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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: How to beat the All Blacks 0

Posted on July 12, 2017 by Ken

 

It was an enthralling final Test between the All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions, and a tremendous achievement for the visitors to draw a series in New Zealand. Every international coach will have looked at the three Tests and will take something from them – it has shown it is possible to beat the All Blacks.

So how did the Lions achieve this?

Firstly, their defence over the three Tests was superb, so hats off to the Farrell family.

It’s no coincidence that most of New Zealand’s losses over the last few years have been caused by a rush defence and a high line speed, so Lions, England and Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell should really take a bow – he has now enjoyed three wins and a draw against the All Blacks since 2013.

And then there was his son Owen’s kicking. None of his kicks at goal in the last Test were gimmes and it was very interesting to see that even with Jonny Sexton, who has such a high success rate in his kicking record, at flyhalf, the Lions went with Farrell for goalkicking and that’s what made the difference in the end.

The All Blacks were disciplined in their own 22, but were prepared to give away penalties further away from their line, and Farrell kept the Lions in the game.

It was the defence that was able to disrupt the New Zealand attacking structure, they weren’t really able to go forward or get the ball wide, because the Lions totally dominated the gain-line and the rush-defence took time and space away from Beauden Barrett. But it didn’t operate from a tight base, the wings were on the second-last runners and would not always engage, sometimes they would back off on to the last runner, therefore there was no kicking space behind them.

The Lions also chose two openside flanks who were a real nuisance at the breakdown.

The biggest thing about the rush-defence is that it means you are so square in the tackle, you line up your man and come forward, there’s no shifting. The Lions tackling was very confrontational, they didn’t really hit the legs but tended to be just under the ball. This forced more errors and led to dominance in the tackle; a softer defence relies on leg-tackles and a confrontational rush-defence on chest tackles. You can see it unnerved the All Blacks and with the quality of defenders the Lions had – players like Jonathan Davies, Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien – the system totally suited them.

The shift put in by the Lions forwards at the coalface was also amazing and New Zealand could not get any offloads or tip-passes going at all. The Lions cleverly took out the support players, so the ball was wide open at the breakdowns. The quality of the tackles and the athletes involved meant that on the tip-ons, they frequently took the passer out of play, which exposed the ball-carrier and then the turnover could happen.

What was especially interesting to me was that New Zealand just could not get the ball to the outside channels in space, and even if they tried, Barrett was frequently standing still and then it was easy for the Lions to pick off the carriers.

The way to break down the rush-defence is through the kick-pass and offloading from contact and it’s no coincidence that the All Blacks scored from this.

The Lions also relied tremendously on Conor Murray’s box-kicking. There was no messing around here – they would maul or box-kick immediately from the restart and that put pressure on the New Zealand wings, thanks to the quality of Murray’s kicking and exits.

For me, Murray was the real star of the series, his tactical control was superb; him kicking contestables meant the All Blacks never had a chance to counter-attack or get the ball back from the Lions back three with running bombs.

The New Zealand attack was very static. They wanted a two-sided attack against the rush-defence, but they played a lot of one-pass rugby, which made it quite easy to defend.

One of the key moments of the final Test was the chase back of Davies on Ngani Laumape after Barrett’s intercept, it was just superb. It was a series-turning moment and the other players get really excited when they see that sort of attitude and commitment from a team-mate.

It was an enthralling finish to the series, but it’s a pity to see such a great Test end with all the focus on Mr Roman Poite.

His eccentricities have been exposed even before Eden Park last weekend: there was the red card he gave Bismarck du Plessis at Eden Park in 2013, his performance in the World Cup and against Argentina in 2014 when there were seven water-carriers on the field during a stoppage and he allowed the Pumas to take a quick tap, which resulted in a try just before halftime. The last defender in the Springbok backline was our physio, Rene Naylor!

It was good, though, that Poite reviewed the incident at the end of last weekend’s game and I think Craig Joubert will be wishing he had done the same in 2015 in the Scotland v Australia game at the World Cup. That’s what the TMO is there for and at least Poite used it. But rugby has to eliminate these grey areas because referees have to make hard decisions in a very short time.

I thought Poite was also really poor in the lineouts, there was taking out of jumpers left, right and centre, it was like a free-for-all. New Zealand also seemed to have some dominance in that final scrum and there could have been a penalty to them, but again he opted out.

