for quality writing

Ken Borland

Springboks suffering due to lack of solid structure below them 5

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken


The Springboks’ humiliating defeat in Durban last weekend was a painful reminder of the gulf in quality that exists between the administration and structure of the game in New Zealand and back here in South Africa, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen making sure to mention the decision-makers in their rugby when he was asked for the reasons behind their world record equalling run of 17 successive wins.

A solid structure from schoolboys to the Springboks is what is needed for our rugby to remain amongst the best in the world, not yet another overhaul of the national team and their coaches; that’s just treating the symptom, shuffling people around, and does not address the root cause of our problems.

And, as great as next week’s Rugby Indaba sounds – except for the unfortunate two coaches who have their preparations for the Currie Cup final disrupted (another example of Saru’s awful treatment of their flagship competition) – it’s not going to address our real problems either. There might be some good ideas about game plans and what-not, but the coaches and the franchise CEOs do not have the power to change the structural failings in rugby, that lies with the South African Rugby Union and their turkeys who will steadfastly not vote for Christmas.

Below the national sides, there should just be six teams playing fully professional rugby based in the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. And those six unions should have the power in South African rugby, not the eight lesser unions, largely amateurish and as relevant as dinosaurs, which are currently the tail that wags the dog.

Below that, all 14 unions can have semi-professional teams, but the amount of money that can be saved by only having six fully professional teams and by eight economically unviable organisations no longer drawing over R20 million a year in Saru grants could go a long way towards keeping our players in the country.

Just like in New Zealand, talented rugby players must fight for a limited number of professional contracts through their performances at club level, that lead to them playing for their provinces and then being chosen for a Super Rugby deal.

The vast majority of schoolboy players in New Zealand don’t become professional rugby players when they finish their education. They go to university and play rugby there, or play for their local club side while working, which is why so many All Blacks have had interesting occupations like lumberjack, piano mover or, as in the case of Aaron Smith, apprentice hairdresser.

It’s a system that builds character and ensures only the fittest and hungriest players survive to reach the top.

Good schoolboy players in South Africa should be lauded in their school hall and with selection for provincial and national schoolboy teams; not with professional contracts and way too much exposure on television.

There is far too great an emphasis on schoolboy rugby in South Africa and that just creates entitled, spoilt players, wastes a lot of late-developing talent, kills our clubs and also gets in the way of transformation in many cases.

This is not to say that our current Springboks and their management are beyond blame. The All Blacks have a relentless drive to improve on and off the field every day, they see every challenge as a means of getting better.

Do our Springboks and their coaching staff have that same hunger? The same desire to do whatever it takes? Because it will also come down to that if they are going to close the gap with the All Blacks.

Any top professional sportsman worth his salt would turn a record 57-15 hammering at home into motivation to lift their conditioning and skills to new levels.

The South African cricket team has just completed an historic 5-0 series whitewash of world champions Australia, with captain Faf du Plessis saying a culture camp they held before the start of the summer has ensured that they are now playing as a team again and, most importantly, are really challenging each other to be better.

Now that’s the sort of indaba that could be useful for our rugby players and coaches, but the administrators still need to make the major, unselfish changes that will really benefit the game in this country.


High time at Loftus as the Bulls rapidly evolve 0

Posted on October 14, 2015 by Ken


Just four months ago, the Blue Bulls Rugby Union was in a sorry state with Frans Ludeke about to be axed as coach, the SuperRugby side ending a miserable campaign with a humiliating loss at home to the Cheetahs, and the players, management and administrators all pulling in different directions.

The atmosphere at Loftus Versfeld was so bad and so stuck in its ways that I called them dinosaurs in this same column.

But since then, there has been rapid evolution and their fortunes have soared with new coach Nollis Marais taking them to a home semi-final in the Currie Cup, playing a fresh, invigorating brand of rugby that has brought the crowds back to Loftus Versfeld, and giving much of the young talent that was being unused and growing frustrated the chance to shine.

