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Ken Borland



Lions have earned universal respect despite failing to make playoffs 0

Posted on November 24, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions may have failed to make the SuperRugby playoffs after their dramatic weekend draw against the Stormers, but the Johannesburg-based franchise has certainly earned the respect of all their opponents this season.

Just two years after they were controversially relegated from SuperRugby, the Lions have clinched second place in the South African Conference and boast an almost identical record to the Brumbies, who have snuck into the playoffs ahead of them because of bonus points.

They have maintained their positive style of play with ball in hand, but where they have improved most is defensively, boasting the best tackling success rate in the competition. The Lions play at the highest tempo of all the South African sides as they swarm around in defence and always have great intensity on the ball. Their powerful scrum has provided a solid platform and their lineout has also been efficient.

“It’s all about playing with intensity and hunger, and we have to up our performance every week. There are plans in place, but I also allow the guys to be free spirits and you have to live with the small mistakes that come from that,” coach Johan Ackermann says. “Obviously I’m very proud of the team, it must be one of our best years and it shows that hard work is worth it.”

The Lions have certainly deserved all the praise that has come their way, beating the qualified Waratahs and Highlanders in the last five weeks and showing all season that they are never out of the contest with some superb second-half comebacks.

“There’s great belief within this side, a real hunger. We want to close down the opposition’s space and put them under pressure. We’ve built our physicality in defence, we want to be in their faces and not stand back,” captain Warren Whiteley says.

Their impressive performances have seen several of their players grow into Springbok contenders. The most likely Lions player to feature in Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok World Cup squad is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who dares to take the ball flat and attack the opposition line, has superb hands and is a strong defender, as well as kicking well this season.

Eighthman Whiteley is competing with Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger for a place at the World Cup, but he gets through a mound of work and is the only player in SuperRugby this year to have made more than 200 tackles, while also being highly effective in a linking role, possessing great skill and vision as befits a Springbok Sevens player who helped win the Commonwealth Games gold medal last year.

He is also adept at interfering with the opposition lineout, where Franco Mostert has also been a key performer for the Lions, as well as in the loose.

Warwick Tecklenburg has been outstanding in doing all the Lions’ dirty work, being second only to Whiteley in terms of tackles made, but fellow flank Jaco Kriel has been the most impressive forward.

A constant nuisance at the breakdown, he oozes raw talent in offence, having phenomenal pace, strength and hands, and has more often than not been able to spark the most sensational counter-attacks by the Lions.

Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have proved to be two powerful centres, while scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and wing Ruan Combrinck are two other backs who have announced themselves as future Springboks this year.

Despite their success over the last two years, Ackermann says at the moment they are just playing pretty rugby and haven’t won anything yet, there is more growing to do.

“We can look back on a good season regardless of missing the playoffs. The players know where they stand with me and they know my expectation on deserving the jersey. As long as they do that, I can’t ask for more. The growth from last year is definitely there, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“Nobody has achieved anything yet. We are not in the playoffs, we haven’t won the Currie Cup yet, we haven’t won any trophies yet. But if you ask me if there is a lot of growth, both for me as coach and for the team, then definitely if you look where we started in January 2014 until where we are now,” Ackermann says.

 

No dancing around the issue for odd-one-out Morkel 0

Posted on November 09, 2016 by Ken

 

A lesser player or person might have danced around the issue, but Titans T20 captain Albie Morkel was forthright on Tuesday about himself being the odd one out as his team defend their title in the shortest format of the game, starting with their derby clash with double-header hosts the Lions at the Wanderers on Saturday.

Because Morkel is only available for limited-overs cricket for the Titans, he has not been part of the side that has put a poor start in the Sunfoil Series behind them and climbed to the top of the four-day log at the halfway stage. So he is acutely aware that while he will be leading an in-form group of players into battle this weekend, his own form has yet to be tested.

“Having a winning team definitely helps and it doesn’t matter which format it’s been in. In T20, one guy can win a game on the night, but the team with the most in-form players will win the competition. So the four-day games have provided nice momentum, lots of guys have made big contributions.

“So we don’t have to hide anyone, we’re not trying to fill any gaps, all the guys have performed on the field in recent weeks. If you’re out of form in T20 cricket, you get exposed very quickly,” Morkel said on Tuesday at the announcement that Multiply would be the franchise’s team sponsor in the CSA T20 Slam.

“But I’m the one guy who’s had an extended holiday. The challenge has been to stay fit, so I played a bit of club cricket, although that’s not at the same intensity. So this week I’ll make sure I get some good practice in, match-sharpness is the key, and I can also fall back on experience to an extent,” the all-rounder added.

Last season the Titans went on a record-breaking eight-match winning streak to top the log and then win the final they hosted against the Dolphins, but life could be a bit harder for them this time around, certainly in the initial stages of the competition.

