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Ken Borland



Ackers deserves enormous credit & support 0

Posted on May 01, 2017 by Ken

 

Johan Ackermann deserves enormous credit for the way he has transformed the Lions team over the last five years but he also deserves the public’s support for the tough decision he has made to further his career overseas with Gloucester.

Coaches always have a shelf-life with a team and guys like Alex Ferguson or Ian McIntosh staying for many years at one club are the exception rather than the rule. Ackermann has been the provider of so much to the Lions – rebuilding their culture after their morale was shattered during the John Mitchell years; up-skilling them such that they now lead the way in South Africa when it comes to the most progressive brand of rugby; helping to build Springboks who will surely do the country proud if trusted by Allister Coetzee in future; and giving them steel, not only up front amongst their highly impressive pack but also in the way they are now able to win the tight games, as they did against the Sharks last weekend.

So who can begrudge Ackers the chance to advance his own career a bit?

There is no doubt the 46-year-old would never be wrenching himself away from his Lions family and the Ellis Park supporters – the way he broke down while making the announcement of his departure makes this clear – unless he believed a move was essential to further his own highly-promising coaching career.

Ackermann has rightly been spoken of as a future Springbok coach, but there is no top-level international coach at the moment who has been employed in just one country. Steve Hansen coached Wales before joining the All Blacks staff; Eddie Jones was involved with the Australian, Japanese and South African sides before rejuvenating England; Michael Cheika coached Leinster and Stade Francais before getting the Wallabies job; Joe Schmidt is a Kiwi who coached in France before taking over Ireland, and Scotland coach Vern Cotter has the same story.

As brilliant as Ackermann has been, he has no real experience outside of coaching the Lions to a Super Rugby final and one Currie Cup crown. It can only be good for South African rugby that one of its most promising coaches spreads his wings and enjoys new horizons.

There also should be no panic at Ellis Park with the departure of their much-loved coach. As far as a replacement goes – the successor will take charge for the Currie Cup later this year – there is no need for the Lions to look further than what they already have.

The fact that the Lions have someone like the highly-rated Swys de Bruin – who has done well as a head coach before with Griquas and will undoubtedly build on the legacy of the last five years, providing great continuity – means president Kevin de Klerk and CEO Rudolf Straeuli, who have both also played key roles in the Lions’ resurgence, can kip easy when it comes to Ackermann’s successor.

Their structures are clearly in good nick – part of the wonderful legacy Ackermann has left – with both their U19 and U21 teams winning their respective provincial championships last year, so if someone has to move up from that level it should not be so high an elevation as to cause a ricked neck.

In fact, Straeuli used the terms “continuity” and “stability” several times while responding to questions about the road forward for the Lions, so it is not unreasonable to expect De Bruin, JP Ferreira (defence) and Ivan van Rooyen (conditioning) will continue in their roles and have more responsibility.

For those who believe Ackermann has turned his back on the Springbok coaching job, it seems clear that both Allister Coetzee and Rassie Erasmus are in his way for the foreseeable future.

The SA A job is an indication that he is somewhere on Saru’s radar, and he is still willing to coach the second-stringers when SuperRugby breaks for the mid-year internationals, but new challenges and experiences await overseas and it is exciting to think just how good a coach Ackermann will be when he returns to these shores.

http://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170408/282621737571662

Bulls & Lions get their waggle on 0

Posted on August 03, 2016 by Ken

 

Social media was overflowing with praise for the Hurricanes and the Crusaders after their enthralling match in Wellington on Saturday morning, but the Bulls and Lions showed that evening at Loftus Versfeld that South African sides can also put on a show and both Victor Matfield and Johan Ackermann were waggling their metaphorical fingers at all the prophets of doom over the strength of local rugby.

The Bulls edged out the Lions 35-33 in a scintillating match in which seven tries were scored, several of them dazzling efforts using the width of the field and featuring superb offloading skills and vision.

“I saw the Hurricanes play the Crusaders this morning and I thought ‘what a great game’. But people must have enjoyed this game too, there was a lot of width and ball-in-hand rugby. New players are standing up in South African rugby and I’m sure the senior guys will start hitting their best form too towards the end of Super Rugby,” Bulls captain Matfield said after the win which returned his side to the top of the South African Conference.

“I think we have a different physicality when it comes to the rucks and scrums here in South Africa, whereas it’s more of a free-for-all when they play each other in New Zealand. They have a different mindset over there, the defences aren’t so tight. I still believe the best South African players compare to theirs and especially when you put them in a Springbok jersey,” Lions coach Ackermann said.

The Bulls started the game in exhilarating fashion playing the sort of rugby usually associated with the free-spirited Lions and coach Frans Ludeke said he was delighted with the first half, which ended with the home side 25-13 up.

“The first half was almost perfect and we had those attacking shapes Victor’s been chasing, we were accurate and really put them on the back foot. Getting momentum on the gain-line really helped and Victor has worked really hard on keeping the players on their feet and making good decisions,” Ludeke said.

But the Lions totally dominated the third quarter to snatch a 26-25 lead in the 54th minute and Matfield said the pressure was then really on his side.

