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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – Defence and touring are the talking points 0

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Ken

 

Two of the main talking points among South African SuperRugby followers at the moment are the apparent slackening in the defence of the local franchises and the resting of players for the away matches against the Jaguares and Sunwolves.

Questions have been raised about the defence of the South African franchises, especially after the Bulls leaked six tries against the Blues in Auckland last weekend. But it’s not just the Bulls – there are a lot more tries being scored this year in general.

The reason is that over the last year the attack has gone a lot wider and there are more players behind the ball. Sure, the rules have changed a bit, like the tackle law favouring more offloads, but the game has changed over the last year with people more willing now to leave forwards in the wide channels.

Most teams now play 2-4-2 or 1-3-3-1 with their forwards spread out across the field, and we are seeing more loose forwards standing in the backline.

In terms of the tries the Blues scored against the Bulls, we often saw two forwards in the outer extremities running against backs. When you have a big man on a smaller man, you’re more likely to be able to get an offload away. The Blues were able to score either because the Bulls simply ran out of numbers or they were able to effect excellent offloads by having support players behind the ball.

Three or four years ago, teams would have their forwards in two pods of four, but now they leave them in channels across the field and you will often see a hooker or back-row forward in the 15-metres-from-touch zone. The All Blacks have been doing this for the last five years and England did it between 2000 and 2003.

The reason it’s being done is because it’s now been proved, thanks to every player being fitted with a GPS that measures how many metres they have run and at what speed, that a lot less energy is used if the forwards are spread across the field than if they follow the ball. That’s how this new trend has evolved.

I actually thought the quality of the Bulls defence was very good in the first half, but they were found out in the second half when they just ran out of steam, too much juice had been taken out of their legs. That meant the Bulls’ backs and wings were always in a numbers situation, they could not get their width back and get back into line, so they were always under pressure.

To be fair though, the try from the restart was because at the kickoff you usually leave players back – the three outside backs and the scrumhalf on the chip-kick – and with four players out of the defensive line you will be vulnerable. But it was a good try and the Blues’ first try also featured fantastic offloads.

It’s difficult to stop offloads in the wide channels because you’re also dealing with footwork because of all the space available out there.

We always faced these same difficulties against New Zealand sides and some days we were more successful dealing with them than on others. The keys are a high level of conditioning, especially amongst the forwards, and to work hard at the breakdown. If you can’t get tacklers over the ball to slow it down, then the opposition just gets quick ball and quicker ball, and momentum, and then it’s difficult to set a defensive line. That’s what happened to the Bulls and it put Jamba Ulengo under real pressure on the wing.

But Pine Pienaar is an experienced defensive coach, now in his fourth year in the job, and he will be very aware of all this and will know how to fix it. After all, the Blue Bulls made the Currie Cup final last year and you don’t get there without having a good defence.

Handre Pollard had a better game and I’m looking forward to him coming through, he’s going a level up every week.

But it’s an horrendous draw for the Bulls to have all those away games up front, it’s the hardest draw in Super Rugby because you can never get on the front foot. Even a brilliant coach like John Plumtree was let go by the Sharks in 2013 after that sort of draw, and Allister Coetzee also had a season starting with numerous away games with the Stormers.

So it can happen that you get on a downward spiral. Super Rugby is such a tough competition that you always go through crises, but it’s how you deal with them that counts.

There have been suggestions that South African teams are concentrating more on attack to the detriment of their defence, but they will always get enough time during the week to work on their defence, that will never change. Generally teams train for 50 minutes on the Monday, then Tuesday is virtually a full session, the major day for defence, with contact. Then on Thursday attack will be the focus, but it’s not true that teams are concentrating too much on attack!

Each coach will have equal time to work within that on their area, teams split their time evenly between attack and defence.

In terms of weakened teams going to play the Jaguares in Argentina, that would have been pre-planned. Teams have to rest their frontline players in accordance with the Saru guidelines and it’s a helluva trip. You leave on the Sunday morning, flying 10-11 hours to Sao Paulo, where you have a three-hour wait before flying for four hours to Buenos Aires, only arriving on Monday afternoon, so you can’t train then. Teams will have a light practice on the Tuesday, with just one major session on the Thursday.

And coming back from Argentina is even worse!

