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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Positive about Bok prospects 0

Posted on August 16, 2017 by Ken

 

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has picked the best players for the Rugby Championship based on how well they did in the French series and I am really positive about their prospects, I believe they are in the best position of all the teams.

It reminds me a bit of 2013, when we won 10 of our 12 Tests. There was also a British & Irish Lions tour that year – to Australia – and we had time to bed the players in.

The Springboks played really well against France, who were a full-strength side that came out with tremendous intent. The fact that their coach Guy Noves is now under pressure to keep his job if they don’t improve in November shows how good the Boks were, in terms of attack, defence and the way they created a new team culture.

Meanwhile, Argentina were losing 3-0 to England, Australia lost to Scotland and only just beat Italy, and the All Blacks could only draw with the British & Irish Lions.

With some of our SuperRugby teams falling out early, the Springbok coaches were given extra preparation time and I think we all see that there is definitely a new culture about this Springboks group. You can see that the positivity and confidence is back, both in terms of the public and the players, after a disastrous 2016.

This has been built on respect for each other and there is a high energy within the group on the field. Their return-to-action time and kick-chase were both very good and the improvement under the good doctor, Brendan Venter, on defence was obvious. They only conceded four tries in the three Tests against France and they got off the line quickly with intensity, intent and attitude.

Return-to-action time is one of the keys for any side to succeed in the modern game. A player is likely to have to get up off the floor after a carry or cleaning at the ruck about 40 times per game and it is very hard to do this after hard contact. The standard figure in international rugby is to be off the ground in three seconds so it offers you more numbers on attack, to get your shape, or on defence to ensure your line has width. The Springboks did incredibly well with this and it is the basis of their defensive system.

The Springboks are now employing a far more aggressive line-speed, similar to what the British Lions used and it definitely gave New Zealand problems: they weren’t able to play with their normal width and freedom because they were worried about making mistakes on attack, and turnover ball is the most lethal in the game.

The architect of that defence was Andy Farrell and he worked under Brendan Venter for a few years at Saracens, so I think there will be a lot of similarity in the defensive system the Springboks employ and I believe they will certainly give the All Blacks problems this year.

Also, due to a loss of form, neither Julian Savea nor Waisake Naholo are in the New Zealand squad, so they don’t quite have the same size out wide as before. In any case, a wing very rarely defends against his opposite wing off first-phase, he’s virtually always on the second-last man, which is the fullback. The All Blacks will have Ben Smith or Israel Dagg at fullback and I’m certain our wings will be of a similar size.

What’s important for a wing these days is his ability to score tries, defend and catch high-balls, and one would never be picked at that level if they can’t catch box-kicks off lineouts.

Coetzee has obviously picked his wings for their finishing ability, work-rate and understanding of the system, and for me, Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule are the incumbents and really showed superb work-rate and an ability to pull off try-saving cover-tackles against France.

The Springboks also employ the defensive system – well, everyone does these days – of the fullback coming into the line very early, so a wing can’t just have the ability to make tackles, he also has to make line-breaks and expose the props acting as pillars round the ruck area, and has a big role in covering grubbers, he becomes the last defender. Modern-day wings will cover an enormous amount of ground in a game.

I wouldn’t rule out JP Pietersen coming back into the mix, especially in World Cup year. His decision-making is so good and he adds a calmness and maturity in the backline. He has, however, recently changed clubs from Leicester to Toulon and we all know how their owner feels about his players taking part in the Rugby Championship …

Anyway, Allister Coetzee has obviously decided to back the home-based players who really performed in the incoming series to see if they can do it as well in the Rugby Championship. Let’s not forget two of the back three played against the Hurricanes for the Lions in the SuperRugby semi-final and gave them 44 points with six tries.

So we must be positive about Allister’s wing selections until we see evidence otherwise.

Argentina showed a lot of attacking intent against England in June, but they were really playing against England B and were well-beaten. Plus the Jaguares were disappointing in SuperRugby, they blew hot and cold.