Marais has already received his reward in that he has been confirmed as the SuperRugby coach and he has been given a four-year contract, an incredible sign of faith from a Bulls board that has never been known for its willingness to take a chance.

But CEO Barend van Graan said the sight of families returning in droves to Loftus Versfeld made it an easy decision.

“We can see how the tide has turned the last few weeks and attendances have been double what they were compared to last year, nearly the same as for SuperRugby games. Not many applicants reached the standards we require and it was not a difficult decision, Nollis had the inside track because of what has happened in the Currie Cup.

“Our expectations are high, if not I’m sure we would have only given him a one or two-year contract. But we have a lot of confidence in Nollis and he now has the opportunity to build for the next four years. He’s already brought through a number of young, excellent players,” Van Graan said.

While Marais has thoroughly updated the Bulls’ style of play, credit must also go to Van Graan and his board for realising that they need to adapt as well. The CEO said the BBRU would need to adjust their strategies.

“There are decreasing White numbers in our area, the whole demographic of Pretoria is changing dramatically. There are eight PSL teams in Gauteng, plus one each in North-West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, so this is a soccer region. The average crowd for a PSL game is 5000.

“Twenty-eight percent of the Blue Bulls’ support comes from the Eastern Cape and 98% of that is Black, most of whom don’t have pay-TV at home. So we have to revise our strategy and penetrate new markets. In the last five years, we have seen a decline of more than 70% on the number of tickets sold at the ground. People just buy tickets on the internet now and they’re no longer buying season tickets,” Van Graan pointed out.

The Bulls have earned a reputation for being aggressive recruiters of junior players, but their showcase teams have also suffered due to a revolving door of players leaving or losing their contracts.

“Since 2011, we have lost 57 players, a lot of them to the Euro, Yen and British Pound. But things are cyclical in a team sport, you have to let guys go, but perhaps we released too many players, in hindsight. The last six or seven SA U21 captains have come from here, but our Currie Cup side will be even younger next year so we need to be smart in our recruiting. We need to fast-track talent, but only five percent of the schools in our region play rugby,” Van Graan said.

Marais has given the Bulls a new lease of life on the field and credit should also be given to Van Graan and the board for identifying the new direction the BBRU has to take. If they continue along this path, there’s no reason why the Bulls shouldn’t in time become the most powerful union in the country again.



England cricket spluttering after first week of CWC 0

Posted on August 19, 2015 by Ken


They’re going to be spluttering into their gin and tonics at the Marylebone Cricket Club after England’s humiliating start to the World Cup, but it’s no more than they deserve after all the boardroom shenanigans that have been going on in the so-called home of the game.

It’s amazing how English cricket has managed to marry such smugness and superiority with such abysmal performances on the field of play, but it makes every hiding they receive in the World Cup even more pleasurable.

I generally don’t enjoy seeing sportsmen humiliated on the field of play, but I’ll make an exception in this case because of the thoroughly distasteful manner in which the England and Wales Cricket Board went to the dodgy lair of Narayanaswami Srinivasan and ingratiated themselves into the so-called “Big Three” that have hijacked the game.

My biggest bone of contention with the Big Three is that they seek to monopolise the game for their own benefit and are actively trying to halt the progress of the up-and-coming Associate nations by removing them from future World Cups. As veteran Ireland opener Ed Joyce pointed out, cricket is the only sport which is trying to contract its World Cup, while every other sport on the planet (yes, even American Football) is trying to expand its reach.

As the ANC, and the National Party before them, are showing so clearly, concentrating all the riches in the hands of an elite minority can only put a country or a sport on the road to destruction.

England will be the venue for the next World Cup, in 2019, and it is set to be a 10-team tournament. There’s little doubt that English cricket, having plundered talent from this country for so long, stand to benefit if the likes of Ireland and Scotland are barred from the highest echelon of the game; their top players will surely be tempted to play for England, just like their current captain, Eoin Morgan. England clearly need some reinforcements.

