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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Lions’ efforts deserve Test selection 0

Posted on June 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks are back in camp and it will be interesting to see the team for the French Tests, two of which will be played at altitude, so it will definitely be an advantage to pick players that are full of confidence and successful on the Highveld.

There’s only one team that has been playing with real conviction and confidence, though, and that is the Lions, so I expect a few debutants from them over the course of the series. It will be a well-deserved honour and credit to their coaches, Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.

The Lions’ 54-10 win over the Southern Kings showed that the difference in strength is vast between them and the other South African teams and they now have a great run-in towards the SuperRugby playoffs. They deserve it after winning three games overseas and they are reaping the rewards in confidence and the way they are playing.

It’s sad for SuperRugby that the playoff places are mostly already sorted out, especially in South Africa. It always used to go down to the last weekend and a very exciting final day of round-robin play. Anyway, it’s a huge advantage to finish first on the log and the Crusaders are three points clear of the Lions as our pacesetters go into the international break.

The Crusaders have some tough New Zealand derbies coming up though, including having to travel to the Hurricanes.

So I believe Rudolf Straeuli, the Lions CEO, can’t wait to pencil in 3pm playoff games on the Highveld. If you speak to the Highlanders players they will tell you that their legs felt like jelly during their semi-final at Ellis Park last year, they just could not get going, and that’s a side packed with All Blacks that lost 30-42.

The Lions will definitely have earned that advantage via their performances, especially their tremendous run of 15 unbeaten games against South African opposition.

Most of the Lions players have been let go by other franchises or picked up from other unions, so you have to credit their hard work and improvement. Guys like Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan were playing for Tuks in 2012/13, while Franco Mostert was also part of that side and nobody has worked harder for their Springbok opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.

A guy like Ross Cronje has worked really hard on his game, he’s been the second-choice at the Lions a lot of the time, but he kept his belief and keeps producing the goods, so his selection is also fully deserved.

It was really pleasing to see Warren Whiteley appointed as the new Springbok captain, he’s a really honest player and always totally committed on the field. You can never accuse Warren of shirking anything, whether that be in terms of workload or skill.

He was with the Sharks as a junior and was a very explosive, impact player who could really cause damage in the wide channels in the last 20 minutes. He has become a dominant captain who epitomises all that his Lions team stands for in terms of culture.

Warren is a superb lineout option and also has safe hands at the back, which is important because it’s vital these days for eighthmen to be able to counter-attack. He brings his Sevens skills to bear.

His journey to the Springbok captaincy has not been easy, he has worked so hard to get there and thoroughly deserves the honour.

The Springboks are heading into a phase of more inclusive leadership, Warren will take notice of the opinions around him and has great empathy. But he showed when he first came into the Springbok group in 2014 that he is strong enough to have his own ideas, he knows the path forward and will not just follow the party line, he will make sure he drives his own opinions. He’s also a great communicator, with the coaches and the playing group.

I wish him all the success he deserves and wouldn’t it be nice for him to have the Rugby Championship trophy in his hands in October?

And Duane Vermeulen playing at seven will definitely work, in terms of their defensive system, they want a blindside flank who can do a lot more when it comes to work-rate. I think the eighthman will stay at a lot of the set-pieces and save his energy for attack and ball-in-hand play.

Duane of course will be in France for the Top 14 final with Toulon and will only have a couple of days training with the Springboks after flying back to South Africa, which is why Jean-Luc du Preez has been called up.

The Sharks v Stormers game showed the difference in strength between the two conferences. The Stormers just could not get that final pass or offload away, which, given their style of play, is essential for them.

Under new coach Robbie Fleck, they’re always going to be involved in high-scoring games, but they need to convert their chances. One has to credit the Sharks for their defence holding firm, which bodes well for the Springboks.

I felt there was some improvement from the Bulls, they were far more physical at the gain-line. There’s obviously been a change in the coaching staff there, which possibly produced the improved display, but unfortunately it was not enough against a clever team like the Hurricanes.

The Bulls will regret those soft moments in defence when the Hurricanes were able to slice through them like a knife through butter.

The positives for the Bulls were Duncan Matthews, the young wing, who really took his opportunity well, and the way the forwards and inside backs competed on the gain-line against one of the most physical sides in SuperRugby (How we wish for the days when the Bulls were the most physical side in the competition!).

I was fortunate enough to be at the Cheetahs game against the Sunwolves and it’s always nice when the South African teams come to Tokyo – because of our relationships in the past, I get to catch up and spend some time with them. The smattering of survival Japanese I have helps them in the shops and with the very complicated subway system!

I thought the Cheetahs ran a very smart week in terms of preparation. Often when a team is coming off a massive losing run (nine games), the temptation is to go harder at the players in training. But the Cheetahs did not do much in Tokyo and Franco Smith ensured the players were very fresh, and they reaped the reward.

The match was quite tight until just before halftime when the Cheetahs scored a killer try to leave the Sunwolves 14-0 down.

I was impressed by the way the Cheetahs played, they kept their shape and Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen were always a big danger on the wings.

It was a big event in Tokyo, because they only get to host a handful of games every season. It’s a huge thing for Japan to have a SuperRugby team.

We need a global game and we should get teams from the USA and Canada involved as well, it has to happen eventually. Look at the improvement in the Argentina team from having the Jaguares involved in SuperRugby – they have been exposed to a higher level of rugby and it has paid dividends.

The biggest drawback is the travel for the Sunwolves and Jaguares, they do nearly twice as much travel as anyone else. It’s always a great feeling going to a new country when you win, but the worst thing is then losing.