What coaches like Johan Ackermann and Franco Smith have done is look at their next games and those have been vital, the problem with travelling to Argentina is always the game after that one, but that’s just the nature of the competition.

Singapore is also 10 hours away and it’s very humid and hot there. The Stormers took it as a chance to get some fringe guys some rugby.

Teams are merely following medical advice on how to keep their players fresh and get their best rugby out of them, plus players are more susceptible to ailments on these long trips.

The Lions proved last year that you need home advantage to win SuperRugby, but they needed to be at their best in the knockout games, hence their decision to rest players for their last round-robin game in Argentina.

 

 

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.

Former Springboks defence coach John McFarland looks at this weekend’s SuperRugby quarterfinals 0

Posted on July 19, 2016 by Ken

I know Johan Ackermann is now coming in for criticism for resting his first-choice players for the game against the Jaguares in Argentina, which saw the Lions lose first place on the log, but I actually think he’s been quite clever and it’s not a bad thing that they finished second.

I know people talk about momentum being crucial going into the knockouts, but sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. In 2007 the Bulls had to win by a huge margin in the last league game and we did it [beating the Reds 92-3] against an Eddie Jones coached team because we wanted to stay in South Africa, we really didn’t want to travel. But in 2010 we played a weaker team against the Stormers in Cape Town and lost, but the next week at Orlando Stadium we beat the Crusaders in the semi-finals and then beat the Stormers again in the final.

The big thing is Ackers has been able to rest his top guys, they’ll be able to have a full week’s training, without any niggles and physically or mentally there won’t be any fatigue. They’ll have a great mindset going into the playoffs.

If they had all gone to Argentina then they would have been back at the hotel after playing around midnight and then woken up at 4.30am for a four-hour flight to Sao Paulo, where you have to wait to fly out again. So they’d only be back in South Africa on Monday morning and they wouldn’t have been able to train or start their preparation until Tuesday.

Instead Ackers has a fresh team, which is a real positive, and there are no injuries.

Looking at the SuperRugby games last weekend in New Zealand, they were like the South African derbies of old in terms of their intensity and collisions.

I say of old because the Lions have been so dominant in the last 18 months, they’ve been winning derbies well by 50 points. Everyone – including here in Japan – has been watching the New Zealand teams with envy because of the intensity and pace with which they’re playing, the skill set is just so high.

But why are the Lions so good?

Because they play with a lot of width, they have game-breaking centres and wings, they really challenge the defensive line – 71 tries is quite a record, they never give up, they have a strong set-piece and an exceptional scrum.

You have to give credit to Ackers for bringing through guys like Malcolm Marx and Rohan Janse van Rensburg this year. It may have been a bit early for the Lions players last year, their roll of dominance in South Africa really started at the end of SuperRugby,  players like Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel now have experience and belief to win playoff games, which began with the unbeaten run in the Currie Cup.

There’s such a belief in the side, they have a tremendous record against South African sides over the last 18 months.

They also have a fantastic back row, Jaco Kriel is a real warrior and leader, and he makes sure the standards are kept, Tecklenburg works all day long and Whiteley, if fit, always puts in an honest shift and sets a real example for his team.

But in knockout games it’s the halfbacks that make the real difference.

Everyone is starting from zero and you have to control the game a bit more tactically. All the great SuperRugby teams had exceptional halfbacks – the Crusaders had Andy Ellis and Dan Carter, at the Bulls we had Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn or Derick Hougaard. You’re not going to win playoff games without great halfbacks, the Highlanders have got Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith and the Hurricanes have TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett. You have to dictate the pace of the game and territory, and those guys can all do that.

So that’s going to be the challenge for Elton and Faf, they’ll have to step up tactically especially in the kicking game, which they didn’t really do in the June internationals. There wasn’t enough distance to their kicks against Ireland, so the Springboks were always under pressure. It’s how you relieve pressure that is so important in the SuperRugby playoffs or in Test rugby.

But I think the Lions will beat the Crusaders, who won’t have Nemani Nadolo or Andy Ellis. Their flyhalf, Richie Mo’unga, is in his first season of SuperRugby and they’ll be playing their second-choice scrumhalf. They lost the territory battle against the Hurricanes, they couldn’t exit and the Hurricanes just put penalties to touch and kept them in their own half defending. The Crusaders had no field position and could not dictate territory.

