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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – The intent is obviously there 0

Posted on March 03, 2017 by Ken

 

Judging by the quality of the games last weekend, I am really looking forward to this weekend’s SuperRugby action, with the Stormers, Bulls and Lions looking like South Africa’s three major contenders.

Last weekend we saw very different South African derbies to what we normally see and the will to attack was clearly there. The intent was obviously there to play with ball in hand and the teams played with real speed in terms of tempo, and pace, which made a heck of an impact.

An example of this was when the Stormers took a quick tap and scored seven points against the Bulls; they, in particular, showed more intent than they have in the past.

The effects of the new tackle law, meaning players now have to go lower with their hits, were also evident in that there were more offloads. Attacks can now continue through the tackle because the arms are free and the tall guys can get the ball above the tackle. It keeps the ball alive and it has led to a lot more continuity.

What was really impressive to me was how lean some of the leading Springboks looked. Guys like Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi looked in great shape and the speed they played at was a direct consequence of their fitness levels.

There’s definitely been a huge emphasis on conditioning through the franchises and it could mean the end of the New Zealand and Australian sides feeling that a high ball-in-play figure is their secret to success because the South African teams will tire.

While the Stormers were fantastic, what was encouraging about the Bulls was that they never gave up, which is huge. They denied the Stormers a bonus point, which at the end of the day could be vital; from 24-0 up at halftime, the Stormers really needed to get that bonus point. The second half would have provided a huge swing in confidence for the Bulls.

In the Cheetahs versus Lions game in Bloemfontein, the visitors really got out of jail, but if you can score three tries away from home then you deserve your victory.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg showed his finishing power and speed, while the Lions’ try down the short side to win the match showed again that rugby is about defending the full width of the field, even if you only have two or three metres to touch.

The penalty try given off a driving maul was a game-changer; most referees would have copped out and just given a penalty, but if the maul is set and moving forward then it deserves that decision, so credit to referee Quinton Immelman for his brave call.

The Southern Kings looked better and scored some really good tries, but again conceded turnovers at crucial times. During the first half they were in control for long periods, but a yellow card really cost them and prop Ross Geldenhuys was lucky not to get a red card, which a knee to the back should be penalised with.

The major talking point of the last week in the rugby world, however, was Italy and their decision not to contest rucks against England.

I had lunch with Brendan Venter last week and he mentioned that they were going to do it. Any tactic that is new and innovative has to be applauded and it certainly took England a long time to cope with it, so credit to Brendan and the rest of the Italian coaching staff and players for that.

But I believe World Rugby do need to look at the law. As defence coaches, we encourage players to get back on their feet and in the defensive line, but now teams might just try to herd the attacking team into a small radius of the ruck, which would not be good for the game.

It would take a full week of coaching to get a game plan against Italy’s tactic. It was  a real shock-and-awe strategy and difficult to adapt to on your feet. In fact, England played into Italy’s hands with their counter to it, so it clearly worked as a tactic.

 

 

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.

It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup 3

Posted on August 08, 2016 by Ken

 

It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup – a 124-year-old South African sporting institution and one of the most famous competitions in the game – but the South African Rugby Union, the custodians of this treasured tournament, are pulling off this dubious feat with scarcely-believable efficiency.

A crowded schedule and the growth of SuperRugby, both in terms of size and importance, has put the squeeze on the Currie Cup in recent years, but in 2016 Saru have taken the self-sabotage to a whole new level.

The build-up to this year’s tournament can only be described as a fiasco – from a largely pointless qualification competition to the scheduling of the fixtures, the Eastern Province Kings saga and the decision that match-day squads will only feature 22 players, it has been a litany of mistakes by Saru.

Griquas, Boland and the Pumas all finished in the top five of the qualifying tournament and their involvement in the Premier Division is a fine idea. But the Kings are likely to be an absolute shambles given that they have been liquidated and almost all their Super Rugby players have left. Their second-string players could only win two of their 14 qualifying games.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, itself about to undergo a change of leadership, has temporarily bailed out Eastern Province with a R20 million support package, but that’s not going to fix their tight five or their defence.

