conservative days early on in Heyneke Meyer’s tenure as national coach.

Simply put, the Springboks are not making any progress under Coetzee. In fact, we have seen two more unwanted milestones set this year in record defeats to New Zealand and Ireland.

To put an end to this continued slide into mediocrity, SA Rugby simply have to hold Coetzee accountable and relieve him of his duties as Springbok coach. I had sympathy for him this time last year because he was coaching with one hand tied behind his back, perhaps even being set up to fail, but this year he has been given everything he wanted and even said at the start of the campaign that there were no excuses this year.

In the general public, Rassie Erasmus, freshly back in the post of director of rugby, is seen as the obvious candidate to replace Coetzee and try and rescue South Africa’s hopes for the 2019 World Cup.

But Erasmus has shown little desire to emerge from the shadows, from which he has been strategising, and there seems little doubt that the rumours that Deon Davids of the Southern Kings will be the new Springbok coach have emanated from his office via his usual journalistic channels.

Davids has done wonders with the Kings considering the lack of resources, both in terms of players and finance, and time he has had to deal with, and is highly-rated as a coach. But other players and coaches tell me he would be out of his depth at international level.

I do have a fundamental problem, though, if Davids is appointed to merely be the face of the Springboks with Erasmus making all the big decisions.

The Springbok coach needs to be accountable to the fans and he needs to be regularly available to the media to explain his decisions; something Coetzee and those before him have never shirked. Erasmus cannot be allowed to be pulling the strings and not seen to be answerable for the national team’s performance.

As Springbok coach, Coetzee has made some stupid selections (such as neutralising Eben Etzebeth as an enforcer by making him captain) and has rightly been called to task for them; Erasmus cannot be allowed to operate as a dictatorial figure whose instructions are not open to scrutiny.

The time has come for change, but as in Zimbabwean politics, there are concerns that the change won’t necessarily be for the better. The smooth-talking Erasmus has been able to con a lot of people in recent years, but perhaps now is the time for him to display his rugby acumen in the frontline, under the glare of the television cameras and the beady eye of the fourth estate.

 

Uganda putting initial suspicions & tragedy behind them to embrace rugby 0

Posted on November 04, 2016 by Ken

 

Having gone through the agony of a young player tragically dying on the field and initial suspicions about the game, the Uganda Rugby Union is now seeing a rapid rise in interest at schools which can only be good news for a country that has enormous unharnessed talent.

Yusuf Saidi Baban, a player with Nile Rugby Club and student at Jinja Senior Secondary School, died following a Uganda Cup game against Buffaloes in July 2013. There had already been some resistance to rugby being played in schools with the perception being that the game was not “godly” because it was rough and the ball was passed backwards!

But since then, there has been a dramatic change in attitude, thanks to the hard work of the Uganda RU and the support of WorldRugby’s Get Into Rugby programme and the private Bhubesi Pride charitable initiative.

“WorldRugby obviously give us their usual grants and help with training and education, but their Get Into Rugby programme has been very good for us. Since 2014 it has gone into really remote areas that have never seen a rugby ball and we are beginning to familiarise the game at schools,” Uganda RU president Andrew Owor said.

“We now have 248 primary schools playing rugby, mostly non-contact through the Tag Rugby Trust. But we are running up-skilling programs alongside that and Uganda’s Get Into Rugby is a blend of Tag and Uganda Rugby Union programs. We are locating rugby centres, going to schools that we have had contact with before.

“But schools now write to us saying they want rugby there, which shows the change in mindset. Before, there was a bit of stigma about rugby in schools and we needed a lot of education, starting with the teachers. The key is also getting parents fully on board and then you get two or three brothers all playing at different high-level clubs.”

Bhubesi Pride is the initiative Richard Bennett started in 2010 to bring together rural communities, NGOs and government departments in Africa with lovers of rugby union. It selects volunteers from all over the world to help develop rugby and harness its benefits for society in general.

