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Ken Borland



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.

 

 

John McFarland Column – A great weekend of SA SuperRugby 1

Posted on April 04, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions v Sharks SuperRugby match at Ellis Park was a great game of rugby, so full of intensity, big hits and drama.

Maybe it did not have the accuracy you’d expect, but it was certainly exciting.

You have to credit the Sharks’ improvement, but the way the Lions just always stay in the fight shows they have the squad to win SuperRugby. It will be tough though, especially with the news that coach Johan Ackermann is leaving at the end of the campaign to join Gloucester.

The Lions have become an exciting counter-attacking team but they also set such high standards at maul and scrum time, which is why Johan’s departure is going to be such a massive loss. He’ll be missed not just as a head coach and person, but especially as an expert in the lineout and set-piece.

Nobody stays forever at a union though, whether you’re a player or a coach, and you just try and leave a legacy. Ackers has really done that at the Lions, what more can you say about the man?

Normally coaches appointed in England are allowed to take a trusted assistant with them, but in leaving Swys de Bruin behind, Johan has shown he obviously has a strong belief in the Gloucester structures and coaches.

Swys has been a head coach before at Griquas and is a brilliant man, so passionate about rugby, and I’m sure if he’s given the opportunity to succeed Ackers, he will carry that legacy through seamlessly.

But as an assistant coach, you’re focused on your area only and you make suggestions; as head coach you have to make the final decisions. You’re paid to make the right calls and how you recruit, manage people and set up systems in the union is also a big part of the job.

The Sharks were unfortunate to have a couple of TMO decisions go against them and that yellow card just before halftime was crucial. The try that resulted from it brought the Lions back into the game, otherwise the Sharks, if the disallowed try had stood as well, would have had a big enough lead at altitude to hang on, because you will suffer in the last 20 minutes at altitude, as the Sharks did.

Jaco Kriel is in the form of his life, making a nonsense of suggestions that playing in Japan is having a negative influence on his play, while Curwin Bosch was phenomenal, what a performance from the 19-year-old.

His confidence and ability to attempt some of the things he does is really pleasing to see and if you’re good enough then you’re old enough. Mike Tyson was at his best when he was 20 and Curwin sure has stuck his hand up.

If the Springboks want him to play at the 2019 World Cup then they have to get him into their structures now, sooner rather than later. He ticks all the boxes with his nerveless kicking and the range he gets with that right boot of his. And other teams won’t want to kick long on to him because he showed that he can drop-kick from deep as well.

It was a very special display from him and it was also encouraging how physical he was, while he has also proven that he’s a real factor with ball in hand. Curwin is the sort of player who provides game-breaking moments.

I know there has been talk about his defence at flyhalf, but Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett have had the same problems and there’s no way the All Blacks are not going to pick them!

The fact that Curwin can also play fullback is a massive bonus and I hope they get him in the Springbok mix as soon as possible.

The Stormers were magnificent at the weekend, to see the quality of their offloads and their willingness to try things from anywhere was a breath of fresh air. Compared to their mindset before, this was really exciting and you have to give credit to coach Robbie Fleck for giving them the confidence to play that way.

SP Marais is in the form of his life as well, and his ability to take the outside gap and get his nose and hands through the defensive line, putting away guys on his outside, is very pleasing. He didn’t have a contract at the start of the year, so it just shows what a player can achieve with a coach who backs and believes in you.

The Stormers are without three international centres in Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh and Huw Jones, which would knock any team for six, but they have still scored 29 tries in five matches and have been really good to watch.

The Cheetahs were in many ways the authors of their own demise and their defence was really poor. It has been in vogue for teams to hide certain defenders away from where the ball-carries are going to be, but this tactic bit the Cheetahs badly.

Cheslin Kolbe’s chase back on Henco Venter was brilliant to see, at that stage of the game it’s easy just to give up, but Cheslin really showed the spirit and will of the Stormers to play for each other.

I’m very excited for the Stormers game against the Chiefs this weekend and I expect their forwards to cause a lot more damage.

