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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – How the Lions turned around their SuperRugby semifinal 0

Posted on August 01, 2017 by Ken

 

 

In the last 45 minutes of their SuperRugby semi-final, the Lions beat the Hurricanes 41-7, which is a phenomenal achievement against the defending champions and a truly top-quality side.

Altitude was certainly a big factor and you could see the Hurricanes fading away, but the way the Lions set up their amazing comeback was highly impressive.

There were things they definitely needed to do better from the first half, starting with their first-phase defence. They were caught out with a simple second-man play from a lineout for the Wes Goosen try, when there were a couple of misreads, and the turnovers in their own half also provided the Hurricanes with position and points.

There was a lot of long kicking at the start of the game and very few contestable kicks, so there wasn’t a lot of counter-attacking either, with both teams playing safety-first rugby, and the Hurricanes generally capitalising on Lions’ mistakes exiting in their own half.

When the Lions carried the ball, they generally went close to the ruck, either in channel one or on the blindside, attacking the pillars. This did not give the Hurricanes defence the chance to rush, and even though the Lions did not get much momentum and made a few mistakes and turnovers, it kept the Hurricanes tight five making tackles, and by the end of the match they were stuffed, the wind had been taken out of their sails.

The turning point in the match came when Jaco Kriel made a steal just before halftime on halfway, when the Hurricanes had first-phase ball from a lineout. He got in over the ball, the Lions won the penalty and they went for position.

The previous time they had won a penalty in a similar position, they went for the tap-and-run which in hindsight was the wrong decision. But it came from the frustration the players on the outside would have been feeling because they weren’t in the game and someone obviously felt the space was there to attack. No player takes a tap just on their own volition, there would have been a call from someone else.

Jaco Kriel is such a warrior, he never gives up and he has a really tough streak, which influences the whole of the team. I felt that important steal totally changed the momentum of the game as it gave the Lions field position which led to the try just before halftime. The Hurricanes forwards just could not fold into position after a couple of lineout drives and in the end Jacques van Rooyen barged over to bring the Lions back into the game.

The Hurricanes had all the possession and territory in the first half, but the second half was all Lions. Their scrum was dominant enough to gain penalties to gain field position in the 22 for lineout mauls.

I felt the Hurricanes yellow card was very harsh. Beauden Barrett definitely rolled away, but the ball squirted out on his side and into his legs. It was definitely a penalty, but with their flyhalf and main general off the field, the Hurricanes fell apart and the game really opened up for the Lions.

They converted their field position into points well and were ruthless in terms of their lineout maul. It takes a fair amount of numbers to stop them setting it up and driving, so that opened up other options for them as well off the lineout.

The big thing though was that the belief was there in the Lions team and you have to also give credit to their whole coaching staff. And Cash [Ivan van Rooyen], their conditioning coach, is their real unsung hero. Against the New Zealand teams, it’s always in the last 20 minutes that they come back so strongly, but the Lions actually dominated the final quarter, which shows they are in tip-top shape.

In terms of defence, it was very difficult to go around the Lions with Andries Coetzee coming into the line very early as the extra man. That does leave them vulnerable at the back, but the Hurricanes weren’t able to get kick-passes or grubbers in behind.

And the Lions scored some really well-worked tries. Especially the one where their centres set things up and their loose forwards finished out wide. Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have the size in midfield, and then they have the pace of Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith out wide to finish.

I thought Franco Mostert was immense and is really starting to look like a world-class lock, and his two consecutive lineout steals in the first half were crucial in keeping the Lions in the game.

The biggest compliment one can pay Malcolm Marx is that he did not lose anything to Dane Coles, who is possibly the best hooker in the world. A long Springbok career lies ahead of Malcolm and we are blessed to have someone of that size starting their international career so early.

In the final, however, the Crusaders will be a totally different kettle of fish to the Hurricanes. They have a number of All Blacks, especially in the tight five, and world-class back-row forwards. They have some of the best players in the world in Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Owen Franks, they are second to none and they all play in key areas.

