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Ken Borland



Like Ackermann, Ralepelle is putting those bad days behind him 0

Posted on July 27, 2016 by Ken

 

Sharks hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle’s return to rugby has not been greeted with universal acclaim following his two-year ban for doping, but those who are unwilling to forgive the former Toulouse player should perhaps consider the case of high-riding Lions coach Johan Ackermann.

The former Springbok lock is just about the most popular figure in South African rugby at the moment because of the inspirational job he has done in taking the Lions from the wilderness three years ago and into this weekend’s SuperRugby playoffs, but he too was banned for two years in 1997 for nandrolone use.

Ackermann then made his return to the playing field and even returned to Test rugby in 2001. He made a second comeback in 2006, becoming the oldest player to represent the Springboks at 37 years and 34 days against Australia in July 2007 in Sydney. That record was subsequently broken last year by former Toulon star Victor Matfield, when he captained South Africa to the bronze medal in the World Cup playoff against Argentina aged 38 years and 172 days.

Interestingly, Ackermann and Ralepelle actually appeared in a Test together, back in November 2006 when the Springboks beat England 25-14 at Twickenham. Ackermann started in the number four jersey, while Ralepelle came off the bench to replace captain John Smit.

Those were the days when Ralepelle was a 20-year-old prospect, who was fast-tracked due to political pressure to include more Black African players in the Springbok team, a dozen years after Apartheid had ended. The next week, Ralepelle was named to captain the team against a World XV in Leicester, becoming not only the youngest player to captain the national team but also the first Black. Those of a more cynical disposition were sure coach Jake White, now with Montpellier, was making a statement aimed at the politicians more than anything else.

Ralepelle is not quite 30, so who knows what lies further down the road for him; perhaps he too could make an international comeback. But he is not keen to speak about the past and his indiscretion with drostanolone, an anabolic steroid popular with bodybuilders.

“I’m living a new chapter now, in a new environment. I’m excited and it’s just fantastic to be back playing rugby. I want to seize the opportunity to play the game I love,” Ralepelle told Midi Olympique this week.

Apart from the feeling that he was a political pawn, fast-tracked for reasons of window-dressing, Ralepelle has also had rotten luck with knee injuries.

One game into the 2007 SuperRugby season with the Bulls, he suffered a serious knee injury, which he injured again in the warm-ups for the 2008 campaign. He suffered further knee injuries in 2012 and in 2014 after just 16 matches for Toulouse.

Both the Bulls, based in Pretoria on the South African Highveld, and Toulouse are inland teams and, having served his ban, Ralepelle is now happy down on the coast in Durban, on the Indian Ocean.

“Durban is a lovely city, it has the best weather you could ask for, I can go to the beach any time I like!

“I had wonderful days in Pretoria, it’s where I grew up and first made my mark, and I also had a great time in France. I made great friends there, it’s a good environment and Toulouse is a great team, the home of rugby in France. It was a great opportunity and a great place to play, and I miss the culture and values of that team,” Ralepelle said.

But the Sharks have given Ralepelle a lifeline when perhaps nobody else would, thanks to Smit, who was the CEO when the hooker was signed last November, and director of rugby Gary Gold. It is not the first time the 2007 World Cup winning captain has aided Ralepelle.

Smit contributed some of the school fees to enable Ralepelle to study at Pretoria Boys’ High, which he himself attended.

Ralepelle is determined to be the author of his own success now and has clearly been working hard off the field, given the lean and mean physique he has been sporting during SuperRugby this season.

“It’s been great to get a few games under the belt and I can still improve, which is exciting. Every day I’m striving just to be more on top of my game. It’s a matter of time and it gets easier playing week in, week out. I’m not yet where I should be, but in the mean time I just want to give more and more of a contribution to the team.

“It’s important that I don’t put my body under pressure, so I worked hard before the season just to keep up with the pace of SuperRugby. I worked hard on my conditioning and I am a little lighter, which helps me to move around the park more. I can have an impact that way, it’s not just about strength because if you’re blowing after five or 10 minutes you’re not going to have much strength anyway,” Ralepelle said.

While French rugby still involves plenty of driving play and is extremely physical, SuperRugby is changing, according to Ralepelle, who returned to the Southern Hemisphere competition in April after three years away.

“There’s been a big change, mostly because of the laws. With the speed of the game, players really need to be fitter and stronger. It’s an amazing competition,” Ralepelle said.

How fortunes change in rugby is also amazing and, if Ralepelle, who remains both mobile and good in the loose as well as proficient in the set-pieces, needs any encouragement, he only needs to look at how Johan Ackermann has not only restored his reputation but has grown it exponentially.

Sharks need new captain and hooker after Bismarck ban 0

Posted on May 04, 2016 by Ken

 

The Sharks will have to make a change at hooker and appoint a new captain for the next month after Bismarck du Plessis was suspended for four weeks by Sanzar on Sunday for petulantly kicking out at the head of an opponent during the match against the Chiefs at Kings Park.

Du Plessis’ act of gross unsportsmanship came just three minutes after the Chiefs had had their hooker, Hika Elliott, red-carded, and subsequently suspended for one week, for charging into the back of Tendai Mtawarira’s head with his shoulder at a ruck, almost immediately transferring all the pressure back on to the home side.