Everyone knows that the Kings are going to be a disaster but a Saru vote, thanks to their archaic governance system, has kept them in the Premier Division. Instead of a path being chosen for the benefit of South African rugby as a whole, the decision was made by the general council of the 14 union presidents and it needed to be unanimous for the dysfunctional, bankrupt team to be booted.

Of course one could guarantee self-interest would win the day and the Griffons vetoed the scheme. Apparently they agreed the Kings shouldn’t be in the top division but they didn’t want the Leopards to replace them. Talk about childish petulance and abysmal leadership, and we have seen the same outcome in many other issues Saru have voted for over recent years.

No wonder so many sponsors run a mile when Saru come knocking on their doors, because who wants their brand to be associated with a bunch of dinosaurs who are busy presiding over the extinction of the once mighty and proud Currie Cup?

The scheduling has also been poor with the opening round of the main event taking place in the same radius as the SuperRugby final and one of the biggest stories in the local game for many years, the possibility of the Lions winning that trophy. So nobody really cares that the Currie Cup is starting.

The final is scheduled for October 15 and the Springboks only play their first end-of-year-tour match on November 5, so the Currie Cup could easily have started a week later, out of the shadow of SuperRugby.

The vexed question of the Kings’ participation has also led to a dizzying array of fixture changes, but even before that the Lions were scheduled to play this weekend, even though the attentions of the defending champions were clearly going to be on SuperRugby.

Saru are certainly not putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to the Currie Cup and the lack of resources for the competition is also shown by the decision that teams can only have 22-man match-day squads, instead of the 23 with a full front row on the bench that is used now in all other high-level rugby.

This will not only affect the quality of the competition – expect more uncontested scrums – but obviously affects the preparation of the Springboks because they will have to use 23 players at international level.

No wonder the Springboks have struggled in recent years when their support structures and their pipelines are like an IOU from Cheeky Watson blowing in a Port Elizabeth gale.

Things have obviously changed in KZN rugby 0

Posted on July 18, 2016 by Ken

 

I can remember well covering Natal Sharks rugby in the 1990s – they were the team of the decade with four Currie Cup titles – and how we used to tut-tut at teams like the Lions because down in Durban we were the best both on and off the field, in terms of administration and brand marketing.

Things have obviously changed and the Lions are leading the way for South African rugby, while the Sharks don’t look like adding to their 2010 and 2013 Currie Cup crowns any time soon, never mind claiming that elusive Super Rugby title. And they are embroiled in the unseemliest of off-field squabbles, one that is straight out of the Louis Luyt book of skulduggery.

The actions of KZN Rugby Union president Graham Mackenzie would appear to be obvious grounds for his removal from his post. This week it was revealed that he was involved in a dirty tricks campaign that included trying to get journalists to publish a prepared article he or someone close to him had written discrediting former CEO and major critic Brian van Zyl under their own bylines. Unfortunately a blogger eventually took the bait and has subsequently been exposed and disgraced.

It would be premature to suggest Mackenzie is another Cheeky Watson waiting to happen because there is no proof of any financial impropriety. Then again, we can’t be entirely sure because for the first time in the KZNRU’s history the financial statements were not ready to be presented to the board or the clubs at the AGMs in April.

But that sort of maladministration inevitably gives birth to speculation and rumours, one just doesn’t expect the president of the union to be involved in spreading misinformation.

The Sharks have been hit by the economic downturn just like all the other franchises, but they have not been helped by the new broom that was wielded by John Smit when he replaced Van Zyl as CEO in 2013 when Mackenzie and chairman of the board Stephen Saad took over control of the Sharks in the boardroom. Some leading Natal rugby figures are apparently still nursing the knife wounds in the back.

While Smit secured several lucrative sponsorships for the Sharks, by getting rid of so many experienced staff members, people who have made an immense contribution to KZN rugby, he caused turmoil in the Kings Park offices. Never mind sacking coach John Plumtree, who it must be remembered had failed to win Super Rugby despite having a powerhouse side full of Springboks, it was the clear-out of people like Piet Strydom, Hans Scriba, Garth Giles and Rudolf Straeuli which raised eyebrows. And inevitably led to allegations Smit was just bringing in his old buddies both on and off the field.