So Saturday’s Test is a really good opportunity for the Springboks to hopefully get a good win that sets them on the road for the really difficult part of the Rugby Championship – those three away games in the middle that South Africa always get and which are very difficult because of all the flying.

Our best performance in Argentina in the last few years came in 2015 when we trained in South Africa and only left on the Wednesday, arriving on the Thursday evening. We had a captain’s run and then went to Buenos Aires for a convincing 26-12 win.

Our worst display in Argentina was in Mendoza when we drew 16-16 in 2012 and we had to sit in the bus for two hours just to get to practice. I remember there was even a stray dog running faster than our coach was going!

The Springboks have the opportunity this year to play hit-and-run Tests in Perth and Salta and that makes you much more alert. They can stay on South African time and not change their body clocks, like we used to do at the Bulls when we would leave for Australasia on a Tuesday evening, arrive on Thursday morning and usually win our first game. It was definitely a winning formula.

The Springboks have a fantastic record in Port Elizabeth [17 wins & 2 draws in their last 20 Tests there] and I’m looking forward to this new-look side continuing in the same positive manner against Argentina on Saturday and hopefully gaining a really good 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: In praise of the Crusaders, SuperRugby champions 0

Posted on August 10, 2017 by Ken

 

Congratulations to the Crusaders for winning the SuperRugby final and one can only give them credit for an unbelievable season.

They lost just one game, against the Hurricanes in Wellington, and they are the first team to win the final after flying across the Indian Ocean.

Keeping the Lions to just two tries – even with just 14 men – was a heck of a defensive effort, especially with all the flying they had to do.

But the Crusaders are a very experienced group built on a tremendous forward pack. Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Israel Dagg, in the backline, are four world-class players and guys like Matt Todd and Ryan Crotty are really solid players too.

The Crusaders’ set-pieces were very strong and, as predicted, it was a different kettle of fish in the lineouts for the Lions, with Whitelock making some crucial steals, and they negated the lineout drive.

The Lions’ strength is built on forward dominance, at the lineout and scrum, but with four international front-rowers in their squad, the Crusaders stood up very well. They have an international-class tight five, plus Luke Romano off the bench and Kieran Read is one of the best lineout forwards in the world.

You could see how much it meant for the Lions – they really wanted to send off Johan Ackermann on a high – but the red card obviously had a huge effect.

It was the right decision by the officials, there’s no two ways about it.

The decision by Elton Jantjies to send up the high kick would have been because their ball was a bit slow, but then the chaser (flank Kwagga Smith) was sprinting and not even looking at the ball. The rule is quite clear that if you land up under the guy catching the ball – who is now in a very vulnerable position – it’s a red card.

In the Varsity Cup, there is already the rule that if the defending team catches an up-and-under and calls for the mark, then it’s a free kick, which makes teams less prone to try the high kick.

In a lot of situations, you’re dealing with specialists (the wings) doing the chasing and catching, but the problem comes when someone not used to it, it’s not their role, ends up doing the chasing or catching.

But rugby must never lose the contest for the high ball, it’s been part of the game since the 1930s in Ireland when the Garryowen was used in the rain.

If it’s a fair contest and both sets of eyes are on the ball, then all good, but Kwagga probably needed to wait until David Havili had come down before trying to tackle him.

The Crusaders were well in control at that stage, but the Lions are known for their finishing at altitude and it was 14-10 with 14 men in the second half and they were pushing hard.

Defensively, Kieran Read’s brilliant tackle on Elton Jantjies forced the turnover and a 70-metre try as the Lions ran out of width and Ross Cronje had to try and chase the wing; while Read’s own try came when Ruan Combrinck was the last defender at the goalposts, so the Lions were obviously in trouble there.

The Crusaders built up a big enough lead to force Jantjies not to kick for poles, but the Lions need to realise the importance of taking your points in finals rugby. It reminds me of 2012 with the Bulls in New Zealand when we lost 28-13 to the Crusaders in Christchurch. We outscored them two tries to one, but Dan Carter kicked six penalties and a drop goal. That’s always the right mindset in playoffs, especially at altitude because the game can change very quickly.