“We have almost a completely different team, last season we had Quinton de Kock scoring over 400 runs on his own and Chris Morris and Tabraiz Shamsi making it very hard to chase down our scores. Those guys won games on their own and we’ve also lost someone like Graeme van Buuren, who did very well too, and Mangaliso Mosehle.

“So we need to find our combinations quickly, even though there are a few older guys still around, that’s no guarantee for success. We’re starting from scratch again and we’ll definitely have to bowl smarter. But we’re still a strong team, we’ll look at Aiden Markram up front, he’s a bit of an unknown factor in T20, and our middle and lower-order is very strong with myself, David Wiese, Qaasim Adams and Farhaan Behardien all coming in back-to-back. We can really take on attacks if we get good starts,” Morkel said.

The Chiefs are the champions; the Lions will join them in SuperRugby 0

Posted on November 07, 2016 by Ken

 

The Chiefs are the SuperRugby champions once again and the Lions will be joining them in the competition next year after the dramatic final weekend of action in the toughest tournament in rugby.

The Chiefs made up a 12-22 deficit in the final quarter to beat the Brumbies 27-22 in the final in Hamilton and the Waikato men are clearly deserved champions. The defence of a title is almost always harder than winning it in the first place and the Chiefs’ back-to-back crowns were achieved the hard way, by topping the log, beating the Crusaders and then changing the momentum of the final in dramatic fashion.

The Lions were beaten 23-18 by the Southern Kings in the second leg of the promotion/relegation clash at Ellis Park, but the seven-point winning margin they claimed in Port Elizabeth was enough for them to win the series on aggregate. The Kings also mounted a stirring comeback in the final quarter, taking advantage of the yellow card to centre Stokkies Hanekom to overturn the 9-18 deficit that seemed to have settled the relegation contest. But in the end they were just one score short of returning to a competition in which they achieved the most wins by a side in their first season.

The Lions were roared on by 50 000 fans on a chilly night in Johannesburg and one wonders where all the people came from, judging by how sparse the crowds have been at Ellis Park for the last couple of years. Hopefully they don’t disappear into the night as quickly as they came and they have a responsibility to match the support the Kings enjoyed in Port Elizabeth – their attendance average was the third best in the competition – when the Lions face another daunting SuperRugby challenge next year.

Perhaps the Lions’ union bosses should take a hint from the fact that the Kings were based at the modern, superb Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Would the Lions not attract more consistent support if they played at the FNB or even Orlando Stadium?

 The Kings, bringing tremendous passion and fiery commitment, as expected with their survival as a team hanging in the balance, dominated the opening exchanges and really squeezed the Lions with their kicking game. Scott van Breda also kicked two penalties to give the Kings a 6-0 lead.

The Lions were really struggling to get out of their own half, the Kings enjoying 83% territory in the opening quarter, and some outstanding defence was also suffocating them.

But the one thing the Lions did prove during their otherwise rather meaningless series of challenge matches was that they have a pack that is up to the rigours of SuperRugby.

A top-class scrum, anchored by loosehead prop and captain JC Janse van Rensburg, and a formidable rolling maul are valuable weapons and partly a result of having Johan Ackermann and Balie Swart on the coaching staff.

Using their scrum and also driving effectively off the lineout, the Lions enjoyed a resurgence in the last 10 minutes of the first half, Elton Jantjies kicking a penalty and Derick Minnie being driven over the tryline, and they took a firm grip on the game after half-time.

The Kings scrum could probably be heard creaking in the nicely-paved plaza outside the stadium and Jantjies was able to give the Lions an 11-9 lead early in the second half after loosehead Schalk Ferreira had been penalised for losing his bind.

Flank Jaco Kriel then surged over for a try that was converted by Jantjies (18-9), enjoying the acres of space that a Kings defence that was far too bunched afforded him out wide.

The seven-point deficit from the first game meant that the Kings had to score 17 points in the last 20 minutes to avoid relegation and the Lions ensured that they had a sniff by making some crucial mistakes.

Jantjies missed an easy penalty after a powerful scrum had turned over possession and wings Chrysander Botha and Anthonie Volmink counter-attacked superbly – the Springbok flyhalf was poor with the boot in general – and Hanekom was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle. The decision was fair according to the letter of the law because he lifted an opposition player and then just dropped him.

The response by the Kings was immediate as they kicked the Hanekom penalty to touch and set the rolling maul, which was defended well by the Lions. After a couple of pick-and-goes by the forwards and a sniping run by scrumhalf Shaun Venter that was stopped just short of the line, Ferreira, with Engelbrecht behind him, charged through replacement scrumhalf Guy Cronje to score.

Wing Van Breda, who was impressive with the boot as he came in for the injured Demetri Catrakilis, converted and then scored the Kings’ second try with just six minutes remaining.