So there’s going to be a lot more pressure on the Lions at the scrum and lineout. While the Hurricanes stayed down against the Lions lineout, which gave them a lot more latitude, the Crusaders will definitely compete.

I thought the Crusaders were very clinical in their semi-final against the Chiefs, even though they also don’t compete much at the breakdown (apart from Ryan Crotty), they concentrate on having numbers of defenders on their feet. That will mean a lot of free ball for the Lions, which is a big risk at altitude.

The key moment in that semi-final was the Tim Nanai-Williams grubber try and a great call by the TMO to cancel out even though Damian McKenzie was shaping for the conversion. It’s important to get those decisions right in matches like that and it was correct.

It’s great that the final will be a sell-out crowd and a great way for Johan Ackermann to finish his tenure at the Lions.

The Lions have now got a lot of belief and confidence and I think they will emerge as the 2017 SuperRugby champions. It has proven nigh-on impossible for a team to win a SuperRugby final outside their own country, never mind crossing the Indian Ocean. I think it will be done at some time, but hopefully not this weekend.

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland 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.

 

 

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.

Former Springbok defence coach John McFarland’s post-mortem of the SuperRugby final & looking ahead to the Rugby Championship 0

Posted on August 11, 2016 by Ken

 

The SuperRugby final has come and gone and basically the Hurricanes were just too good on the day for the Lions, and Test rugby is now going to be another level above that, but I do believe the Springboks have reason for optimism.

It’s brilliant that we had a SuperRugby finalist, and the Lions gave 110% against the Hurricanes and did South Africa proud, as they have done all season, and their players will be in a strong space going into the Rugby Championship.

It’s easy to say the Springboks must just play like the Lions, but hard to coach. Although, in 2013 we scored a mountain of tries and Johan van Graan is still the attack coach with the Springboks and he’s clever enough to use all the best bits from all the franchises.

You put the game plan in place according to the players you have and Test rugby is a step above SuperRugby, you need guys who can get on the front foot on the gain-line, in the heat of battle. Players like Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager and Adriaan Strauss have done it, they’ve proved it at that level, they can gain metres whether in attack or defence.

Damian de Allende was outstanding in 2015 so I can understand why Allister Coetzee has gone with him again, as was Jesse Kriel. I can remember the New Zealand coaches telling us last year that with those young midfield backs they were expecting a real battle against us in the next three or four years.

I believe we should do well in the Rugby Championship, I look forward to it with optimism.

The All Blacks side has changed a lot from the World Cup semifinal which we lost by just two points, they’ve lost a mountain of caps and experience in Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Conrad Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks and Richie McCaw.

The big thing for the Springboks will be to manage the three away games on the trot, which is very hard. They go from Salta to Brisbane to Christchurch and to win the Rugby Championship they’re going to have to win those away games, which is flippen tough. And their hardest game will be at the end of that tour, against New Zealand in Christchurch.

But the squad is in good health, as Allister himself has said Heyneke Meyer left him with a good legacy, and we came very close to winning in Wellington in 2014, losing by four points, in Auckland in 2013 we had Bismarck du Plessis sent off which was cruel, and in 2012 in Dunedin it was close until Dean Greyling got a yellow card, plus Morne Steyn only kicked at 33%. So we have been competitive in New Zealand in recent years.

But the All Blacks and Australia only really play two away games in the Rugby Championship every year, that’s why they can waltz through and why it’s so tough for us.

To win in New Zealand, you have to be 100% on your game and they have to be at 90%, as the Lions discovered too in the Super Rugby final in Wellington against the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes were just too strong and too smart on the day, they were at full-bore from the first minute.

Conditions also played a huge role, it was very rainy and cold and you could see the Lions players shivering at every stoppage, so it was obviously a factor and a disadvantage for them because they played most of their games on the Highveld where it’s sunny and dry.

The Cake Tin has a swirling wind and it’s not easy kicking in that wind, but Beauden Barrett does it week in and week out and you could see the difference in the kicking games.

Against the Highlanders, the Lions were able to move the ball in the red zone with their backs and they made some wonderful exits, but that was just not on in Wellington last weekend. The Hurricanes monstered them in that first channel, with their line speed and aggressive defence, and I felt sorry for Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk because nobody likes playing with back-foot ball.

