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Ken Borland



Speeding towards the World Cup with an elephant in the dressingroom 0

Posted on June 29, 2017 by Ken

 

Judging by AB de Villiers’ comments after the Champions Trophy fiasco, South Africa could go speeding towards the 2019 World Cup having still not addressed the elephant in the dressingroom which is their continued, inexplicable failure to perform at their best in ICC knockout matches.

The Proteas are scheduled to play just 36 more ODIs before the June 2019 World Cup in England; they have played 36 ODIs since midway through their series in India in October 2015, just to give some perspective as to how quickly time will fly before the next showpiece ICC tournament starts.

And yet De Villiers maintained after the horrible showing against India last weekend that there was no lack of composure and the run outs and batting failures were not due to a mental problem. Given the skill levels of the players involved, it’s difficult to know what else could be the explanation.

It is probably a good thing, though, that the Champions Trophy disaster is still fresh in the minds as CSA begin the process to decide on who will be the Proteas coach that will guide yet another attempt at the elusive holy grail for South African cricket.

Two former Proteas coaches – who were both involved in coaching capacities during India’s memorable 2011 World Cup triumph – in Gary Kirsten and Eric Simons will sit on the five-man committee that will evaluate the applications and both have been outspoken about the problems South African players have in handling the pressures of ICC knockout matches.

It is one of the unwritten laws of sport that the most successful teams are able to shift pressure on to their opposition; sadly for the Proteas, they seem to crush themselves by piling pressure on to their own shoulders. In between ICC events, they are able to play freely and express themselves, at world cups they play totally differently – tentative and fearful cricket. Reading De Villiers’ autobiography, it is clear he has a Moby Dick sized obsession with winning the World Cup, an unhealthy obsession that probably does more harm than good.

The big difference between De Villiers and Virat Kohli is how the Indian captain invariably makes big runs when they are most needed; his 96 not out in the Champions Trophy semi-final was yet another example of that.

Whoever the Proteas coach will be, he needs to be able to free up the players when it comes to the high-pressure situations. The players need to pledge to each other that they will not change their games in knockout matches and it is the captain and coach who have to drive that.

No team plays with a greater burden of expectation than India, and yet Kirsten and Simons were able to get them winning and expressing themselves when they won the World Cup on home soil under immense pressure.

Simons raised some interesting points in the aftermath of the Champions Trophy loss, both in the SuperSport studio and in a subsequent conversation I had with him.

He pointed out that the Proteas never tried to shift the pressure India exerted on them with an excellent display in the field, India were never asked to try anything different.

When I asked him why India are consistently able to handle the pressure and expectation at ICC knockout events, he said he felt it was because their international players had come through a system featuring millions of cricketers so they have spent their entire lives ensuring they are on top of their game, they are always playing under intense scrutiny and, in a developing nation still wracked by poverty, it’s do or die for many of them. Natural selection and survival of the fittest in many ways.

“It’s not just these 11 Proteas players who have had the problem. CSA need to sit down and decide what to do, what do our teams lack? Somehow the players have got to be freed up … we saw them play differently against India. There needs to be a broader conversation about why? The world is asking the question, it’s time we did too,” Simons said.

I have no doubt Simons will bring the same questions to the panel that will decide the coaching situation moving forward.

But the first step in sorting out a problem is admitting you have a problem. As Paddy Upton, who was the mental coach when India, Kirsten and Simons won the 2011 World Cup, has pointed out, it’s part of the South African macho man psyche to never admit our vulnerabilities.

That has to change.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-kzn/20170617/282269550387810

Flip van der Merwe inexplicably withdraws from Springbok selection scramble 0

Posted on May 05, 2015 by Ken

 

South African rugby players are normally like crayfish scrambling to get out of a bucket when it comes to fighting for a place in the Springbok squad in a World Cup year, which makes lock Flip van der Merwe’s decision to not make himself available for international rugby this year all the more inexplicable.

It’s unusual for South African rugby to be short of locks but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer admitted on Monday that the second row is one of the areas he is most concerned about, Van der Merwe’s unavailability only making the situation worse.

Although Meyer revealed the Bulls lock’s shock decision, he was not at liberty to reveal the reasons for it, save that they are personal.

“Locks are a worry because you need specialists. If I had to pick the World Cup squad today we’d be in trouble – Eben Etzebeth has just recovered from injury and Pieter-Steph du Toit, Victor Matfield and Lood de Jager have all been injured recently as well,” Meyer said.

Having announced his decision to join French club Clermont at the end of this season, Van der Merwe has lost his Springbok contract, which could place him in the same awkward position as Francois Steyn when it comes to image rights.

