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Ken Borland



Boks honour Madiba with inspired rout of Argentina 0

Posted on January 20, 2017 by Ken

 

Captain Jean de Villiers praised “Madiba Magic” for once again inspiring the Springboks as they registered a record-breaking 73-13 annihilation of Argentina in their opening Rugby Championship game at FNB Stadium on Saturday.

The Springboks returned to Soweto to be part of Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day to honour the unwell Father of the Nation. The tremendous atmosphere undoubtedly inspired them as they played in front of an audience that was far more representative of the demographics of the country than usual, thanks to Bafana Bafana playing before them in a 2-0 victory over Burkina Faso.

“The atmosphere was fantastic and we definitely enjoyed it. Today was about more than just rugby and sport, it was about the whole of South Africa, uniting the nation and celebrating someone who did that so well. The Madiba Magic worked for us again,” De Villiers said.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer also tapped into the occasion in motivating his team.

“The team talk was simple: I told them it was a special occasion and they should produce a big performance to make Madiba proud, and also to show a lot of soccer supporters who haven’t seen us play before what we can do,” Meyer said after the game. “It was one of those days when everything went right, what stood out was how clinical we were and we built an innings well.”

But the biggest victory in the history of the Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship didn’t just happen thanks to everything coming together magically day-of. Meyer is renowned as a tactician and strategist and plenty of homework has gone into this year’s Sanzar tournament, with the coach pointing out how much more time he has had to prepare this time around.

The attention to detail was most obvious in the scrum laws, where a new engagement sequence was being used for the first time. Far from the new laws hurting the Springbok forwards, as some quarters in Australia have suggested, it seems South Africa, under the astute guidance of former French prop Pieter de Villiers, might well be pioneers in this new era of scrummaging. The highly respected Pumas scrum was dominated throughout and they even conceded a try from a tighthead late in the second half.

As Meyer pointed out, the entire coaching team deserved credit for the impressive performance. Meyer has made it his mission to fix the Springboks’ breakdown woes, the main cause of the controversial quarterfinal exit from the 2011 World Cup, and the acquisition of Scottish breakdown expert Richie Gray has clearly paid dividends as South Africa were far more efficient in the rucks than when they last played Argentina and were held to a messy 16-16 draw. Four of the nine Springbok tries came from rolling mauls, the speciality of forward coach Johan van Graan, while the lineout was imperious and the defence excellent under John McFarland. The backs, under the guidance of Ricardo Loubscher, played with an air of adventure and intent that has not always been apparent.

Meyer is a strong proponent of laying a solid platform in a Test, building pressure, and the Springboks eased into Saturday’s match with three penalties in the first quarter from Morne Steyn, all from a long way out. The in-form flyhalf would go on to miss just one of his 13 kicks at goal as he netted 28 points – the third most in a Sanzar Test – and he also distributed slickly, a lovely inside pass for Duane Vermeulen’s try and the counter-attack he sparked that led to JJ Engelbrecht’s touchdown shortly before half-time being the highlights.

It was Vermeulen’s break on the half-hour that led to the Springboks’ opening try, the eighthman making an impressive return to top-flight rugby after a knee injury. After several penalties, and seeing several rolling mauls pulled down, referee Chris Pollock, in conjunction with the TMO, had little choice but to award a penalty try and a yellow card after Pumas hooker Eusebio Guinazu deliberately slapped down a pass to prevent Ruan Pienaar from scoring a try in an overlap.

Engelbrecht’s try, after Steyn’s counter-attack and a deft chip by Willie le Roux, was the Springboks’ second, but they proceeded to run riot in the second half as seven further tries were scored to break the previous Sanzar record of eight (scored by South Africa against Australia at Loftus Versfeld in 1997).

The massive victory had its foundation in the ability of ferocious ball-carriers like Eben Etzebeth, Willem Alberts, Vermeulen and Adriaan Strauss to smash their way over the advantage line from the steady supply of front-foot balls they were allowed to enjoy by the Springboks’ dominance in the scrums and lineouts.

Apart from the magnificent performance of the pack, Meyer will also have to mull over selection because alongside as the starting XV played, there were some performances off the bench that were equally compelling.

What wonderful depth the Springbok coach has at his disposal when Strauss – named man of the match – can be replaced by the best hooker in the world in Bismarck du Plessis, while the two substitute props, Gurthro Steenkamp and Coenie Oosthuizen, seamlessly continued the great work of Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis.

While Etzebeth stole the show with his rampaging display, Juandre Kruger was superb in the lineouts and the Springboks don’t lose much when Flip van der Merwe enters the fray. Siya Kolisi was all energy when he came on in the 65th minute, while Pat Lambie and Jan Serfontein both made telling runs that led to tries in their short cameos.

But it was the 25-minute display by substitute scrumhalf Fourie du Preez that had most tongues wagging. It’s a great pity that his Japanese club, Suntory Sungoliath, will only allow him to play in the Springboks’ home fixtures, because the 2007 World Cup hero oozed class and he also seems to get the best out of starting halfback Pienaar.