According to Bennett, Bhubesi Pride has three main objectives: “To unite communities through rugby, promoting the sport’s values and life skills; empower and up-skill local staff, nurturing community leaders, male and female, in a way that maximises sustainability; and to inspire long-term developmental outcomes via tangible legacy projects, alongside in-country partners.”

Their 2015 expedition began at the end of January in Uganda with a 25-strong team of volunteers drawn from 11 different countries.

“Bhubesi Pride have raised huge awareness, especially in Jinja, which is an hour from Kampala. It was good that they went to where the boy died on the pitch, they faced that and educated the people about what happened. They go to a number of schools, holding clinics for coaches in the area and it has been a huge success. They do a lot,” Owor said.

It’s an important year for Uganda Rugby because, at the top level, their senior team will be bidding for promotion back into Africa Group 1A and their men’s and women’s sevens teams are both strong contenders to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Uganda rugby has always been renowned for a running, expansive game and the sheer pace of their players – sometimes their props could seemingly double as wings! – makes up for them being smaller than those from most other African countries. Sevens rugby would seem to be an obvious area for investment.

“We’re in the final eight of Olympic qualifying to be held in South Africa in November. Kenya and Zimbabwe are our main rivals, with one other team from Africa joining South Africa at the Olympics. We don’t have funding to travel much which is why we dropped out of the second level of the World Series.

“We’re now looking for a sponsor and we don’t have nearly as much financial backing as Kenya and not much government support, so we’re at a disadvantage. But there is enormous talent, we saw that in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games last year. They only had four months to train, but they performed so well, beating Sri Lanka and not being disgraced by Australia nor England, you could see the raw talent,” Owor said.

Get Into Rugby has also proved to be a great avenue for women’s players to excel in Uganda.

“It channels girls into sevens and has produced a multitude of players. The Uganda U19 girls won the Safaricom Sevens in Nairobi, it was the first time they had ever been outside Uganda and that shows how much talent there is, but it’s unharnessed.

“Women’s rugby is the success story in Uganda, only South Africa beat our team and the women’s sevens is the first team, across all sporting codes, to represent Uganda at a senior World Cup,” Owor said.

Apart from the usual problem of limited finance, Uganda Rugby is also longing for their own national rugby stadium. Owor is hopeful that a new agreement with the Kingdom of Buganda will see their dream come true.

“It’s a landmark partnership, going to the local kingdom, which is independent of government. They are in the process of giving us land on which we can put up a stadium, which will also be a facility for their subjects. It’s a huge collaboration with the kingdom, which is in the central third of Uganda, and now we will work together to get partners from the rest of the world and hopefully have a new centre for rugby in East Africa,” Owor said.

At grassroots level, the move to bring families and communities on board has been a key factor in the growth of Ugandan rugby, while instituting a three-tiered competition structure has seen the number of senior clubs grow to 26. The changing model has also seen a decentralisation of rugby with the four regions now empowered to run their own affairs on a semi-autonomous basis.

Franchise rugby, with two or three clubs joining together, has also been introduced and although Owor knows it will take time for all the talent in Uganda to bloom, he is confident there is enormous potential.

 

 

Piedt amongst the spinners flourishing in SA cricket’s ‘po’ phase 0

Posted on June 22, 2016 by Ken

 

Edward de Bono, the father of lateral thinking, created the term “po” to describe an idea which moves thinking forward to a new place from where new ideas or solutions may be found. It’s probably not stretching things too far to suggest South African cricket is having a few po moments of its own, especially when it comes to spinners.

Omar Henry has had a long and successful journey through South African cricket: first as a player of colour he broke down barriers during Apartheid, as a fine left-arm spinner and a dangerous lower-order batsman he was highly respected both here and overseas, where he famously played for Scotland. He was already 40 when official international cricket returned, but he was still good enough to become the first non-white to play for South Africa.