Four of the six locks who attended the Springbok camp session at St Peter’s College on Monday have injury problems – Ruan Botha, De Jager, Du Toit and Matfield – and they largely sat out training.

While Meyer said centre (due to injuries) was also a worrying position, he said the toughest decisions he would have to make revolved around which loose forwards to take to the World Cup.

“The main difficulty is the loose forwards. We can only choose a 31-man squad and nine of those players have to be front-row forwards. So that means you either choose four locks and five loose-forwards, which most teams do, or three locks and six loose forwards.

“So I have to pick five players from 12-15 world-class loose forwards, which is going to be very difficult. Pierre Spies is a great player who’s been injured for two years so it’s been tough for him and he could still play better. There’s Jaco Kriel, who was brilliant against the Bulls, and Heinrich Brussow, so there’s a lot of competition. Willem Alberts has played two great games for the Sharks … “ Meyer explained.

The Springbok coach confirmed that he is likely to stick with the cadres he has been using for the last three years for the World Cup, although there is always room for the odd bolter to force his way into his plans this year.

“We’ve done a lot of research and spoken to the different coaches who have won the World Cup and the one thing they all say is to stick to what has worked for you. You don’t want to be too predictable though because the game changes every six months so you have to try new things, but you don’t want to change too much.

“Current form is important, but there are guys who have performed over several years, I’ve had three years to see how they perform under pressure. Test rugby is totally different to Super Rugby, especially in the Northern Hemisphere at the breakdowns and with the referees.

“I have some sort of idea of my first XV, but there are always guys who come in late, someone like Jesse Kriel is very close to selection. But it’s very difficult for players to peak from February to October, there are just too many games, and quality players don’t become bad overnight. There’s still time to get guys right, world-class players who have proven themselves …” Meyer said.

One of those players who will be given every opportunity to prove his fitness for the World Cup is captain Jean de Villiers, who has been laid low since November with a serious knee injury.

Team doctor Craig Roberts said De Villiers is “running very hard” at the moment and they are very happy with his progress.

Roberts added, however, that they are looking to provide some games for the centre to play before the World Cup in order to find his form and confidence.

 

SuperRugby will be a baptism of fire for Southern Kings 0

Posted on June 10, 2013 by Ken

The SuperRugby season kicks off on Friday with Australian teams getting the competition started. The five South African franchises join the fray next weekend with several burning questions still to be answered. Foremost of these is whether the Southern Kings have procured enough firepower to avoid totally embarrassing themselves and the South African Rugby Union administrators who promoted them with scant regard for on-field performance.

The Southern Kings have brought a dozen new players to Port Elizabeth, but they can best be described as SuperRugby journeymen. Even though hooker Bandise Maku and centres Waylon Murray and Andries Strauss are all Springboks, they are not what one would term star players capable of dominating at SuperRugby level. The Kings have also signed two seasoned Argentinean internationals in scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo and flank Tomas Leonardi, as well as former Toulouse hooker Virgile Lacombe.

The role of captain Luke Watson, of whom opinions vary from sulky trouble-causer to inspiring team-man and leader, is going to be very important in melding such a disparate group of players into a team. Massive expenditure is no guarantee of success in a sport that depends so greatly on team cohesion and attitude.

The Kings have also incurred the wrath of many South African fans who believe their inclusion in the competition is purely on political grounds and the pressure will be on them from the outset.

All eyes will be on their opening game when they host the Western Force, who are also trying to find their feet in SuperRugby. Then, before heading off on their overseas tour, the Kings face daunting meetings with the Sharks and defending champions the Chiefs.

The other game the Kings could possibly target in search of that morale-boosting first victory will be against the Rebels in Melbourne on 13 April, but that will be the last game of their overseas tour and whether they will still be on two feet remains to be seen.

On the positive side, this year provides an ideal opportunity for talented players such as flank Daniel Adongo, flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, centre Ronnie Cooke and lock Steven Sykes to make their mark on this semi-international stage.

The Bulls will be looking to build on their achievement in making last year’s playoffs as they showed there is still life in the union after so many of yesterday’s heroes moved on.

Pierre Spies’s team will include two new faces in utility back Lionel Mapoe and talented young lock Paul Willemse, but the Pretoria faithful will be relying on remaining stalwarts such as Morne Steyn, Spies, Flip van der Merwe, Francois Hougaard, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Wynand Olivier, Akona Ndungane and Zane Kirchner for bigger and better things in 2013.

None more so than Steyn whose eye will still be on the Springbok number 10 jersey. He can count on Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer still valuing his experience and goal-kicking ability, but he needs to play more like the dashing flyhalf of 2008/9 than a gout-ridden has-been turning out for the Blikkiesdorp over-35s.

