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Ken Borland



Lions hit Bulls early & hard 0

Posted on May 20, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions hit the Bulls with a ferocious first-half onslaught from which they could never recover as they notched a mighty 51-14 victory in their SuperRugby local derby at Ellis Park last night.

For periods in the first half, it was like men against boys as the Lions toyed with the Bulls, scoring four tries in the second quarter to open up a commanding 39-14 lead at the break.

And it was not as if the Bulls weren’t trying, either. They had their moments, but the Lions were just so much better at spotting and making space, and the pace and accuracy of their play was at another level.

The warning lights were flashing for the Bulls as early as the second minute as the Lions began their dissection. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies is almost as skilled as a Beauden Barrett, and he gave a masterful display of pulling the strings throughout, his direct play and ability to commit defenders on the gain-line opening up space out wide, which the Lions clinically exploited.

Ruan Combrinck’s rugby story is one of the more heartwarming ones and the 2016 Springbok debutant scored with his first touch upon his return to SuperRugby, having been out of the game since August when he fractured his fibula. A lovely midfield move saw Jantjies feed wing Courtnall Skosan on an inside run, the flyhalf then getting the ball out wide to fullback Andries Coetzee, who passed to Combrinck, who finished clinically with a deft chip and regather.

For all the criticism, it is apparent that there is ability in this Bulls team and there are moments when it is clear that they are well-coached.

Such a moment came in the sixth minute when they scored a wonderful set-piece try, certainly the equal of the Lions’ opening score.

From a lineout, a lovely interchange of passes between fullback Jesse Kriel and Sibahle Maxwane sent the debutant wing racing through the defensive line before centre Jan Serfontein stormed over for the try.

The Bulls were doing well in the first quarter, holding the Lions to just two penalties kicked by Jantjies, the first from a scrum, the second from a prolonged build-up which showed that the visitors were at least causing some frustration, the home side having earlier kicked goalable penalties to touch.

But the Bulls’ well would quickly run dry.

Blindside flank Jannes Kirsten is known for being a strong ball-carrier, an abrasive player who is difficult to stop. But when he came charging from deep at the much smaller Kwagga Smith, the Lions’ openside did not surrender an inch on the gain-line, instead holding Kirsten up for long enough for his fellow forwards to support him and force the turnover.

From the resulting scrum, Jantjies spotted that Kriel was standing too deep at fullback and his lovely chip into that space was claimed by Skosan, who raced into the Bulls’ 22 before passing out wide for Smith to score.

That was followed by lock Franco Mostert bursting clear in midfield from the kickoff and his good offload over the top went to up-in-support Ruan Dreyer, the tighthead prop showing that he has the mobility to go with his undoubted scrummaging prowess, for the Lions’ third try, all of them converted by Jantjies.

Kriel showed that he was up for the contest, however, when he burst through the weak tackles of Smith and Skosan to score the Bulls’ second try, in the 28th minute, when there really wasn’t much on for the visitors.

Brummer converted to make it 14-27, but that would be the last time they scored in the match.

To make matters worse, two stupid mistakes would gift the Lions two more tries before halftime.

It had been one-way traffic for a while, but for an international scrumhalf, it was exceptionally poor of Rudy Paige to telegraph his box-kick so blatantly by the way he was standing. Eighthman Warren Whiteley, who once again led from the front in inspirational fashion, charged down the kick and did well to dot down as the ball threatened to squirm out of his grasp on the tryline.

In contrast to Jantjies’ game-management, opposite number Brummer was a non-entity, although he did not have front-foot ball to play with. But his failure to find touch from a penalty kick on the Lions’ 22, which would have provided a wonderful attacking platform, was inexcusable.

Instead the Lions took a scrum on their 22, won a penalty and set up a lineout in Bulls’ territory. From there Jantjies’ direct run drew two defenders and then it just took two passes out wide for Combrinck to be racing over in the corner again, ending the first half as he had begun it.

The Bulls were staring a horror movie in the face, 39-14 down at the break, but instead of being disembowelled by the ravenous Lions, they did manage to claw back some pride with a better second half.

There were no further gains on the scoreboard, but limiting the Lions to just two more tries, in the 43rd and 80th minutes, was something of a success.

Jantjies manufactured the first one with a lovely little chip-pass to Skosan, hooker Malcolm Marx, never far from the action, came storming up in support and Mostert went over from the next ruck.

The final try came after outside centre Lionel Mapoe went into a half-gap and an interchange of passes with replacement centre Jacques Nel saw the Springbok split the tired defence and race away for the try, Jantjies converting to seal the Lions’ biggest winning margin against the Bulls.