That the Associates and minnow nations like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are adding value to the game’s global showpiece cannot be doubted. Zimbabwe did themselves proud against South Africa, Ireland have already beaten the West Indies and Scotland did substantially better against New Zealand than England.

The plucky United Arab Emirates have some elegant batsmen and a genuine quick bowler in Mohammad Naveed, Bangladesh’s Shakib al-Hasan is a world-class all-rounder, while Afghanistan’s mere presence is a tremendous story of sportsmen rising above incredible challenges.

Sadly, there is a South African man at the centre of these efforts to push back the Associates – former wicketkeeper/batsman Dave Richardson, although he is probably just taking orders from those who pay his salary as ICC chief executive.

I say this because Richardson has been quoted as saying having Associate teams in the World Cup leads to too many one-sided matches and has also been quoted as praising the unpredictability and charm that these same teams bring to the tournament!

There are, of course, places nine and ten open for qualifiers at the next World Cup, but Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, who vote in favour of the Big Three and receive financial rewards and more exposure for their teams as a result, will be heavily favoured to take those spots as the system is in their favour.

Apart from England’s dreadful performances, the other key features of the first week of the Cricket World Cup have been New Zealand’s invincibility at home, a new benchmark of 300 runs per innings being set by the powerful batting sides and the importance of taking wickets in the middle overs otherwise set batsmen in the death overs will run amok.




Maynard revived Titans – CJ 0

Posted on January 01, 2013 by Ken

Whatever other talents Nashua Titans coach Matthew Maynard may have, it is his powers of encouragement and motivation that have been to the fore lately as he has lifted his team from a humiliating opening defeat into a position of strength in the Momentum One-Day Cup.

The Titans have shrugged off their catastrophic 269-run loss at the hands of the bizhub Highveld Lions – the heaviest between two leading provincial sides in local history – to win their next two matches and rise to second on the log ahead of Friday’s match against the Sunfoil Dolphins in Durban.

And, as fast bowler CJ de Villiers revealed to Sapa on Wednesday, Maynard revived his team by telling them that nothing else they did this season could possibly be worse than their performance that dark day in Centurion.

“A lot of credit for our turnaround must go to the coach [Maynard]. Everyone was shellshocked, nobody knew where to put their heads. But the coach said this is the worst we’ll ever play and that lifted a lot of pressure off us. We know we’re a good team and it just takes one guy to lift us,” De Villiers said.

The lift came five days later in Benoni as a fine all-round team effort saw the Titans beat the defending champions Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras and they then hammered the Chevrolet Knights last weekend to climb into second on the log, 10 points behind the Lions, but with a game in hand.

The Titans will be eager to maintain the momentum and stay in touch with the Lions by beating the bottom-placed Dolphins on Friday, or else they run the risk of being overtaken by the Knights or Cobras in the race for second place and a home qualifier.

The team that tops the standings qualifies automatically to host the final.

Of course, given the recent weather in Durban it would be quite an achievement just to complete the game. The south-westerly wind has been consistently blowing rain up the coast and she also ensures the Sahara Stadium Kingsmead pitch retains a lot of its traditional spite.

While the Titans spinners have been their most effective bowlers in the competition thus far, De Villiers said the pacemen could make an impact in Durban on Friday.

“The last few games, we haven’t really fired as a fast bowling unit and we’ve been leaking runs in the first 20 overs. We’ve spoken about it and we will be looking to improve against the Dolphins. Our plans have been pretty good, it’s just a matter of executing them,” De Villiers said.

While the Lions attack, spearheaded by Titans discard Hardus Viljoen, have bowled their opposition out in all four of their matches thus far, De Villiers said the Northerns/Easterns combination could also take wickets through exerting pressure.

“If you put batsmen under pressure and hit good areas, then you will get wickets. You don’t want to be trying for miracle balls, good balls in the right areas are the ones that end up taking wickets,” the former Free Stater said.

The Dolphins season may have already gone awry due to a combination of bad weather and poor form, but De Villiers said the Titans would still be keeping an eye on quality players like Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Jonathan Vandiar (if fit), Cody Chetty, David Miller and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

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