Loose forward CJ Stander has moved on to new pastures, which counts as a big loss for the Bulls, but the likes of lock Juandre Kruger and backs JJ Engelbrecht, Francois Venter and Bjorn Basson are ready to take the next step and dominate at SuperRugby level.

The Cheetahs will be well aware that their neighbours in Gauteng are smarting over their exclusion from SuperRugby and the way their former allies in Bloemfontein helped betray them. So they will be nervous going into the SuperRugby season, desperate to avoid finishing last in the South African conference and having to face the Lions in a promotion/relegation series.

Their build-up to the campaign has not been good, with the final bell having rung on Juan Smith’s superb career and another favourite, prop Coenie Oosthuizen, still taking the first steps on his way back to recovery. The front row has been one of the Cheetahs’ premier areas of strength in recent years, but with WP Nel and Marcel van der Merwe both having left, coach Naka Drotske is a worried man, with his job under some pressure as well.

Twenty-year-old Johan Goosen is a potential match-winner for the Cheetahs and a popular choice for the Springbok number 10 jersey – he will be a key man for Drotske.

Captain Adriaan Strauss is a respected leader and brilliant hooker, but the state of the rest of the tight five will be the key factor in determining whether Goosen and other exciting backs like Sarel Pretorius, Robert Ebersohn, Johann Sadie, Raymond Rhule and Willie le Roux are able to play with the flair they are famous for.

The Cheetahs also have a bad draw: they have just a solitary home game against the Sharks before they head off overseas, their opening tour matches being against the defending champions, the Chiefs, and then the Highlanders at the House of Pain in Dunedin.

The Stormers topped the log in 2012 and are the Currie Cup champions, and there is plenty of optimism in Cape Town that they are heading into another golden age of Western Province rugby to rival that of the late 1990s/early 2000s. The SuperRugby title is the one they really want and they certainly have the players to become the second South African franchise to claim the trophy. Though their defence was famously committed and superbly organised last year, they will need to sharpen up on their attacking skills.

Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Schalk Burger are household names, but they have also added some potential superstars in fullback Jaco Taute and flyhalf Elton Jantjies.

Their pack also boasts Springboks in Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Andries Bekker and new signing Pat Cilliers, while much is expected of loose forwards Siya Kolisi and Rynhardt Elstadt.

But items up for debate are whether they have enough depth in the tight five should injuries strike, whether scrumhalves Dewaldt Duvenhage, Nic Groom and Louis Schreuder have the star quality to get the best out of a phenomenal backline also featuring Juan de Jongh, Gio Aplon and Joe Pietersen, and when Burger will actually return to action after a succession of leg injuries.

It will be necessary for the Stormers to hit the competition running as their first three games are key away trips to conference contenders the Bulls and Sharks, followed by a meeting with the Chiefs at Newlands.

 

The Sharks have such a wealth of talent at their disposal across almost all positions that it is becoming inexplicable that they still haven’t managed to win a SuperRugby crown.

The only items causing some concern down Durban way will be the second row, where Franco van der Merwe is the experienced import among the greenhorns, who is going to start at hooker while Bismarck du Plessis continues his rehab from knee ligament surgery, and will Frans Steyn continue to captain while Keegan Daniel recovers from a knee injury?

A dreadfully slow start to the 2012 campaign was to blame for the Sharks only finishing sixth on the log and scraping into the playoffs. Travelling to Australia, Cape Town and then to New Zealand was a bridge too far for them and they will be mindful of the need to earn home playoffs this time round.

Although the Currie Cup ultimately ended in a shock defeat to Western Province in the final, the potential was plain to see in the likes of lock Anton Bresler, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, centres Paul Jordaan and Tim Whitehead, wing Sibusiso Sithole and fullback Louis Ludik.

The Sharks loose trio was arguably the best in the competition last year and Ryan Kankowski is back from Japan to join Marcell Coetzee, Daniel, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Jacques Botes.

In Butch James, the Sharks have experienced cover for Pat Lambie in the flyhalf position, while Steyn provides muscle in midfield and JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo were inspirational on the wing last year.

The Sharks will also be spending the first eight weeks of the competition in South Africa, playing teams like the Stormers, Brumbies and Crusaders in Durban, so they should be in good spirits by the time they head overseas in the last week of April.

The Sharks will surely be in contention and, provided they don’t get in their own way, 2013 could be the year they finally get their hands on the SuperRugby trophy.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-02-15-superrugby-preview-brief-lull-before-the-storm-for-sa-franchises/#.UbXJOec3A6w



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