The Lions were in possession deep inside the Kings’ half but Kriel was stripped of the ball by the abrasive Jacques Engelbrecht. The focus of the Lions flank seemed to be on equipment failure, however, as Kriel was fiddling with his headgear, which seemed to be slipping down the forehead, just before he went into contact.

The ball was quickly shipped to the backline by the Kings and Shane Gates, the replacement centre, made a searing break down the middle of the field. From there the Kings just needed to draw-and-pass and Van Breda was over in the corner.

The tricky conversion was nailed and the Kings, 23-18 ahead, needed just one more score to deny promotion for the Lions.

By now the crowd was frantic and George Whitehead must have felt like he was the epicentre of all that pressure as he failed to kick a penalty to touch that would have given the Kings a prime opportunity to attack inside the Lions’ half.

The future of rugby in the Eastern Cape is now once again in doubt. This Kings team, the most determined of new boys on the block, will be dismantled with director of rugby Alan Solomons already heading to Edinburgh and most of their better players already linked to the likes of the Bulls.

It is obviously not ideal for South African rugby to have one of their biggest areas not represented by a professional team, never mind that the Eastern Cape is the historical home of black rugby.

The future of the Lions is not exactly rosy either. The quality of their play suggests they will themselves be involved in the rigours of avoiding relegation next year, unless they are able to substantially bolster their squad, reserve depth being vital as well in such a gruelling tournament.

But how are they going to be able to attract players to Ellis Park with the guarantee of just one year of SuperRugby? Providing they can put aside the whole arch-rivals tag that led to some spicy, niggly moments in the first half of the match, several of the Kings players might well be moving to the Lions in the next few months.

But in the meantime we should allow the Lions to enjoy their return to the top-flight – and give great credit to Ackermann and his coaching staff for ensuring their team was up to speed – and mourn with the Kings as what looked a promising crop has been cut back to grassroots in the Eastern Cape.

At the other end of the SuperRugby spectrum, the Brumbies began the final playing with military precision to another canny Jake White game plan.

A ferocious presence at the breakdowns, getting up quickly (or being offsides) and in the faces of the Chiefs on defence and the faultless boot of Christian Lealiifano were the main vehicles for their success as they racked up a 22-12 lead by the hour mark.

Having a top-class openside in George Smith – and lock Scott Fardy was also a prominent player at the breakdowns – was obviously a major support for the game plan and the Chiefs looked a hassled and flustered side as half-time approached.

A defence that rushed inwards from the wings cramped the Chiefs’ preferred expansive style and they conceded a crucial try in the 40th minute when scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow threw a wild pass right into where the defence was concentrated and Lealiifano pouched a brilliant pick-up and sped away for a 47-metre intercept try.

A tally of 10 turnovers in the first half indicated where the Chiefs’ problems lay and they conceded a penalty at the breakdown early in the second half when Fardy and Smith made a great team in catching Kerr-Barlow in possession.

A fifth penalty by Lealiifano, stemming from another Smith turnover, put the Brumbies 22-12 ahead after 59 minutes and they were perhaps already booking an open-top bus in Canberra for a ticker-tape parade.

And that is when the Chiefs showed their champion quality. An alteration to their breakdown strategy – committing an extra man to protect the ball – and deciding to be more direct with ball in hand turned the tide.

And with referee Craig Joubert starting to lose patience with the Brumbies’ spoiling tactics, the final quarter belonged to the Chiefs.

Brumbies scrumhalf Nic White produced a terrible kick to touch off a penalty, leading to a five-metre scrum for the Chiefs and then followed Kerr-Barlow as he went wide, opening up a lovely gap for flank Liam Messam to power through and cut the deficit to 17-22.

Flyhalf Aaron Cruden missed the conversion – and kicked poorly throughout, missing two penalties as well – but it didn’t matter as the Chiefs scored again just four minutes later.

Centres Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Bundee Aki broke out of their own territory and Robbie Robinson then cruised through the defence after one little sidestep.

Cruden then put aside his bum kicking form to kick a late penalty and the Chiefs had the title in the bag.

So the Chiefs win the overall title and the Lions will be benefiting from several million rand more than they had this year, but the other big winner over the weekend was scrumhalf Fourie du Preez.

Du Preez, one of the heroes of the 2007 World Cup triumph, has been recalled to the Springbok squad for the Rugby Championship. His Japanese club, Suntory Sungoliath, have however insisted he only play in the Tests in South Africa.

People may well be asking questions as to why Du Preez has been selected when he’s only available on a part-time basis and whether he will be sharp enough after playing for the last two years in the less intense Japanese league.

But one can hardly blame Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer for wanting to have a look at Du Preez, one of the all-time great scrumhalves, given South Africa’s stocks in that position at the moment and the fact that his contract in Japan is coming to an end and he will be available for the 2015 World Cup.

