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Ken Borland



Lions victory due in no small part to Jantjies masterclass 0

Posted on August 03, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions roared into the SuperRugby final with a 42-30 victory over the Highlanders at Ellis Park on Saturday due in no small part to a masterclass in flyhalf play by Elton Jantjies.

Jantjies was his usual brilliant self with ball in hand, scoring one try and setting up another for wing Courtnall Skosan with a dazzling blindside break from his own 22, while he was once again reliable kicking for poles, nailing four conversions and three penalties from his eight shots at goal. He was also strong defensively, holding his channel well and it was his hit in midfield in the 24th minute that provided the loose ball for centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg to score and increase the Lions’ lead to 17-3.

But it was his tactical kicking that was at another level in Saturday’s semifinal as the Lions consistently cleared any danger in their own 22, nullifying the strong kicking game of the Highlanders and driving them back in the territory battle, as well as turning their defensive line around very well.

Jantjies said it was due to getting the decision-making right on the day.

“It’s a privilege to play with this group of players and it just came down to making the right decisions. You look to create opportunities and you hope the gap opens up, otherwise you kick. I just play what is in front of me,” Jantjies said. “I just enjoyed it out there, we worked hard at playing at huge intensity and to go for the whole 80 minutes, which we needed to do.”

Coach Johan Ackermann was more forthcoming in praising his flyhalf general.

“It was very important that we did well at the exits, as shown by the one time we let it slip and the Highlanders scored. In general we were accurate at our exits, and decision-making goes hand-in-hand with that. The kicking and passing games were both good tonight, and now’s the right time for players like Elton to be in really good form,” Ackermann said.

Jantjies had some bad defensive misses when playing for the Springboks against Ireland in the June internationals to raise some question marks over that area of his game, but the 25-year-old was excellent in defence on Saturday and put it down to hard work during the week.

“I’ve had a few challenges, but this week I did a lot of one-on-one tackling work, I focused on that,” Jantjies said.

The Lions will now fly to Wellington on Sunday night, arriving midnight on Monday, and one of the features of the final will be the battle of the flyhalves between Hurricanes star Beauden Barrett and Jantjies, probably the two most in-form number 10s in the world right now.

But Jantjies was not going to be drawn on that match-up.

“I don’t have individual battles, it’s all about the team and just making sure I do my job for the team. The Hurricanes and Beauden Barrett are playing good rugby, and obviously they’re one-up on us after giving us 50 points at Ellis Park a few months ago. But we learnt a lot from our last game against them and we played some good stuff tonight. But we will have to reassess again on Monday,” Jantjies said.

Ackermann said he was content going to Wellington for a chance to put the cherry on top of what has already been a historic season for the Lions – their best ever in SuperRugby.

“Three years ago this week we were playing promotion/relegation and now this week we’ve made the final, which is really stunning. In finals, I believe everyone has a chance, they’re 50/50. Yes, we have to travel, but we won three out of four games last year and two out of three this year on the road, so this team loves to be together and to travel.

“It’s a once-off game and, as the Highlanders reminded us when they came into our changeroom after the game, they won there in Wellington last year. The pressure is on the Hurricanes, it’s a home game for them,” Ackermann said.

Sharks sink to new lows 0

Posted on August 03, 2016 by Ken

The Sharks will be contemplating the rest of their SuperRugby overseas tour with sheer terror after they were put to the sword, 48-15, by the Highlanders in their opening match in Dunedin on Friday.

While the Highlanders obviously deserve credit for their superb display – highlighted by their dazzling skill and vision on attack – the miserable defence of the Sharks, the number of basic mistakes they made and their own lacklustre attack made this one of their most dismal performances, almost as bad as the rout they suffered at the hands of the Crusaders at Kings Park a month ago.

The brilliance of Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, running at the line and invariably choosing the right option, had the Sharks’ defence at sixes and sevens and the pace and power of Patrick Osborne saw the wing create numerous gaps.

The support play of the home side was also outstanding and their skill in offloading meant they strolled to seven tries.

The first visit of the Highlanders to the Sharks’ 22 brought a try as fullback Odwa Ndungane rushed out of the defensive line to give flank Gareth Evans an easy run-in after wings Osborne and Waisake Naholo had crashed through on mini-breaks. It was a portent of the defensive failures that were to dog the Sharks all night, while Ndungane was also caught out of position on numerous occasions by the clever kicking games of half-backs Sopoaga and Aaron Smith.

The lead was extended to 10-0 in the 21st minute when Sopoaga, impressive with the boot as well, kicked a penalty after Osborne and skilful eighthman Nasi Manu went over the gain-line before a super offload to hooker Liam Coltman drew a stupid ruck infringement from flank Etienne Oosthuizen, the late replacement for Renaldo Bothma.

The Sharks did well, though, to level the scores by the 32nd minute.