The Sharks though are facing an altogether different battle against the Hurricanes in Wellington, with no Pat Lambie. Stefan Ungerer and Garth April will find it really hard to relieve the pressure and dictate the territory game, and the Sharks were very unconvincing against the Sunwolves.

The one positive though for the Sharks is that they beat the Hurricanes earlier in the season, they were able to outmuscle them, pile on the pressure, use their maul, win turnovers and scored a great intercept try and they took their points. It was a really good defensive effort, but the Sharks haven’t been that convincing since the break and they were monstered in the scrum in the Lions game.

It’s a hard ask for them, but travelling on Tuesday won’t be so bad, at the Bulls we used to do it and at the Boks last year we arrived in Argentina on a Wednesday. The players just sleep on the flight over and stay on their normal body clocks and it means they can get a lot more quality training at home.

I think the Brumbies v Highlanders quarterfinal will be much closer than people think, but I think the Highlanders will scrape through. The wings will make the difference because there’s no Henry Speight nor Joe Tomane for the Brumbies, their forwards just haven’t been firing recently – especially the lineout maul without Pocock – and the Highlanders’ kicking game is very good. Ben Smith is in the form of his life and the Highlanders forwards always give a great platform and work behind this kicking game.

As far as the Stormers go, I think it will be harder for the Chiefs in Cape Town than a lot of people think. They won’t have Liam Messam and the Stormers’ set-piece is always strong, plus they’ll have a fresh Frans Malherbe and Vincent Koch available. The Stormers also have the best defence in the competition.

The Stormers are in a good space, they’ve been putting sides away and there’s been a definite pick-up in intensity with Schalk Burger as captain. The players respond to him, he’s so calm but he always gives 100%, there’s just an aura about him that says “follow me”.

The Stormers have been in better form since he took over the captaincy, they had really good wins over the Rebels and Force. I think with their set-piece and the passionate Cape Town crowd, the Stormers should be too much for the Chiefs, who have too many injuries especially in the backs.

 

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.

 

 

‘Lack of bonus points has hurt us’ – Nollis 0

Posted on June 29, 2016 by Ken

 

“The lack of bonus points is what has hurt us,” Bulls coach Nollis Marais said on Tuesday as he contemplated the three-point gap between them and the Sharks and the four extra points the Stormers have, deficits they now have three weeks to make up, starting with this weekend’s awkward trip to Buenos Aires to play the Jaguares .

The Bulls, Sharks and Stormers all won seven of their dozen matches in the first segment of SuperRugby, so Marais is spot on with his analysis.

“Not getting bonus points when we beat the Reds and Rebels is now a problem for us and we have to make sure we win our next three games, just to control our destiny a bit. But it doesn’t help if we now just allow ourselves to stagnate, we must definitely move forward in our intensity and in the way we want to play.

“We want to show our fight and we must go out and play an attacking brand of rugby. We definitely have that mindset. We can’t just maul sides, that’s not the way we want to play. We want to play more with the ball in certain areas, play a high-intensity game. The maul and set-pieces still play a big part, but we can’t just have that, we must also break the line,” Marais said.

The Bulls squad that will leave for Argentina on Wednesday has been rocked by injuries.

Flank Deon Stegmann, lock Grant Hattingh and wing Bjorn Basson have injured themselves in training, to add to the injuries picked up on international duty by prop Trevor Nyakane and lock RG Snyman.

The Bulls will also be led by Lappies Labuschagne because Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss is being given a rest as per the agreement with Saru.

“Nothing needs to be said by me, everyone knows what needs to be done and we’re all working towards the same goal. We’re in a good space, it’s a big game and one we really want to win. The past is in the past, but we can rectify the mistakes we made and we’re really fired up for the rest of the season. We’re really positive for what lies ahead,” Labuschagne said.

Sharks’ defence not perfectly aligned but heart certainly in place 0

Posted on May 16, 2016 by Ken

 

The Cell C Sharks’ defences were not as well aligned as usual, but their hearts were certainly in the right place as they showed tremendous determination and spirit to beat the Jaguares 25-22 in their Vodacom SuperRugby match at the Velez Sarfield Stadium in Buenos Aires overnight.

The win has allowed the Sharks to leapfrog the Bulls in the Africa Group and, although they have played an extra game, they are in touching distance of the log-leading Lions and Stormers.