The All Blacks ended up playing a lot of guys with just a handful of caps, which is not what you want in high-pressured Tests. Injuries and Sonny Bill Williams’ self-inflicted absence obviously affected them and you want more caps for the big games like last weekend. They ended with Laumape at 12 and Anton Lienert-Brown at 13 and they are actually both inside centres, both confrontational and direct. The Lions started with a similar sort of player in Ben Te’o, but then switched to Sexton and Farrell and had far more ball-playing ability to stretch the All Blacks.

One has to credit coach Warren Gatland for wearing his red nose with pride. He might just hang around and is probably very excited about a third tour with the Lions, against the Springboks in 2021.

It will be interesting to see whether the Springboks pick Cheetahs or Kings players for that tour because it will be the end of their season in Europe!

 

 

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.

John McFarland Column: Attitude makes all the difference for B&I Lions 0

Posted on July 06, 2017 by Ken

 

One has to credit the British and Irish Lions for their win over the All Blacks in the second Test, especially after losing the first Test the way they did.

They just brought a harder attitude in Wellington, a desperation to get the win. To keep the All Blacks tryless, even though they only had 14 men for most of the game, takes some doing, and the attitude they showed on the day was top-class.

It was definitely a red card for Sonny Bill Williams, he made no effort to raise his hand or grip Anthony Watson in the tackle, and his shoulder made contact with the head.

The last penalty – for the Charlie Faumuina tackle on Kyle Sinckler while he was airborne – was a little bit harsh though. When a player jumps to catch a pass above his head and it’s a gain-line tackle, the tackler is already committed and in motion, so it is very difficult for there to be any other outcome.

Jumping into a tackle is also a penalisable offence, but sometimes when the pass goes upwards, the player has to take it airborne. So it’s an anomaly that the lawmakers have to look at going forward.

The All Blacks had to play with 14 men for so long, that it was quite heroic of them to stay in the game; they did not manage to score a try, but they kept the scoreboard ticking over with penalties.

If a team fields two openside flanks like the Lions did with Sean O’Brien and Sam Warburton, then the penalty count will be high because they go hard on the ball on the floor and to make tackle attempts to get the All Blacks to bring more players to the ruck. It brings a different philosophy at ruck time, they were trying to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking pattern by bringing more players to the ruck and then the attacking shape won’t be what it should be.

The British Lions’ set-piece was of a high standard and their forward effort was built on the success at Saracens, the pack had a very high work-rate.

But whether the Lions can back up that performance with another one at Eden Park in Auckland this weekend will be a hard task. They will need the same desperation and, at the end of a long season, will they be able to produce that again? They will need extra effort on the gain-line once again.

In SuperRugby, the Gauteng Lions basically had a game of touch rugby, but I thought the Bulls played well against the Sharks.

I’m a little worried by the inconsistency of the Sharks, they have been poor at home in too many games and I can’t see them winning on the road in New Zealand, so it’s definitely a problem. For Robert du Preez to so publicly take on his players shows that something is not right.

But the Bulls have clearly gained confidence in the break, they won the Mauritius 10s with their SuperRugby team and played some good rugby.

I’ve been quite impressed with how they have blooded youngsters and someone like Duncan Matthews has really come through.

It’s also very encouraging to see Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel play so well, and they have obviously gained confidence through their time together with the Springboks for the June Tests and they are both starting to show leadership.

Jesse is such a strong character and his enthusiasm rubs off on the players around him, and he is a big part of the new era at the Bulls.

When Jan decided to leave the Bulls, he was recovering from a long-term injury. But he’s been on the Springboks’ radar since 2012 and has never let them down. He has gained experience since being named World Junior Player of the Year in 2012 and the Test series against France saw him fulfil his potential.

One needs to look at Brendan Venter’s influence on him and you can just see the confidence and belief is there right now. Jan was backed at the start of the series and knew he would play all three Tests.

It always takes five or six weeks after long-term injury for a player to rediscover their form and then they really hit their straps in weeks eight to 10. It’s unfortunate that Jan is leaving, but I really hope he stays fit and can get to the 30-Test cut-off mark in the Rugby Championship.

It begs the question whether SA Rugby have made the right decision when it comes to the 30-Test cut-off for overseas eligibility, especially if a player gets injured (e.g. Marcell Coetzee, who is short of 30 caps because of injury), and how will it work going forward with Jan, who has signed to play in France but currently only has 29 caps?