The kicking game of the Sharks was generally poor, but one good up-and-under by flyhalf Fred Zeilinga led to a penalty for offsides which he kicked, before the powerful ball-carrying of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts and Stephan Lewies allowed The Beast to plough his way over from a ruck close to the line.

The response from the Highlanders was swift and brutal, however, as they scored two quick tries to go into the break with a healthy 24-10 lead.

Sopoaga really bloomed in those four minutes before half-time, his brilliant little chip-kick to Naholo, after Smith’s quick tap-penalty and break, setting up the winger’s try and then his run across the face of the defence creating space out wide for Osborne, who was found with a great, long pass.

But instead of regrouping at half-time, the Sharks came out and produced one of the worst 40 minutes in their history as they utterly failed to corral the rampant Highlanders attack.

The lack of urgency and general malaise was epitomised by replacement scrumhalf Conrad Hoffman being in lala land as Marco Wentzel’s lineout steal was tapped past him and his tardiness in dotting down in the in-goal area saw lock Mark Reddish sneak in for the bonus point try.

Two minutes later, Smith made it 36-10 as he ranged up in support of centre Richard Buckman’s half-break, but the Sharks were on attack when they conceded the sixth try.

Protecting the ball and the basic skills of passing and catching are variables that are in a team’s own control and the Sharks were dreadful in those departments, losing possession inside the Highlanders’ 22 in the 67th minute and, with a variety of players getting through the half-gap and offloading, the home side scored a great team try, rounded off by replacement prop Brendon Edmonds.

The Sharks managed to show enough interest in the contest for hooker Du Plessis to score off a lineout drive in the 71st minute, but the Highlanders gained sweet revenge when their own pack drove their way to a 79th-minute try, replacement flank Elliot Dixon dotting down.

This must rate as one of the weakest Sharks teams to ever play Super Rugby, with too many players out of their depth at this level.

Scorers

Highlanders: Tries – Gareth Evans, Waisake Naholo, Patrick Osborne, Mark Reddish, Aaron Smith, Brendon Edmonds, Elliot Dixon. Conversions – Lima Sopoaga (5). Penalty – Sopoaga.

Sharks: Tries – Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis. Conversion – Fred Zeilinga. Penalty –Zeilinga.

http://citizen.co.za/373695/sharks-sink-to-new-lows/

Former Springbok defence coach John McFarland on what will be key for the Lions in their semifinal 0

Posted on July 28, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions’ scrum was superlative against the Crusaders in their SuperRugby quarterfinal and I think it will be one of the key things they will use against the Highlanders in their semifinal this weekend.

They really put the Crusaders under pressure in the scrums and that’s against an All Blacks tight five, so that’s very encouraging for the Lions’ championship hopes.

Their scrum is a destructive weapon and it will be one of the keys against the Highlanders, as well as mauling well.

The Highlanders don’t have the same quality forwards as the Crusaders do, but they do have explosive backs and if the Lions don’t kick for distance then there will be problems for them, they will find themselves under a lot of pressure around their own 22.

Ben Smith is so good at counter-attacking, he’s the best in the world at it for me, ahead of Israel Folau. He will run the ball back and he has a tremendous ability to step, find gaps and beat people.

The one negative about the Lions team is the distance they get on their relieving kicks and that’s at altitude, they might have to take that to sea level if the final is in Wellington. You compare their kicking against the Crusaders to the quality of Beauden Barrett’s tactical kicking in a gale in Wellington and you can see that will be a concern in an away final. Every South African will be praying the Chiefs win that semifinal against the Hurricanes.

The Highlanders are a very different New Zealand team in that they have a very strong kicking game thanks to Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith.

Sopoaga is very clever with his little chips which always seem to find space, while Aaron is a superb tactical kicker and takes responsibility for it. Having a kicker at scrumhalf means the chase line is right on top of you, so the kicks are normally contestable. Aaron always kicks off at the restarts and the Highlanders have two big wings who are very good in the air, when Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo are running at you, you know you’re going to go backwards!

So field position still has a huge influence and top teams turn that into points. The Lions got away with not having much territory against the Crusaders because they were very disciplined, they didn’t give a lot away, and they built a score early on so the Crusaders were under pressure. Those two early tries took the wind out of the Crusaders and they had to chase the game from the start.

It’s typical of that Lions team, they have come through such adversity. It’s a tremendous story, most of their players were rejected somewhere else, they weren’t the first choices when they were 19 or 20 years old.

Franco Mostert was at the Bulls for four or five years and didn’t get the opportunity, and now he’s a player the Lions rally around. Warwick Tecklenburg also didn’t make it at the Bulls and he’s really matured as a player.

A lot of them have also spent seasons overseas, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe and Tecklenburg have all played in Japan. So a guy like Elton gets coaching from Swys de Bruin but also from someone like Rob Penney at NTT Shining Arcs, who used to coach Canterbury.