As the Crusaders coach back then, Todd Blackadder, used to say: “You must take every point,” and the New Zealand side certainly did that in this year’s final.

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 – How the Lions turned around their SuperRugby semifinal 0

Posted on August 01, 2017 by Ken

 

 

In the last 45 minutes of their SuperRugby semi-final, the Lions beat the Hurricanes 41-7, which is a phenomenal achievement against the defending champions and a truly top-quality side.

Altitude was certainly a big factor and you could see the Hurricanes fading away, but the way the Lions set up their amazing comeback was highly impressive.

There were things they definitely needed to do better from the first half, starting with their first-phase defence. They were caught out with a simple second-man play from a lineout for the Wes Goosen try, when there were a couple of misreads, and the turnovers in their own half also provided the Hurricanes with position and points.

There was a lot of long kicking at the start of the game and very few contestable kicks, so there wasn’t a lot of counter-attacking either, with both teams playing safety-first rugby, and the Hurricanes generally capitalising on Lions’ mistakes exiting in their own half.

When the Lions carried the ball, they generally went close to the ruck, either in channel one or on the blindside, attacking the pillars. This did not give the Hurricanes defence the chance to rush, and even though the Lions did not get much momentum and made a few mistakes and turnovers, it kept the Hurricanes tight five making tackles, and by the end of the match they were stuffed, the wind had been taken out of their sails.

The turning point in the match came when Jaco Kriel made a steal just before halftime on halfway, when the Hurricanes had first-phase ball from a lineout. He got in over the ball, the Lions won the penalty and they went for position.

The previous time they had won a penalty in a similar position, they went for the tap-and-run which in hindsight was the wrong decision. But it came from the frustration the players on the outside would have been feeling because they weren’t in the game and someone obviously felt the space was there to attack. No player takes a tap just on their own volition, there would have been a call from someone else.

Jaco Kriel is such a warrior, he never gives up and he has a really tough streak, which influences the whole of the team. I felt that important steal totally changed the momentum of the game as it gave the Lions field position which led to the try just before halftime. The Hurricanes forwards just could not fold into position after a couple of lineout drives and in the end Jacques van Rooyen barged over to bring the Lions back into the game.

The Hurricanes had all the possession and territory in the first half, but the second half was all Lions. Their scrum was dominant enough to gain penalties to gain field position in the 22 for lineout mauls.

I felt the Hurricanes yellow card was very harsh. Beauden Barrett definitely rolled away, but the ball squirted out on his side and into his legs. It was definitely a penalty, but with their flyhalf and main general off the field, the Hurricanes fell apart and the game really opened up for the Lions.

They converted their field position into points well and were ruthless in terms of their lineout maul. It takes a fair amount of numbers to stop them setting it up and driving, so that opened up other options for them as well off the lineout.

The big thing though was that the belief was there in the Lions team and you have to also give credit to their whole coaching staff. And Cash [Ivan van Rooyen], their conditioning coach, is their real unsung hero. Against the New Zealand teams, it’s always in the last 20 minutes that they come back so strongly, but the Lions actually dominated the final quarter, which shows they are in tip-top shape.

In terms of defence, it was very difficult to go around the Lions with Andries Coetzee coming into the line very early as the extra man. That does leave them vulnerable at the back, but the Hurricanes weren’t able to get kick-passes or grubbers in behind.

And the Lions scored some really well-worked tries. Especially the one where their centres set things up and their loose forwards finished out wide. Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have the size in midfield, and then they have the pace of Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith out wide to finish.

I thought Franco Mostert was immense and is really starting to look like a world-class lock, and his two consecutive lineout steals in the first half were crucial in keeping the Lions in the game.

The biggest compliment one can pay Malcolm Marx is that he did not lose anything to Dane Coles, who is possibly the best hooker in the world. A long Springbok career lies ahead of Malcolm and we are blessed to have someone of that size starting their international career so early.