The Sharks started brightly and centres Andre Esterhuizen and Paul Jordaan combined well to earn a penalty which flyhalf Pat Lambie, in his first start this season, pushed wide.

But the Jaguares began dominating possession and they found cracks in a Sharks defence that was not as well organised as it usually is. And the visitors were made to pay in the eighth minute as Joaquin Tuculet slipped through some poor tackles and then passed inside for lock Tomas Lavanini to gallop over for the opening try.

Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez converted and the Jaguares led 7-0, before Lambie made no mistake with his second kick at goal, a penalty awarded at a scrum for illegal binding, and cut the lead to 7-3 in the 11th minute.

The Sharks were struggling to create try-scoring chances, but the ill-discipline of the passionate Argentinians meant that they were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over via penalties, with Lambie kicking his second in the 16th minute to cut the lead to just one point.

That advantage was stretched again by the Jaguares in the 18th minute, but it was through a controversial try that they were awarded. Scrumhalf Martin Landajo was swung towards the Sharks tryline by lock Lubabalo Mtyanda, but replays showed that he had dotted the ball down short of the line. Sharks fullback Willie le Roux then arrived and dragged the ball out of his grasp, touching it down in-goal in the process.

Referee Marius van der Westhuizen ruled, however, that the try was good, contradicting the views of his TMO.

Sanchez converted and the match was rapidly turning sour for the Sharks as they were 14-6 down, plus they lost flank Jean Deysel to what appeared to be a serious neck injury after he had landed poorly in a collision.

They had earlier lost scrumhalf Michael Claassens shortly before kick-off, meaning Stefan Ungerer was promoted to the starting line-up, but they were without a reserve scrumhalf, with Joe Pietersen forced to fill in in the closing minutes.

An intimidating crowd and the fiery, spoiling efforts of the Jaguares added to the challenges, with the weak officiating also corrupting the contest.

The Sharks did manage to eat away at the Jaguares’ lead though with a pair of Lambie penalties in the 27th and 30th minutes (12-14) and the spoiling efforts at the breakdown by flank Pablo Matera saw him yellow-carded four minutes later.

He had just gone off the field when eighthman Daniel du Preez shrugged off the desperate defensive efforts of the home side to power over the line, Lambie converting for a 19-14 lead.

The Jaguares managed to launch one more attack just before the teams went off for halftime, and the Sharks paid the fee for being trapped offsides as Sanchez kicked a penalty to cut the gap to 17-19.

The Sharks spent much of the second half being more like seals trying to avoid the killer blows of the home side, but they are an exceptionally resilient team and they came away with the spoils despite the numerous obstacles they had to overcome.

The Jaguares are going to be particularly disappointed that they failed to score any points leading up to the final quarter when they bashed away at the tryline and had several dominant scrums before the Sharks managed to come up with crucial shoves at the right time that turned over possession.

If they are going to convert winning positions into actual wins, then the Jaguares are going to have to improve their discipline and their goal-kicking, with both Sanchez and centre Juan Martin Hernandez missing crucial shots at goal in the second half.

Lambie kicked another penalty to stretch the Sharks’ lead to 22-17 after the Jaguares had failed to remove themselves from the 10-yard circle after a poor up-and-under by Landajo, but the visitors were under pressure again going into the last 10 minutes as replacement wing S’bura Sithole was sent from the field, to the sin bin, for offsides.

With eight minutes remaining, loosehead prop Santiago Garcia Botta burrowed over the line for the try that eliminated the Sharks’ lead, but Hernandez pulled his conversion attempt wide to leave the teams locked at 22-22.

The Sharks were under pressure in many scrums, but when it really mattered they managed to produce their best work in that set-piece. This was the case again in the penultimate minute as a big scrum earned a penalty and Lambie kicked the winning points from 40 metres out.

This was by no means a great display of rugby by the Sharks, but it was a tremendous display of heart and a team that has that sort of character will always do well.

Lambie has returned to rugby with aplomb and Lourens Adriaanse has once again shown that he is the kingpin when it comes to scrum time. Stephan Lewies was consistently good once again and has pushed himself into the conversation about potential Springbok locks.

http://www.citizen.co.za/1116355/sharks-defence-leaky-but-heart-still-in-place/

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