While the Bulls did fight back in the second half, it was still a poor display and they were utterly humbled by their neighbours. As a corporation as a whole, they need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

Most galling is the fact that the core of the Lions side comes from players rejected by the Bulls. Coach Nollis Marais is likely to get the sack this week, but there are poorer performers above him in the Bulls hierarchy who should not be immune to the blame.

Points scorers

Lions: Tries – Ruan Combrinck (2), Kwagga Smith, Ruan Dreyer, Warren Whiteley, Franco Mostert, Lionel Mapoe. Conversions – Elton Jantjies (5). Penalties – Jantjies (2).

Bulls: Tries – Jan Serfontein, Jesse Kriel. Conversions – Francois Brummer (2).

In praise of the Lions: The John McFarland Column 0

Posted on May 17, 2017 by Ken

 

What a fantastic achievement by the Lions to win all three of their SuperRugby games overseas, for any rugby team to do that is an unbelievable effort and they continue to do really well in terms of the competition standings.

I think this is the first time a South African team have been unbeaten on their overseas tour and the bonus points they gained, to score the tries they did and to defend so securely was superb, and credit must go to the coaching staff as a whole.

Not that long ago, it was virtually impossible for a South African team to win against the Brumbies in Canberra and that could be the result that gives the Lions a great shout of hosting a home final. They can now top the log and go all the way, playing New Zealand sides at 3pm on the Highveld in the knockouts.

It was certainly a memorable moment when they managed to steal the ball for a turnover and what pace Kwagga Smith showed to finish!

For those criticising the way the Lions have been playing, you never play your best away from home, you just have to make sure you win. And you can’t be at your best every week in SuperRugby, it’s impossible, and it’s important to win when you’re playing badly.

This weekend the Lions will look forward to hosting a Bulls team low on confidence and belief at Ellis Park.

The Bulls were certainly better last weekend against the Highlanders. Although the conditions were a great leveller, they showed fight and character and it was a good turnaround which showed what they can achieve when they put their minds to it. There was also a huge improvement in their defence.

The Bulls have so many good players and they will see a chance to play against the Lions as a great opportunity; there is always a bit more passion and intensity in the local derbies. It is a very young Bulls side though, and they will need to match the Lions in the set-pieces. Obviously the scrums are crucial because the Lions will certainly attack them there, and the Bulls will also need to stop the lineout drive. Then they need to deal with the Lions’ game-breaking backs, although the Bulls also have a dangerous backline.

I fully expect the Stormers to beat the Blues back in Cape Town after their rest. The start will be key for the Stormers because they don’t have so much confidence now, but if they can get back to how they were playing before going overseas, then there’s no reason why they can’t beat the Blues. Their biggest challenge is going to be that they have to defend a lot better.

You’ve also got to take your hats off to the Southern Kings, who have no budget but are certainly playing with high confidence at the moment, and it was a really good performance to beat the Sharks with four tries to two. It was encouraging to see they’ve got the reward of four guys being named in the last Springbok training squad.

But the only South African team that has really performed to their potential has been the Lions, so you would think they will form the bulk of the final Springbok squad to be announced next week. The Sharks have recently lost to the Kings and drawn with the Rebels, the Stormers have lost four successive matches and the Bulls and Cheetahs are also on big losing streaks, so there is not a lot of confidence amongst the other players in South Africa.

But we’ve been like this before – in 2015 we struggled in SuperRugby but ended up losing by just two points to the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final. The players get excited about being in a different environment and representing their country.

The Stormers locks are world-class and proven Test players need to play, plus there are special considerations around making the squad representative, so there are a lot of variables, one can’t just choose all the Lions players.

The positive, though, is that two of the Tests against France will be played on the Highveld, so it’s an opportunity to pick more Gauteng players who are used to the conditions and the quick tempo of play.

France will bring a gigantic pack and big midfield backs, they certainly like to play ball-in-hand and they have an offload game centred around Louis Picamoles. So Allister Coetzee needs to pick the right combinations to stop that, which is always the challenge in selection – it’s like putting together a fine potjie, making sure the blend is right is most important and you’re always going to use some tried and tested frontline Test players.

It will be interesting to see who Coetzee picks from overseas, some of them have had a very long, hard, arduous season in the French playoffs or the English Premiership. You need continuity and if guys are based overseas it makes it difficult because you have so little time together as a team anyway. For me, I would only use guys who qualify to play after the 30-caps criterion comes into force after July 1.

As far as Jan Serfontein goes, if there’s an emergency then obviously Allister will use him, and the Springboks definitely need size and experience in midfield.

With all the injuries, it looks like Elton Jantjies will get an extended run at flyhalf, and it will be a make-or-break series for him.

 

 

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.

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

John McFarland Column – What made the difference for the Lions? 0

Posted on April 21, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions’ win over the Stormers in the weekend’s big game in Cape Town was a fantastic effort.