So I hope they change the conferences, but who knows because there has still been no clarity from Sanzaar.

 

 

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.

 

How do Saru best use Rassie Erasmus? 0

Posted on February 24, 2016 by Ken

 

An interesting new dynamic has emerged in the hunt for the new Springbok coach with Rassie Erasmus’s chances apparently now being hurt for the ironic reason that he could be too valuable for the South African Rugby Union (Saru) to lose in his current position of general manager of the rugby department.

Saru use Erasmus and his brilliant rugby brain to devise just about everything surrounding the professional game in South Africa, be it systems to successfully identify, develop and monitor players and coaches, the off-field logistics and planning required for high-performance teams, technical analysis, medical care and safety and even the referees.

There are some in Saru who are apparently acutely aware that the position of Springbok coach has been one in which talented men are used and abused and then discarded. To paraphrase The Doors: “Nobody gets outta here alive!”

It normally takes a few years of recovery (maybe it should be therapy!) before a former Springbok coach is rehabilitated enough to return to the frontlines of the game; Ian McIntosh has served as a national selector for several years, Nick Mallett is now a popular television pundit and Rudolf Straeuli is the CEO of the Golden Lions, but where are the seven other living coaches?

And so Saru are faced with something of a dilemma … are the skills of Erasmus more valuable and likely to be in service for longer if he stays behind the scenes in an “office job”? Obviously the former Springbok captain has the technical and tactical know-how to succeed as the national coach in what must be an interesting time of rebuilding and renewal.

But does he have the desire to handle the off-field pressures and demands of the job? The abuse of his family when things don’t go well, all the fronting up on television and to the media he will be expected to do, the long weeks away from home …

For a foreigner to take on the “poisoned chalice”, one would need to add to the above list of drawbacks being able to handle the internal politics of Saru, which are busy eating their CEO, Jurie Roux, alive, and the external politics of transformation demands. There is apparently also a recognition now within Saru that a foreigner would not be a wise choice for head coach given the peculiarities of the job in a South African context. A top-class overseas figure may yet get a call-up as a consultant or as a member of the back-up coaching staff.

A final decision on who the new Springbok coach is can only be made by a meeting of the General Council and their next scheduled gathering is for the AGM on April 1. Let’s hope a fool is not appointed.

Speaking of fools, there have been some misguided reports doing the rounds suggesting that Roux (not a fool) has somehow been “punished” by no longer being the man in charge of headhunting the new Springbok coach.

The fact of the matter is that the Elite Player Development Committee is, and has always been, in charge of the search for Heyneke Meyer’s successor, and this has been confirmed to me personally by Lions president Kevin de Klerk, who sits on that committee.

Once they come up with a potential candidate, then Roux will get involved in terms of negotiating the contract.

But the false reports stem from the same sources that clearly have an agenda to drive against the CEO, judging by the thoroughly unprofessional tweets they sent out during the SuperRugby launch on Thursday.

Objective journalism, now there’s a concept.

 

 

Roper has theory for lack of SA success at Sun City 0

Posted on February 01, 2015 by Ken

Englishman Danny Willett’s impressive triumph at the Nedbank Golf Challenge over the weekend means it is now seven years since a South African won the prestigious title at Sun City, and tournament director Alastair Roper has an interesting theory why.

Trevor Immelman won the 2007 Nedbank Golf Challenge by one stroke from Justin Rose but since then the best South African finishes have been runners-up slots for Tim Clark (2010) and Charl Schwartzel (2012).

This year it was a trio of Englishmen – Willett, Ross Fisher and Luke Donald – who dominated at the Gary Player Country Club.

Sun City is obviously one of the favourite tourist destinations of South Africans and, being at the end of the year, there is a general holiday vibe around the complex. The South Africans in the field inevitably have an entourage of friends and family joining them at the tournament.

“It’s a pity none of the South Africans showed up, it would have been really nice if Charl or Louis [Oosthuizen] had been up there with the Englishmen on Sunday. Just generally, in the last 18 months/two years, South African performances on the world tours have been sub-standard, so it’s partly a form thing that none have won at Sun City.

“Maybe it’s just a lean period, but something else bothers me and that is that there may be too many distractions for the South African golfers. I remember for many years [8] Ernie Els was trying to win here and it bothered me the number of distractions he had.

“At the South African Open or the Alfred Dunhill, there’s not as much of a demand on their time. Here, all their friends want to be with them and they’re asking for tickets, for access and when they can have dinner together. A guy like Willett was here with his caddy, his wife and maybe one friend,” Roper told The Citizen on Monday.

Roper said the increase in the size of the field from 12 to 30 had led to a similar rise in interest in the tournament.

“I was always the biggest skeptic about going to 30, I was very confident that 12 was the right way to go. But last year it surprised me what a positive reaction we had from the sponsors and we’re getting that same feeling again. More players and more golf is what they want to see.”

That has translated into the number of corporate hospitality suites – the lifeblood of the tournament – rising to 35 and including a diversity of sponsors.

“We want a demand for those facilities, that’s key to the success of the tournament, it’s built around hospitality, and those sponsors continue to be happy. We’ve had more this year in terms of numbers of sponsors and it’s been a whole different bunch of sponsors as well,” Roper said.

The tournament director said there had been little change in the number of spectators attending the event, with just over 60 000 coming over the four days, while the reach of the Nedbank Golf Challenge on television – showcasing Sun City as a tourism destination – continues to grow.

 



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