The way Malcolm Marx has progressed is very pleasing for me because I worked with him before. He used to drive for an hour to Pretoria to come throw for an hour and then drive back on his off day, because there was a perception in his junior days that his lineout throwing wasn’t good. He’s worked so hard and that’s what people don’t appreciate about this Lions team.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg is tearing up trees now but he also played Vodacom Cup for the Blue Bulls and look at how he is playing now. Andries Coetzee was also at the Bulls as a junior and was released, even though he had that big left foot even then.

The Lions have played together consistently, they’re very grounded as a group. Most of them actually live in Pretoria and are up at 5.30 every morning so they can be at the Lions by 6.30. Johan Ackermann and JP Ferreira get up at 4.30am! So they are a very hard-working bunch.

But the keys this weekend will be for them to use their scrum and to maul well, and to kick more contestable balls. They can’t give the Highlanders time on the ball, the defence must be on top of them, and the Lions have been defending very well, plus their back row are all stealers of the ball and Malcolm Marx is like a fourth loose forward. The Lions need to raise the tempo, like they did when they carved up the Crusaders midfield.

In terms of the other quarterfinals, the Stormers were such a disappointment and they have lost so many playoff games now, and convincingly at that and at home! So they have to look at their preparation. Their generals against the Chiefs, Robert du Preez and Jaco Taute, just haven’t played enough rugby this year.

To say they were taken by surprise by the extra intensity of the New Zealand sides is a weak excuse. The Stormers should have had that intensity and enthusiasm playing at home in a playoff game and it was Schalk Burger’s last appearance at Newlands.

The Chiefs did play really well, you have to give them credit, but I don’t think not playing a New Zealand side before was that relevant for the Stormers.

The wheels have really come off the Sharks since the June Tests, they’re not the same side they were before that. What was most disappointing about their loss to the Hurricanes was that they showed so little ambition. They just had the maul, pick-and-go and kick, they never used their Springboks back three.

The Hurricanes played well, Beauden Barrett kicked superbly, but the Sharks never fired a shot, that’s what was really concerning.

For the South African teams to concede 17 tries in their three playoff games is a big worry.

I would say the Hurricanes/Chiefs semifinal is a 50/50 game, although the Hurricanes are without Dane Coles, who is their talisman as captain, he’s full of energy and he rallies the team. The Hurricanes lineout will be under intense pressure from Brodie Retallick and Dominic Bird and they don’t have their first-choice hooker. So that game could go either way.

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.

 

 

Springboks Bismarck, JP & Lewies all return for Sharks 0

Posted on July 15, 2016 by Ken

 

Springboks Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen and Stephan Lewies will all return to the Sharks’ starting line-up for their SuperRugby match against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday, director of rugby Gary Gold announced on Wednesday.

The embattled Sharks will be desperate to start their tour on a positive note and hooker Du Plessis and lock Lewies will bring some much-needed physicality to the pack, while the experience, size and defensive nous of Pietersen is going to be crucial at outside centre as the visitors look to contain one of the most potent backlines in Super Rugby.

Franco Marais, Waylon Murray and Mouritz Botha all move down to the bench.

The other changes to the starting line-up see tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis rested and replaced by Lourens Adriaanse for a match that will test the Sharks’ mobility and defence more than their set-piece prowess, while Willem Alberts shifts to eighthman with Renaldo Bothma moving to blindside flank.

Gold confirmed that, because of injuries, he is going to have to shuffle his loose-forward stocks carefully, with Etienne Oosthuizen the only reserve flank on tour.

“Etienne will get some game time and will have to start a few games to give other guys like Renaldo or Willem a rest. At this stage it’s the only option I have with Ryan Kankowski and Tera Mtembu injured, Jean Deysel still serving his suspension and the Du Preez brothers with the SA U20 squad. We don’t have any more options and we have to look at it carefully and see how we go, it just means that Etienne is going to play more of a role. Mouritz Botha and Stephan Lewies can cover the blindside, if need be, but hopefully we don’t have that situation,” Gold said.

Fred Zeilinga will be flyhalf for at least another week and will be looking to impress after struggling against the Bulls a fortnight ago. Francois Steyn returns from suspension next week, and is flying over to New Zealand in the next couple of days, while Lionel Cronje is the other option for the number 10 jersey.

Steyn can, of course, also play fullback or centre and it is anybody’s guess where Gold will eventually employ him next weekend against the Hurricanes.

“Frans’s strength comes from his ability to cover all three positions, we will see what happens this weekend. He will only be joining the team this weekend, and we will see how all the guys go and who performs and we will have a look at where we best see Frans fit into the team.  I see him as all three of those positions,” Gold said.

Team: Odwa Ndungane, S’bura Sithole, JP Pietersen, Andre Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Fred Zeilinga, Cobus Reinach, Willem Alberts, Renaldo Bothma, Marcell Coetzee, Marco Wentzel, Stephan Lewies, Lourens Adriaanse, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Bench – Franco Marais, Dale Chadwick, Matt Stevens, Mouritz Botha, Etienne Oosthuizen, Conrad Hoffmann, Lionel Cronje, Waylon Murray.



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