In the final, however, the Crusaders will be a totally different kettle of fish to the Hurricanes. They have a number of All Blacks, especially in the tight five, and world-class back-row forwards. They have some of the best players in the world in Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Owen Franks, they are second to none and they all play in key areas.

So there’s going to be a lot more pressure on the Lions at the scrum and lineout. While the Hurricanes stayed down against the Lions lineout, which gave them a lot more latitude, the Crusaders will definitely compete.

I thought the Crusaders were very clinical in their semi-final against the Chiefs, even though they also don’t compete much at the breakdown (apart from Ryan Crotty), they concentrate on having numbers of defenders on their feet. That will mean a lot of free ball for the Lions, which is a big risk at altitude.

The key moment in that semi-final was the Tim Nanai-Williams grubber try and a great call by the TMO to cancel out even though Damian McKenzie was shaping for the conversion. It’s important to get those decisions right in matches like that and it was correct.

It’s great that the final will be a sell-out crowd and a great way for Johan Ackermann to finish his tenure at the Lions.

The Lions have now got a lot of belief and confidence and I think they will emerge as the 2017 SuperRugby champions. It has proven nigh-on impossible for a team to win a SuperRugby final outside their own country, never mind crossing the Indian Ocean. I think it will be done at some time, but hopefully not this weekend.

 

 

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: SuperRugby quarters a good wake-up call for Lions 0

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Ken

 

It was probably a good thing for the Lions that their SuperRugby quarterfinal against the Sharks was so close because it was a good wake-up call for them.

Nevertheless, the Lions extended their record to not having lost to a South African franchise to 17 matches, dating back to their loss to the Bulls on May 2, 2015, in Pretoria, which is a phenomenal record.

It’s always difficult playing against a team back-to-back and sometimes you’re just not that mentally sharp. The Sharks certainly had more desperation about them, especially in the first half, which translated into a 14-3 halftime lead.

The key in the second half was the yellow cards and the one-man advantage they created, and the Lions took advantage of their numerical superiority.

I’m sure the Lions will be far more alert against the Hurricanes in their semi-final this weekend, especially since the defending champions gave them a good touch-up at Ellis Park and in the final last year.

The pressure game of the Hurricanes, especially their rush-defence, is hard to deal with, even though they do concede a lot of line-breaks. But they also force a lot of turnovers and there’s a big risk/reward factor in their play.

It’s going to be really interesting though how long they can keep rushing at altitude; it certainly gets harder after 30 minutes of line-speed at altitude with your tongue hanging out!

The Lions have to score points and make a statement in the first 20 minutes, and when they have enjoyed success in the last two years in the playoff games against New Zealand sides, that’s what they’ve done.

The Lions certainly have the set-pieces to put big pressure on the Hurricanes, it’s going to be a fascinating battle up front. I don’t see the Hurricanes competing at the lineouts because the Lions’ mauling is so good, they’re going to prefer to stay down and compete on the ground, try and kill the drive at source.

It will be very interesting to see how the Lions deal with Elton Jantjies this week after he obviously did not have a great game against the Sharks. For the Lions to be removing a key player from the field after just more than an hour says it all.

But Elton is highly self-critical and he really thinks about the game a lot. It will be a case of going back to basics for him and the Lions coaching staff will be reminding him of how good he is, he is the starting Springbok flyhalf after all and he played every minute of the series against France, which shows how great his season has been. There will be an honest video review and feedback and the player will roll up his sleeves, but he will be supported by everyone in the Lions camp.

I’m sure the other players will be 100% behind him in every aspect, because they know how important he is to the team on attack.

The Lions will not train very much this week because they need to be super-fresh for the semi-final. By now everybody knows the game-plan and it will be all about execution and accuracy. Short, sharp sessions will hopefully bring reward on the weekend with the Lions at their best.

I think the Lions will come through against the Hurricanes, especially since last weekend’s game was just what they needed.

In the other semi-final, I think the Crusaders will beat the Chiefs, they will just be too good for them.

But everyone starts at zero again in the semi-finals, previous results and form don’t matter!

 


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.

 



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