“I’m very happy with both the scrumhalves. That was Ruan’s best performance since I started coaching him, while Fourie showed he still has a lot of speed, he was brilliant and he still managed to pick up the tempo even more. I think he brought out the best in Ruan, and Jano Vermaak and Piet van Zyl must step up now too.

“One of our really strong points was our unbelievable bench. Usually things become loose when you bring on a lot of replacements, but the subs were awesome today. I was even able to take my captain off with 25 minutes left,” Meyer said.

While 52,000 people at the FNB Stadium were treated to a wonderful main show on a great day, the scary thing is the Springboks could well have won by more. In the first half especially, their backs fluffed chances due to poor handling and a lack of cohesion.

“We still didn’t use all our opportunities, we created a couple that we didn’t capitalise on. And to put everything in perspective, we were playing against a team that had two yellow cards and we scored an intercept try,” De Villiers admitted.

“We expect a totally different beast in Mendoza, they’ll be hurting. But we need to enjoy this win, days like this don’t come along very often, and we have some confidence to build on.”

We will have to wait until the Springboks have played a couple more games in this tournament before we have enough evidence for a final verdict on their ability to unseat the world champion All Blacks, who ensured a torrid debut for Ewen McKenzie as Wallabies coach as they thumped Australia 47-29 in Sydney.

It was a very poor night for the Pumas, who were also disrupted by losing two key players in lock Patricio Albacete and fullback Juan Martin Hernandez in the first half. How much of that was down to the Springboks’ brilliance is difficult to quantify. But the portents are good for a much stronger South African challenge in this year’s Rugby Championship.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-19-springboks-pummel-pumas/#.WIH421N97IU

Relief and a tear in the eye 0

Posted on September 29, 2015 by Ken

 

South Africa’s Rugby World Cup victory over Samoa brought relief but soon there was a tear in the eye as the news filtered through that they had lost their captain, Jean de Villiers, one of the great Springboks, for the rest of the tournament. The man with 109 Test caps, 37 of them as skipper, announced his retirement the next day.

De Villiers had, of course, been the centre (pardon the pun) of intense speculation over whether he deserved his place in the team after a run of injuries and a distinct lack of sharpness in the awful loss to Japan. The 34-year-old was shifted to outside centre for the match against Samoa, with Damian de Allende making a massive impact with his hard, direct running over the gain-line and into space in the number 12 jersey.

While De Allende was the man who made the most difference to the Springbok backline, it was heartening that De Villiers was at least able to go out on a high, leading the Springboks to an impressive win and playing well himself.

The Springboks also gained a considerable amount by having Willie le Roux at fullback – he was able to be a second “general” at first-receiver, taking some of the load off young Handre Pollard, while his ability to read space made his intrusions into the backline in wider positions a consistent threat.

Fourie du Preez also provided a top-class service from scrumhalf – one can scarcely recall a single pass going astray – and the veteran 2007 World Cup winner is not only a brilliant reader of the game but also a fantastic enabler in terms of allowing the team to change their tempo.

But where the turnaround for the Springboks came was up front. I said before the match that grunt and physicality up front would be needed against the big, mean and physical Samoans, who carry the ball with an intent not matched by many, and the Springboks really needed all hands on deck at the gain-line, rather than forwards standing out in the backline.

My wife is no connoisseur of the dark arts of forward play and the tight exchanges, but even she noticed how the Springbok pack “really seemed to be playing” against Samoa.

It was most heartening that the first Springbok to step up and lead the way was Victor Matfield, who was a standout figure in the opening exchanges, leading from the front with the sort of talismanic performance coach Heyneke Meyer was no doubt hoping for.

The Springboks showed that they can use the ball on attack as well as anybody, providing their forwards have laid the platform first; they need to earn the right to throw the ball around and there is no shame (and an awful lot of good sense) in playing to your own strengths instead of trying to copy the All Blacks.

The good news for South Africa is that the damage of the Japan loss has almost been undone with the Springboks sitting on seven log-points, thanks to bonus points, only one shy of where they would have wanted to have been heading into this weekend’s game against Scotland.

The campaign is back on an even keel and the relief and joy in the Springbok camp after the Samoa game was obvious. But the level of performance now needs to be raised another notch against Scotland; the consistency of this Springbok team has been a concern throughout the four years of Meyer’s tenure and hopefully, with the pressure now having eased, they don’t slump back into bad habits.

 

 

Amazing De Villiers gets inspiration from team-mates 0

Posted on September 01, 2015 by Ken

 

Jean de Villiers has amazed many people with his recovery from a serious knee injury and more recently a broken jaw, but he says he gets inspiration from his fellow World Cup squad members.

“Injuries are definitely part of rugby, but it’s the way you come back and learn from those hardships that counts. For me, it’s been about a broken jaw and I felt like a teenager again with braces!