The Lions’ two big weapons are their scrum and lineout, but the Hurricanes stood up to them and Dane Coles was inspirational. I think the Lions wanted to use the scrum to gather penalties and points, but the Hurricanes scrummed so well, especially that important one in their own 22 when they were only 10-3 ahead.

In the lineouts, I thought Malcolm Marx did exceptionally well with his throwing in those conditions and Franco Mostert made good calls, but their drives could neither get distance nor momentum.

In fact, the Hurricanes defended so well that the Lions couldn’t get momentum the whole game. Faf de Klerk tried to probe with runners but they got smashed back. Rohan Janse van Rensburg did well to get over the advantage line at times, but Elton was always on the back foot, which meant the backline was static and they just couldn’t get going.

And the tries the Lions conceded were as a consequence of finals pressure, although Corey Jane provided a special moment with that catch.

It’s funny, at the Bulls we used to have a theory that you needed five world-class players and 10 internationals to win SuperRugby, but neither the Hurricanes nor the Lions have that. But they are real workaholics and both have such a good culture on and off the field.

The back-row clash between Warwick Tecklenburg and Brad Shields, the two unsung heroes, was tremendous, they went toe-to-toe all game. Jaco Kriel and Ardie Savea tried to make game-breaking plays, but the space and time just weren’t there.

The Hurricanes’ tactical kicking was also so good, they would just stab the ball in behind the wings and put the pressure on, making the Lions try to exit.

It was a foretaste of the challenges ahead in Test rugby but none of our other teams exactly covered themselves in glory against the New Zealand sides, so they definitely have the upper hand. But it’s Test rugby and you can’t write off Australia either, they’ll be a different kettle of fish with Matt Giteau and Will Genia back, they’ll have more rhythm to their game.

Finally, let’s wish the Blitzbokke good luck. Neil Powell and his staff have assembled a great squad, they’re very hard-working, they have a fantastic culture and they work hard for each other. They thoroughly deserve whatever accolades come their 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.

Sharks will take same valiant 23 into Waratahs match 0

Posted on August 11, 2016 by Ken

 

The Sharks will take the same 23-man squad that lost valiantly to the Hurricanes last weekend into their SuperRugby match against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday, director of rugby Gary Gold announced on Thursday.

The defending champion Waratahs are struggling to get into the playoffs and are currently in seventh place overall and second in the Australian conference, with the Brumbies and Rebels making life hard for the New South Welshmen. And they are coming off a shock defeat against the Western Force, so the Waratahs will come out firing.

The Sharks hammered the Waratahs 32-10 last year in Durban in one of their best performances of the season, tearing into the Australians up front, and they are clearly expecting another tremendous tussle between the forwards.

“They’re a very physical team, probably the most physical Australian side. We saw what the Force did to them last weekend by matching them from a physical point of view, so that’s the challenge for us. They have a big strong pack, but they move the ball well, so we’re really going to have to get our defensive shape right. Their front row has played probably 80 or 90 times together and all of them are Wallabies.

“Then you add the likes of Will Skelton into the mix, Dave Dennis and others, you can see why they’re the reigning champions. They’re a formidable team, one through 15, they’re a very well-balanced team with threats everywhere, some fantastic playmakers in the backline – the likes of Beale, Folau and Ashley-Cooper. This is possibly our toughest challenge to date,” Gold said.

The continued absence of Willem Alberts is going to make the world of difference unfortunately for the Sharks, for whom there are already question marks over the fitness of Bismarck du Plessis, Renaldo Bothma, Marco Wentzel and Lwazi Mvovo.

Team: Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Francois Steyn, S’bura Sithole, Lionel Cronje, Stefan Ungerer, Renaldo Bothma, Etienne Oosthuizen, Marcell Coetzee, Marco Wentzel, Stephan Lewies, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Bench – Franco Marais, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Mouritz Botha, Kyle Cooper, Conrad Hoffmann, Andre Esterhuizen, Waylon Murray.

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