Straeuli was the commercial manager and, ironically, it is the Lions who have now been reinvigorated by his acumen as CEO.

Transparency is the only way to avoid Sharks rugby being plunged into a hole like Eastern Province currently find themselves in, or a scandal like Cricket South Africa found themselves embroiled in during the Gerald Majola days.

SuperSport, as a major player on the Sharks board, have a vital role to play. But so do the clubs, who have a right to hold Mackenzie to account for his actions.

Van Zyl has made a disturbing allegation, however, that Mackenzie has built a devoted power base for himself by adding a raft of smaller clubs to the leagues, leading to a number of mismatches.

Either way, it is time a bright light was shone on the affairs of KwaZulu-Natal rugby to ensure that they can return to being a powerhouse of the South African game.

Gauteng’s treasures mirror what SA cricket could look like 0

Posted on May 16, 2016 by Ken

 

It may take a long time for the whole procession of winners to come up for their trophies and certificates, but they are like precious treasure for them,  and the fact that awards dinners usually focus on the club levels that are so crucial to any sport means I like them.

One of my favourites is the Gauteng Cricket Board awards banquet, which was held this week at the Wanderers Club, because, for me, it mirrors what I imagine transformed cricket in South Africa should look like.

This is a union that, a few years ago, was suffering from such internal strife and mistrust that the different clubs across the colour divides could barely sit in the same room together. And yet, there they all were, clubs from Soweto, Greenside, Lenasia, Riverlea, Jeppe, Azaadville, Thokoza and Florida, all enjoying a festive, celebratory evening together, all driven by MC Joey Rasdien’s wonderful mix of wicked humour and stern admonitions to keep focused on the prizegiving.

The current leadership of the GCB, from president Thabang Moroe, to the board, CEO Greg Fredericks and the staff, deserve credit for how they have dug Gauteng cricket out of their off-field hole.

Their professional teams, the Gauteng Strikers and the Highveld Lions, continue to win trophies on the field, and the Lions’ victory in the Momentum One-Day Cup means they have now won all the domestic trophies (four in total) in the four seasons that Geoff Toyana has been coach.

I would like to pay special tribute to Toyana (and senior players like Stephen Cook and Neil McKenzie) because it would have been easy for the Lions to find themselves in a hole on the playing field.

Toyana has managed to keep an often fractious dressing room – the outer veneer of a happy team is misleading because there are some difficult personalities that rub each other up in the changeroom – focused and winning, which is no mean feat and speaks volumes for his man-management.

The awful cloud of matchfixing has also hung heavily over the team and seeing a handful of his players being investigated for corruption has been like a kick in the solar plexus for Toyana.

National call-ups and SA A duties have also taken key players in and out of the team, but Toyana has handled this as well and the Lions have remained a force to be reckoned with.

In roughly the same time period Russell Domingo has taken the Proteas from the top two in all three formats to sixth in Tests, third in ODIs and fourth in T20s.

Steps have to be taken to arrest this slide. I certainly believe South Africa has the players to return to the heights of 2012, so the issue has to be related to the leadership and management of the side.

Cricket South Africa could do worse than to think seriously about elevating Toyana to the national coaching job. I believe he is one of those rare coaches able to both groom young talent – think of how Temba Bavuma, Aaron Phangiso, Eddie Leie, Hardus Viljoen, Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada have all made it into the national squad – and also to get the best out of wise old experienced players such as Cook, who is batting better and better, Alviro Petersen and McKenzie before he retired.

A player like Dwaine Pretorius has also blossomed under Toyana and the all-rounder, named the most valuable domestic player of last season by the SA Cricketers’ Association, is going to be knocking on the door for national honours as well.

A promotion for Toyana would allow Gauteng cricket to reflect on great success at both the upper and lower levels of the game, and they are certainly going to continue pushing the Titans hard for the honour of being South Africa’s premier franchise.

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  • Thought of the Day

    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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