The inexperienced Jano Vermaak and the solid but unspectacular Ruan Pienaar are the other scrumhalves in the squad, while the young Piet van Zyl will replace Du Preez in the squad when they travel overseas. Francois Hougaard is out for the rest of the season after surgery on the ankle that has hampered him all year.

The success of George Smith with the Brumbies is a sign that using Japan-based players might not be on the wrong side of reason, and Meyer has also chosen seven other overseas-based players, the most ever, in both Vermaak and Pienaar, Morne Steyn, Bryan Habana, Juandre Kruger, Francois Louw and Gurthro Steenkamp.

Du Preez, experienced Toulouse prop Steenkamp and fit-again eighthman Duane Vermeulen are the three recalled players who did not feature in the incoming quadrangular series in June.

The main criticism of the squad will be the composition of the front row where Meyer has chosen just a single specialist tighthead in the over-worked Jannie du Plessis and four looseheads, although the Springbok coach hopes to convert Coenie Oosthuizen into a number three.

The Cheetahs hero is however definitely more comfortable at loosehead and Meyer really needs to develop the tighthead talent that is there in Oosthuizen’s team-mate Lourens Adriaanse and Wiehahn Herbst of the Sharks. Frans Malherbe of the Stormers is also a candidate but is currently out injured.

Springbok squad – Willie le Roux, Zane Kirchner, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, Jan Serfontein, Bryan Habana, Bjorn Basson, Morne Steyn, Pat Lambie, Fourie du Preez, Jano Vermaak, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Louw, Siya Kolisi, Juandre Kruger, Franco van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Coenie Oosthuizen, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Tendai Mtawarira, Gurthro Steenkamp, Trevor Nyakane.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-08-05-superrugby-chiefs-are-champs/#.WCBoV_l97IU

The Lions & the Springboks are totally different environments 0

Posted on August 15, 2016 by Ken

 

So it didn’t quite end in jubilation, but the Lions’ SuperRugby campaign still brought enormous pride and good feeling over their rags-to-riches story, and the public will carry many of those emotions into the Rugby Championship that starts next weekend.

But it is vital to realise that the Springboks and the Test arena are entirely different environments to the Lions and SuperRugby, and comments calling for the whole of Johan Ackermann’s team to be promoted to the national side or for coach Allister Coetzee to simply copy the game plan are ill-informed, ill-judged and have the potential to be divisive.

The health of any rugby team has a lot to do with its unity of purpose and their togetherness as people, and one could sense some frustration this week when the Springbok management and some of the players were constantly asked questions that referred back to the Lions.

Hopefully Lions captain Warren Whiteley, whose hard work on the field and wise words off it are nothing short of inspirational, put that all to bed this week when he highlighted in no uncertain terms that the Springboks are different.

“There’s no debate about using the same playing style, these are two different sides and we are not talking about unions any more. You’re talking about a team at provincial level against a national side. Sure, we as Lions players can bring confidence to the Springboks and there are similarities in the way we are trying to play. But there’s a step up when you come to the Springboks and the intensity and speed with which we’ve been training is at another level to the Lions,” Whiteley said this week.

Last weekend’s column bemoaned the parlous state of the Currie Cup, South Africa’s flagship rugby competition, but the performance of the Lions is one of the reasons for optimism when it comes to South African rugby.

Amidst the ritz and glitz of the Olympics there was another reason for cheer, even if the Blitzbokke flattered to deceive and had to settle for a bronze medal (still a notable achievement and more than New Zealand or Australia could manage). I’m talking about Rasta Rashivenge being given the honour of refereeing the Sevens final, an appointment that continues a long line of excellence when it comes to South African officials.

They receive way more criticism than plaudits simply because of human nature, but our referees and the high standards they maintain is one of the best stories in South African rugby.

Some of the media were privileged this week to be able to sit down with leading referee Jaco Peyper for an information session just to help us scribes better understand why certain decisions are made on the field and how the officials are interpreting the details of the laws these days.

Peyper said a referee makes about 400 decisions in every game and there will always be little mistakes, but the important thing is to ensure these do not have a major impact on the game.

He also said it is important to note that the key focus areas that referees are blowing these days have been decided in consultation with the coaches and other stakeholders, notably medical staff. They have had their say on what the shape of the game should look like and how to make it safer, and the referee’s job is to facilitate that.

Interestingly, there are some well-known phrases in our rugby lexicon, like “downward pressure”, “the direction of the hands when passing” and “bringing the catcher of the ball down safely” that don’t appear anywhere in the laws of the game.

This has led to some confusion amongst the public when watching games and the referees and TMOs don’t take any of those polluting myths into account, most often leading to filthy language in the lounge. For a clear and thorough view of the laws, including the opportunity to discuss issues with leading referees, I would recommend going to http://www.sareferees.com/

 

 

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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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