After he retired in 1994, Henry turned to coaching and then became the convenor of the national selectors before entering the boardroom as the CEO of Boland cricket.

He has now returned to coaching and was helping out on Tuesday at the national academy at the centre of excellence at the University Of Pretoria, and he told The Citizen that the sight of three frontline spinners playing for South Africa in the West Indies triangular had been thrilling if scarcely believable.

Henry was keeping a beady eye on the spinners at the national academy nets and he had an interesting assistant in current Test spinner Dane Piedt, who was also bowling a few overs.

Piedt is one of the South African spinners who is not involved in limited-overs cricket or T20 competitions (perhaps he should be?), and with Test cricket starting again in August with two home games against New Zealand, he is needing practice, especially since the Cape weather is really not conducive to any sort of outdoor activity at the moment.

“It’s the end of the world in Cape Town at the moment! The weather channel says there’s an 85% chance of rain but it’s more like 105%. So I needed to come up here and get some work in before the SA A side goes to Zimbabwe and Australia,” the 26-year-old said after taking a break from the serious stuff.

The idea of a current player coaching up-and-coming stars who could be competing with him for places in teams is another example of forward-thinking, and it was wonderful to see the many different generations that academy head Shukri Conrad has roped in to help at the academy. Vincent Barnes was a prolific bowler of the 1980s, while Henry and Jimmy Cook were there from South Africa’s early years back in international cricket, as were Shaun Pollock and Gary Kirsten from the next era, more recent players like Andre Nel and Greg Smith, and then current stars Piedt and Stephen Cook.

For Piedt, doing some coaching was an eye-opening experience.

“I told Shukri that I actually learn a lot about my own game watching these youngsters. I remember the things that I used to do, what my weaknesses are, so it helps a lot just to focus on your own game. Guys like Robin Peterson, Claude Henderson and Paul Adams passed on to me what they knew about bowling and now I’m passing on the little I’ve learnt to these guys, which is exciting,” Piedt said.

Much of the off-season talk in South African cricket has been around playing pink ball day/nighters in Australia and how our players are going to prepare for a totally new challenge. De Bono would be proud of the positive attitude with which the Proteas are tackling this leap into the unknown.

“I’ve never played with a pink ball before, so it’s unknown territory, but the game is changing so rapidly these days and we need to keep up. When the SA A side meets up on July 2 we’re going to try and get a couple of pink balls into the nets to work out how they are different, devise strategies for it.

“I watched that Test between Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide and Nathan Lyon and Mark Craig were getting quite a bit of spin, even with the ball swinging all over the place. Apparently there are a lot of differences and you tend to see it, lose it and then pick it up again in the field,” Piedt said.

Piedt has taken 22 wickets in his five Tests in a career that was interrupted for over a year by a serious shoulder injury after his eight-wicket debut against Zimbabwe in Harare. He is the incumbent spinner after playing in three of the four Tests against England last summer and he feels he ticked the box when it came to consistency.

“The big thing for me was getting that consistency, being able to land the ball in the same place and build pressure. Taking three for 38 in 18 overs in the second innings in Cape Town really helped my confidence and then I felt I came into my own in the last Test at Centurion. And then the Tests just stopped!

“But England have a very strong batting line-up and I felt I was expensive early on. I want to put the two together, go for two/2.5 runs-per-over and also take wickets. I want to implement the parts of my game where I feel strong, like being aggressive. I was pleased with 10 wickets in the series on good surfaces,” Piedt said.

For the moment, the South African selectors are only seeing Piedt as a long-format player, but who knows what might happen in the future.

Few would have predicted the current success of Tabraiz Shamsi, who has proven an able deputy for the unstoppable Imran Tahir, while Aaron Phangiso also fulfils a valuable role and the likes of Eddie Leie and Simon Harmer are also waiting in the wings.

http://citizen.co.za/1172155/piedt-among-the-spinners-flourishing-in-sa-crickets-po-phase/

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