The Springboks cannot ignore Jan’s form nor talent, or the impact he had on the series against France.

That being said, the success of the series was Allister Coetzee’s decision to pick mostly home-based players, which led to a great series win.

 

 

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.

The John McFarland Column: The Springboks’ best performance under Allister Coetzee 0

Posted on June 22, 2017 by Ken

 

It’s self-evident that the Springboks really played well to beat France 37-15 in the second Test in Durban, but I would say it was the best performance of Allister Coetzee’s tenure as national coach by a long way.

It has been so pleasing to see the Springboks put together two quality wins, in which they have scored eight tries, and it is obvious they have found the right balance between attack and defence.

I must say that I am a little concerned by the silence from the Saru executive because after two excellent performances with Allister Coetzee under pressure, he clearly deserves the mandate going forward.

Nobody did to France in the Six Nations or the home series last year what the Springboks have done to them over the last fortnight and real credit must go to Allister for the team culture he has instilled and the way it is working – that was a sensational victory at Kings Park.

The defence has been the biggest thing that has changed and the Springboks all work incredibly hard off the ball; they sprint on the kick-chase and they get off the floor so quickly. These are the trademarks of a Brendan Venter-coached team – work-rate and physicality.

Siya Kolisi was obviously the standout player with his intercept try and his ability to win ball off the floor, but the whole team excelled.

When they were on their own line for 25 phases and kept repelling the French side, that showed the culture and relationships between the players; attitude and how players feel about the environment always come out in how a team defends, and that was the best defensive performance by a South African side this season.

In terms of attack, it was pleasing to see some very clever plays, guys running short lines off scrumhalf or off the inside backs. When Raymond Rhule broke through off a lineout, the Springboks were clearly targeting the inside defence. We kept finding props with our wingers or hard-running backs.

It is also clear that a tremendous amount of work has been done on the passing and timing of the runs from first receiver; to be able to do this in the face of a rush defence, for example when Pieter-Steph du Toit passed to Coenie Oosthuizen for a sublime try, shows that the attacking play has definitely gone a level up. So hats off to everybody for a great performance.

The SA A team was a bit of a concern though and their defence was not so good against a scratch French Barbarians side, and they allowed Freddie Michalak to roll back the years at flyhalf.

What’s worrying about the  SA A side is that they have so many players over the age of 30 in key positions. There should be a clear national pathway from the U20s to the A side and then on to the Springboks, but the current selection shows no real growth or development for the future. The SA A side must use guys who have come through from the U20 level, so we can see how they cope outside of their natural SuperRugby environment.

Guys who have impressed at SA U20 level should be chosen because we know what Lwazi Mvovo, Lionel Cronje, who is also going to Japan now, and Jano Vermaaak can do. They need guys like Ivan van Zyl, Curwin Bosch, Burger Odendaal and Louis Schreuder to play – 22 and 23 year-olds with big futures. The SA A team should be about future Springboks and not Springboks of old. They must give young players a go, guys who have big futures and they must be in their 20s. They’ve basically selected this team as a Springboks B side and they must show more foresight.

The SA A side should also give coaches experience and it was pleasing to see JP Ferreira involved with their defence.

The SA U20s finished well, but to lose to an England side shorn of six players and others with the senior side in the semi-final was unacceptable. Then New Zealand klapped England by a long way in the semi-final, which showed South African rugby still has a long way to go to make up the gap.

The SA U20s need more tours against national schoolboy sides, to experience different environments. They will probably have played all the Northern Hemisphere sides in South Africa, where the hosts should win. The boys need to experience different conditions and a crowd that is not behind you. They need to step up and improve and a tour somewhere in November/December would be good.

Finally, it was a great privilege for Kubota to be able to play in the Mauritius 10s last weekend. The Bulls and Cheetahs sent their full SuperRugby sides and it was brilliant for a Japanese side to be involved in that.

The Beachcomber World Club Tens as a format was an eye-opener and I really enjoyed seeing everyone again. I hope the excellent organisation of the tournament can now be brought to South Africa, in either pre or post season, that would be fantastic. Mauritius was really enjoyable for everyone who was involved

Well done to the Blue Bulls for winning the tournament, although it’s fair to say they do need a few cups.