“But this is a great bunch of guys who all have a great story to tell. Some of the guys have been through so much – Schalk Burger who was fighting for his life two years ago, Schalk Brits, who ruptured the ACC ligament in his knee last year and was out for five months, Pieter-Steph du Toit and his injuries …

“So a lot has been said about my past at World Cups, but I’m more concerned with the future. I’m ready to give everything and I’m happy with where I’m at in my recovery. In two weeks I’ll be able to take contact and I’ll definitely be able to play the first game,” De Villiers said at the weekend announcement of the 31-man squad for the World Cup, which begins for South Africa on September 19 against Japan in Brighton.

The selection of De Villiers has not been popular with everyone, and Heyneke Meyer and his Springbok squad have been lambasted by many critics in recent weeks. Many of the naysayers have been opportunists with little involvement or passion for rugby, but former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, who has a short memory when it comes to his own many shortcomings in the position, has had particularly harsh words which have no doubt hurt more than most.

“For me, it has been tough. You wait so long to play and then we lose to Argentina and I broke my jaw. A lot else happened that week, but I’ve seen how much this squad has grown over the last couple of weeks, we’ve pulled closer with the emotion of the guys being left out.

“For me, the criticism shows that people do care about the Springboks. We’re open to criticism if it comes from a position of wanting the Springboks to do well. If nobody was interested in the Springboks, we’d be in trouble.

“There will be criticism and if it adds value then we’ll take that in the right light and we can only be stronger for it. If nobody cares, well we don’t want to be in that position,” captain De Villiers said.

Meyer himself showed the height of diplomacy when he was asked about former coach De Villiers, although there was perhaps a subtle put-down in his response.

“I truly respect Peter, he’s an awesome coach and human being and he did a lot for South African rugby. He’s a great diplomat and he made a great difference in people’s lives. I wish him all the best in future because we need people at grassroots level,” Meyer said with what sounded distinctly like sincerity.

 

Jean as skipper & experience will be basis of World Cup squad 0

Posted on May 11, 2015 by Ken

 

Judging by his performance at a SuperSport networking luncheon this week, Jean de Villiers definitely has a future as a comedian and television personality, such was the brilliance of his timing and the sheer sense and empathy with which he spoke.

De Villiers has made his name of course with the superb timing he displays on attack and defence in the Springbok midfield and let’s hope the 34-year-old’s next major appearance on SuperSport is as captain of the World Cup squad in England.

Coach Heyneke Meyer is certainly hoping so and, whatever the haters say about taking “old-age” players to the World Cup, experience is the common thread that runs through every winner of that tournament and Meyer would be stupid to undo the last three years of preparation in order to choose flavour-of-the-month players now that the curtain is about to go up.

The one certainty about the 31-man World Cup squad that Meyer finally announces is that there are definitely going to be some very unlucky, excellent players missing out.

Unfortunately, De Villiers’ centre position is one of the areas where the Springboks are relative paupers.

Assuming that the captain will be fit (and he certainly thinks he will be), then his midfield partner is likely to be Jan Serfontein or Damian de Allende. Meyer has already said that he will be taking 18 forwards to the World Cup, so that leaves space for just 13 backs, three of which have to be scrumhalves – Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar and Francois Hougaard as a utility back.

Three flyhalves would also seem necessary with Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies and Handre Pollard, who can also provide centre cover, the frontrunners. Someone like fullback Jesse Kriel, because he can also play in midfield, could provide additional cover and, if there is a new cap in the squad then the Bulls prospect will probably by the man. If De Villiers doesn’t make it, then Lionel Mapoe will probably be next in line, especially since he can play outside centre, where the Springboks are particularly thin.

JP Pietersen, if he can regain his best form, obviously brings the ideal combination of experience and versatility, being able to play wing, fullback or outside centre.

Lock is the other worrying position with Eben Etzebeth and Victor Matfield the only contenders who are currently fit. Meyer said he favours a split of four locks and five loose forwards in the squad, with nine front-rowers compulsory, so Pieter-Steph du Toit, who can play flank as well, is a vital selection and Lood de Jager, if fit, or Teboho Mohoje will be the other second-rower .

But injuries could mean Meyer is forced to include uncapped players like Jacques du Plessis or Ruan Botha.

The coach is going to be given sleepless nights by the conundrum facing him at loose-forward. How do you choose five from the wealth of talent that is available?

The Springboks have been well-served by Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermuelen as a starting trio, so who backs them up?

Schalk Burger will probably be one of the two extra loosies by virtue of his experience and ability to play all three positions, which leaves the fifth back-row spot to be fought over by Marcell Coetzee, Mohoje, Warren Whiteley, Nizaam Carr, Arno Botha, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Kriel and Pierre Spies!

The incumbent Springbok front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis is going to be given a tremendous run for their money by Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss and Frans Malherbe, while the third complete front row required should be made up of Coenie Oosthuizen, Scarra Ntubeni and either Marcel van der Merwe, Julian Redelinghuys or Vincent Koch.

Probable Springbok World Cup squad – Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel; Cornal Hendricks, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard; Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers, Damian de Allende; Handre Pollard, Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies; Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermuelen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Marcell Coetzee; Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Teboho Mohoje; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Frans Malherbe, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Scarra Ntubeni, Coenie Oosthuizen.

 

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