I predicted last week that whichever side defended better would win the game and that was the case. The key difference was the Lions defence dominated the collisions and were also able to force vital turnovers against the home side.

The Stormers’ defensive policy meant they stayed out of the rucks because the Lions have such width to their game; but that resulted in uncontested, free ball for the Lions and allowed them to build control of the game, and in defence Jaco Kriel and Malcolm Marx were vociferous over the loose ball.

If a team keeps more numbers on their feet in defence then they can build greater width in their defensive line and it is a tactic used by a lot of teams, mainly at wide rucks. With this you should be able to get greater line speed and come harder off the line because of the players on their feet. The Stormers have used this tactic since the Jacques Nienaber era, with the defence outnumbering the attack, and it requires great discipline for players to stay out of the ruck, and so your penalty count will be lower.

If you do defend that way, then you need line-speed and the Stormers didn’t really have that. You need to put pressure on the halfbacks because they are the decision-makers, cut down their space and options, and that was lacking. Elton Jantjies had his best game of the season.

This is completely different to the approach of a team like the Hurricanes, who put pressure on the ball and push the attack backwards, forcing turnovers, which is the hardest ball to defend against.

First prize in defence is to get good tackle contact, maybe a double-hit, and then get over and steal the ball, like Kriel does. The Stormers are lacking a specialist openside flank which means this form of defence suits them, but obviously they need to revisit their recruitment policy and develop or find an openside.

The Stormers were keen on making offloads, getting their hands above the tackle, which means you have to stay up in contact, leaving you vulnerable to the choke-tackle. The Lions were very effective at keeping square and hitting the carrier so that the offload opportunity was nullified or could only be made under extreme pressure. This also resulted in turnovers through the choke-tackle, just like Ireland used in the 2011 World Cup win over Australia.

The Stormers will be disappointed with the blindside try they allowed Sylvian Mahuza to score because the wing should always be up on the short side, Cheslin Kolbe was hanging back which gave space and Harold Vorster ran a wonderful line, through pillar three and four, who were watching the ruck and not him, allowing him to slice through.

It takes a special talent to see the hole in the defence and then to hit it, and Vorster shows how blessed South African rugby is in terms of backline depth. The two leading centres favoured by Allister Coetzee – Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh – are both injured, so the performances of Vorster have been very encouraging.

The Cheetahs were really on fire for the first 30 minutes of their game against the Chiefs and some of the rugby they played, and the courage they showed to run from deep, was a joy to watch. It just shows that the decision to go with only four South African franchises is going to have the terrible consequence of a lot of people, fine rugby players, losing their livelihoods and jobs, or taking the road overseas.

Francois Venter was very influential with his reverse runs and clever lines, and the Cheetahs still use the strength of their maul well and that caused the Chiefs many problems. They run their exits off the restarts, they take you on first and then look for a short kick. They got good reward from chips during that opening period.

There probably should have been more yellow cards in the first half-hour because the Chiefs were really under the pump and they started to concede penalties rather than tries. They knew that even two penalties against one try was a good deal.

The deliberate conceding of penalties really stops the attacking momentum and after a penalty the offending side then gets territory because they kick deep from the restart! It certainly calls for captains to speak to the referees, the captain needs to put the right sort of pressure on the referee.

Some captains are better at this than others – eg one Richie McCaw! – but it’s a vital thing to get that influence. There are never a lot of yellow cards given because referees don’t want to have an overbearing influence on the game, but there’s normally at least one and it’s important teams find the right time to go to the referee by the captain.

For example, Jan Serfontein’s yellow card last weekend for the Bulls against the Sunwolves was for something not much different to what the Chiefs were doing. But the scoreline influences the decision. In that first half-hour in Bloemfontein, the high tackle when it was a one-on-one by Damian McKenzie was a prime example. He was at the last line of defence and such fouls raise the question of a penalty try.

The Chiefs knew they would score tries at the back end of the match and the Cheetahs’ conditioning was off so the game followed the traditional pattern of South African teams versus New Zealand sides and they ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes.

I was pleased to see the Bulls get back on track and to see CEO Barend van Graan so publicly back the coaching staff. The reward was a quite convincing win and the best result against the Jaguares by a South African team this season.

Congratulations too to all the schools who took part in Easter festivals in South Africa. These are a wonderful showpiece for the game and a very special part of our rugby itinerary. Long may these traditions continue, it’s just wonderful to see the number of games of such quality over the course of a day and that so many come out to support these festivals.

With SA Rugby’s plan for four Super Rugby sides and eight professional Currie Cup sides, you wonder where these highly promising young players are going to get opportunities to play. Obviously the Varsity Cup will be an entry point, hopefully these players will show patience and remain in South Africa.

 

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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