“We started well, playing the way we wanted to – with width, but after the break we made mistakes and that put us under pressure. We showed great character to fight back and get the momentum back and I was very happy about the team’s will to win,” the veteran lock said.

Matfield mentioned “needing magic from someone” to get the Bulls out of their hole and that someone was replacement Pierre Spies, who sparked the move that ended with him powering through several tackles to score and regain the lead.

Ackermann bemoaned mistakes that cost his team but was pleased with their overall performance and contribution to a great game of rugby.

“All I ask is for them to play with their hearts and they did. I’m willing to lose if the passion and commitment are there and credit to the Bulls, especially for that first half. They punished every mistake we made,” Ackermann said.

 

Like Ackermann, Ralepelle is putting those bad days behind him 0

Posted on July 27, 2016 by Ken

 

Sharks hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle’s return to rugby has not been greeted with universal acclaim following his two-year ban for doping, but those who are unwilling to forgive the former Toulouse player should perhaps consider the case of high-riding Lions coach Johan Ackermann.

The former Springbok lock is just about the most popular figure in South African rugby at the moment because of the inspirational job he has done in taking the Lions from the wilderness three years ago and into this weekend’s SuperRugby playoffs, but he too was banned for two years in 1997 for nandrolone use.

Ackermann then made his return to the playing field and even returned to Test rugby in 2001. He made a second comeback in 2006, becoming the oldest player to represent the Springboks at 37 years and 34 days against Australia in July 2007 in Sydney. That record was subsequently broken last year by former Toulon star Victor Matfield, when he captained South Africa to the bronze medal in the World Cup playoff against Argentina aged 38 years and 172 days.

Interestingly, Ackermann and Ralepelle actually appeared in a Test together, back in November 2006 when the Springboks beat England 25-14 at Twickenham. Ackermann started in the number four jersey, while Ralepelle came off the bench to replace captain John Smit.

Those were the days when Ralepelle was a 20-year-old prospect, who was fast-tracked due to political pressure to include more Black African players in the Springbok team, a dozen years after Apartheid had ended. The next week, Ralepelle was named to captain the team against a World XV in Leicester, becoming not only the youngest player to captain the national team but also the first Black. Those of a more cynical disposition were sure coach Jake White, now with Montpellier, was making a statement aimed at the politicians more than anything else.

Ralepelle is not quite 30, so who knows what lies further down the road for him; perhaps he too could make an international comeback. But he is not keen to speak about the past and his indiscretion with drostanolone, an anabolic steroid popular with bodybuilders.

“I’m living a new chapter now, in a new environment. I’m excited and it’s just fantastic to be back playing rugby. I want to seize the opportunity to play the game I love,” Ralepelle told Midi Olympique this week.

Apart from the feeling that he was a political pawn, fast-tracked for reasons of window-dressing, Ralepelle has also had rotten luck with knee injuries.

One game into the 2007 SuperRugby season with the Bulls, he suffered a serious knee injury, which he injured again in the warm-ups for the 2008 campaign. He suffered further knee injuries in 2012 and in 2014 after just 16 matches for Toulouse.

Both the Bulls, based in Pretoria on the South African Highveld, and Toulouse are inland teams and, having served his ban, Ralepelle is now happy down on the coast in Durban, on the Indian Ocean.

“Durban is a lovely city, it has the best weather you could ask for, I can go to the beach any time I like!

“I had wonderful days in Pretoria, it’s where I grew up and first made my mark, and I also had a great time in France. I made great friends there, it’s a good environment and Toulouse is a great team, the home of rugby in France. It was a great opportunity and a great place to play, and I miss the culture and values of that team,” Ralepelle said.

But the Sharks have given Ralepelle a lifeline when perhaps nobody else would, thanks to Smit, who was the CEO when the hooker was signed last November, and director of rugby Gary Gold. It is not the first time the 2007 World Cup winning captain has aided Ralepelle.

Smit contributed some of the school fees to enable Ralepelle to study at Pretoria Boys’ High, which he himself attended.

Ralepelle is determined to be the author of his own success now and has clearly been working hard off the field, given the lean and mean physique he has been sporting during SuperRugby this season.

“It’s been great to get a few games under the belt and I can still improve, which is exciting. Every day I’m striving just to be more on top of my game. It’s a matter of time and it gets easier playing week in, week out. I’m not yet where I should be, but in the mean time I just want to give more and more of a contribution to the team.

“It’s important that I don’t put my body under pressure, so I worked hard before the season just to keep up with the pace of SuperRugby. I worked hard on my conditioning and I am a little lighter, which helps me to move around the park more. I can have an impact that way, it’s not just about strength because if you’re blowing after five or 10 minutes you’re not going to have much strength anyway,” Ralepelle said.

While French rugby still involves plenty of driving play and is extremely physical, SuperRugby is changing, according to Ralepelle, who returned to the Southern Hemisphere competition in April after three years away.

“There’s been a big change, mostly because of the laws. With the speed of the game, players really need to be fitter and stronger. It’s an amazing competition,” Ralepelle said.

How fortunes change in rugby is also amazing and, if Ralepelle, who remains both mobile and good in the loose as well as proficient in the set-pieces, needs any encouragement, he only needs to look at how Johan Ackermann has not only restored his reputation but has grown it exponentially.

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.

 

 

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