Matters became even worse for the Sharks when Frans Steyn was red-carded for a dangerous tip-tackle before the half-hour mark and his hearing is set for Monday.

While those two senior players let the side down so badly, the other 13 players on the field rallied magnificently to sneak a 12-11 victory over the Chiefs.

Kyle Cooper and Monde Hadebe are able replacements for Du Plessis in the front row, but the issue of who takes over the captaincy is less clearcut.

Flyhalf Pat Lambie or eighthman Ryan Kankowski would appear to be the frontrunners.

Director of rugby Gary Gold also faces a tough decision once Du Plessis returns to action on April 19 as this is the Springbok’s second incident of foul play at a crucial time this season, following his assault on Victor Matfield in the Sharks’ loss to the Bulls in Pretoria three weeks ago. Does Gold trust that the fiery hooker can mend his ways and remain disciplined under pressure for the sake of his team or does he take firm action against a repeat offender?

The matches that Du Plessis will miss are at home to the Western Force and Crusaders, the visit to Ellis Park to play the Lions and the return fixture against the Bulls in Durban.

Gold defends Sharks’ decision to sign Ralepelle 0

Posted on November 06, 2015 by Ken

 

Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold on Monday defended the decision to sign Springbok hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle despite the fact that he is serving a doping ban, saying other teams were also chasing his signature and that his suitability had been thoroughly investigated.

Ralepelle, who won two Super Rugby titles with the Bulls, was handed a two-year suspension by WorldRugby after an out-of-competition doping test in March 2014 returned a positive test for a metabolite of an anabolic steroid, drostanolone, he had used while recovering from an operation on an anterior cruciate ligament following a knee injury he sustained while playing for Toulouse against Biarritz in France.

“We have done due diligence and Chiliboy is very remorseful. He deserved his penalty, there is no excuse for what he did and he knows that, but he will have done his time in April next year, four games into Super Rugby.

“We weren’t the only people in the market for him and I hope he will do his talking on the field. He’s an outstanding leader, he’s matured as a player at 29 and he deserves a second chance. Personally I think he got a raw deal before going to France, it was very sad that he was let go. He’s an outstanding player and, while I was forwards coach for the Springboks, he put John Smit and Bismarck du Plessis under real pressure. His work-rate is sensational, he carries and drives well and his set-piece work is precise,” Gold told The Citizen on Monday.

Several critics have expressed their anger at the decision to sign the hooker with 22 Test caps between 2006 and 2013, but the double-standard is clear when one considers how Johan Ackermann, who was banned for two years in 1997 for taking nandrolone to help heal a knee injury, has been welcomed back into the fold and is doing great work as the Lions coach.

The new year will also see the Sharks sporting a new assistant coach in former Springbok scrumhalf Robert du Preez, who has just steered the North-West Leopards to the Currie Cup First Division title, and a new defence coach in Omar Mouneimne, who has worked with Italy, Edinburgh, the EP Kings and Lyon.

Highly promising Western Province lock Ruan Botha has been mentioned as another possible signing for the Sharks, but he is still under contract in Cape Town, although Springbok Pieter-Steph du Toit’s move from Durban to the Stormers could see him eager to relocate.

 

‘How Bulls pack react to pressure is crucial’ – Maku 0

Posted on October 16, 2015 by Ken

 

Blue Bulls hooker Bandise Maku knows that how the pack responds to the pressure the powerful Western Province forwards will put them under will go a long way to deciding who wins their Currie Cup semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.

Western Province will come to Pretoria with a SuperRugby-strength team featuring a powerful front row of Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Wilco Louw, and two of the best young locks in the country in Ruan Botha and Jean Kleyn, while the combative Nizaam Carr, the intimidating Rynhardt Elstadt and the pacy Sikhumbuzo Notshe form a superbly well-balanced loose trio.

“As a pack, we’ve gone quite well and guys like Pierre Schoeman, Marvin Orie and RG Snyman have come through well. But Western Province have a very good set-piece and are strong on the drive as well, so we’re expecting a big clash up front. Myself, Deon Stegmann, Lappies Labuschagne and Arno Botha have the experience, we need to stay level-headed because there’s always going to be pressure in a semi-final. It’s how you react to it that’s crucial and the set-piece battle is going to be very important, lineouts and defending the drive as well,” Maku told The Citizen on Tuesday.

Western Province, with Kitshoff at the forefront, will no doubt see the Blue Bulls scrum as a potential area of weakness, but Maku said they have improved since being worked over in Cape Town a month ago when the Blue Bulls were beaten 29-14.

“It’s important to get the combinations right up front and we’ve been doing quite well in the scrums lately. It’s still a work in progress, it’s long-term, but we have improved. There’s been a change in personnel and now we want to scrum, plus we have Werner Kruger coming off the bench to add his experience,” Maku said.

The 29-year-old Springbok is one of the most experienced players in the Blue Bulls team with 74 Currie Cup and 53 SuperRugby caps, and he sees taking whatever points are on offer as being the key factor in whether they reach their first final since 2010.

“It’s all about taking your chances. If you have a lineout five metres out, then you have to make it count. You need to take your points so you create scoreboard pressure, so you also have to kick very well, kick when you have to and keep the pressure on them with the boot. We’ll also need to play with more discipline because that will put pressure on them as well,” Maku said.

 

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