 

 

 


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.

 

The John McFarland Column: A special win for the Springboks 0

Posted on June 13, 2017 by Ken

 

It was really a quite special win for the Springboks over France at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, against a side that definitely turned up, were hard to break down and were the best French side available on that Saturday.

The match was brutal on the gain-line, there were double-hits, they smashed the Springboks and the Springboks smashed them, so it was a great Test for the home side to come through, especially with five debutants in the 23-man squad. It’s a great start to their 2017 season.

The match was in the balance at 16-14 and then came the penalty try. Given how quickly the officials made up their minds, it must have been a clearcut decision.

The Springbok attack was definitely based around getting to the middle of the field and there were a lot of tip-on passes from the forward pods, which creates indecision in the defence, one-on-one tackles and lightning-quick ball. It’s quite an effective tactic against a rush defence.

From middle rucks, sometimes the outside back-row forward would come hard off the scrumhalf, who would either play him or go behind his back to Elton Jantjies, which makes the defence sit a bit and creates space.

There was a lot of quality passing from the Springboks, which was not in evidence last year, and there was definitely more attacking understanding and ball-in-hand play.

It was great that Jantjies looked so composed, and he and Ross Cronje, who gave very slick service and was a threat around the edges, directed play well; they always had a couple of options and it created indecision in the French defence. Because Elton is the only specialist flyhalf in the squad, he’s not looking over his shoulder and he feels he has Allister Coetzee’s total backing, he can run the show. It’s the sort of thing a key decision-maker wants.

Andries Coetzee, in his first Test, showed real pace, especially in the outside channels, he showed one or two lovely touches and was willing to run the ball back from deep, he really had a go.

The ball-carries of Malcolm Marx were exceptional and the Springboks made a lot of blindside probes, guys like Marx running a hard line close to the ruck, and he bounced off defenders at will, also creating more space. When was the last time we saw such a physically dominant performance by a South African hooker?

The scrum was very compact, it looked in good shape and form and was used as a good platform. The Springboks had two very experienced props, plus with their locks and loose forwards, there was no shortage of beef behind them.

The lineout also functioned really well, Eben Etzebeth was really good, and the Springboks won most of their pressure throws. There were not many easy balls at number two in the lineout, and it’s very difficult to attack from the front of the lineout. So they were very adventurous with their lineout tactics and Marx’s throwing was spot-on.

It was also a superbly-executed try off a throw to the back, a move which was very difficult to defend against. It’s very special to score those sort of tries at Test level, so credit to the coaches, it takes some doing.

In terms of the kicking game, South Africa cleared their lines very well and were never under pressure from kickoffs, it was just one hit up and then back to Jantjies, who kicked it to halfway. In the middle areas of the field, they would drive to suck in forwards and then Cronje would kick, and there was excellent execution of that too.

It was also a very much improved defensive display from the Springboks, credit to Brendan Venter for the best defensive performance by a South African team this year. There was brutality on the gain-line, great field-coverage and, at the end of the game, their willingness to put their bodies on the line and keep the French out was tremendous.

The defence looked organised and in the French faces for the whole game, and it will only get better as the players settle into the system. What was most impressive was how disciplined they were, so France only had one penalty shot at goal.

A small area of improvement that is needed was that they became a little compressed from wide rucks and were caught a little short on numbers in the outside channels. They came off the line quite hard and if France were able to get the ball behind their first line of attackers then they did find space.

The Springboks also closed very early at fullback, Coetzee came very early into the line, which means you then rely a lot on the scrumhalf for cover. Everyone does it these days, but sometimes perhaps the fullback should not be so quick to come up.

But it was a good start for the first Test and you can see the team is much more bonded, the leadership has set the right tone. Warren Whiteley is so selfless and empathetic, as alluded to in this column when he got the Springbok captain’s job, so he is in tune with his team.

France will obviously be a different animal in Durban, especially because they have just been physically dominated. But the whole Springbok side worked so hard, to keep a Test side pointless in the last 25 minutes at altitude is an amazing effort and it speaks to South Africa having a really strong bench.

It was a really positive start and we hope for more over the next two weeks.

And good luck too to the South African U20s for their Junior World Cup semi-final. It’s going to be a really big challenge against the England U20s, but I hope they can come through.

 



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