The Chiefs took a while to hit their straps against the Bulls, who were definitely better and forced them into errors. You have to give credit to the Bulls defence and they were very physical.

But like all New Zealand sides, the Chiefs like to keep the ball in play, they play high-risk, high-reward rugby and look to wear you out. They can keep ball in hand and play from all over the field, and they’re definitely one of the better Kiwi teams.

The Bulls were very good for 50 minutes but they just needed some tries from all that pressure. But it was a better performance and it was just a lineout error and then two grubbers when the winger did not come across on defence that cost them.

It’s going to be exciting to see them in Tokyo this week playing against the Sunwolves.

It’s a measure how global SuperRugby is that the Bulls can go from playing in Auckland last weekend to now playing in Japan. It was just a year ago that SuperRugby went to 18 teams, and now just a year later, it seems it will revert to 15 or 16 teams, nobody knows.

So what has happened in one year to necessitate this change and has anybody taken responsibility for what obviously must have been a mistake?

 

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.

Lions winners of a pulsating epic 0

Posted on April 01, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions were the winners of a pulsating, high-quality SuperRugby derby against the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday night, edging the visitors 34-29 in a gripping encounter that had all the intensity of some of the famous Test matches the Springboks have played at the venue.

The Lions were obviously not at their best, perhaps rattled by the tremendous physical onslaught brought by the Sharks, and they made numerous handling errors. But the sign of a champion side is their ability to win the games when things aren’t going their way, and they did that through a 77th-minute Jaco Kriel try.

The Sharks were superb – none more so than Curwin Bosch, the precocious flyhalf who later shifted to fullback, and produced one of the most incredible kicks seen at the famous stadium when he slotted an angled penalty from 65 metres that put the KwaZulu-Natalians 29-26 ahead in the 71st minute.

The Sharks were undone largely by a string of penalties against them by referee Jaco van Heerden, particularly for high tackles, an offence that saw Etienne Oosthuizen yellow-carded just before halftime. The lock, a perennial liability when it comes to discipline, had earlier caused a try to be disallowed by targeting the neck, and when he was carded, the Lions immediately scored so his indiscretions cost the Sharks at least 12 points.

The visitors will not be happy though with the performance of the TMO Johan Greeff, who was happy to point out every time the Sharks went above the shoulder, but turned the blindest of eyes to clear instances when the Lions committed the same offence.

The Sharks have history with Greeff and coach Robert du Preez made his displeasure over the inconsistencies clear after the game.

That the Sharks were intent on upping the intensity of the contest, especially in terms of physicality, was clear from the start and the Lions conceded a first-minute penalty at the ruck, which Bosch slotted (3-0).

In the eighth minute they fired a real warning shot at the Lions by scoring the opening try. Outside centre Lukhanyo Am managed to make ground through Rohan Janse van Rensburg as the newest Springbok centre was unsuccessful in stripping him of the ball. Kobus van Wyk, coming from the opposite wing, was then barking for the ball as he ran a great line, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach delivering, and prop Coenie Oosthuizen then stormed for the tryline, having just enough in the legs to dot down in Warren Whiteley’s tackle.

Bosch converted and the Sharks were 10-0 up.

But the set-piece lays much of the platform for the Lions’ success and the home side began to exert pressure on the Sharks, especially at the lineout. A scrappy 14th-minute effort saw Lions lock Andries Ferreira pounce on the tap-down, leading to a penalty and Elton Jantjies was able to give last year’s SuperRugby runners-up their first points (3-10).

Bosch, meanwhile, was grouping together 50-60 metre touchfinders and he showed tremendous accuracy to go with length off the tee as well as he nailed a 57m penalty to stretch the lead to 13-3 in the 19th minute.

A 25th-minute penalty then rebounded off the post, with the Sharks regathering possession and scoring in the corner. But Van Heerden and Greeff had a whole bunch of questions about the try and eventually it was disallowed and the Lions given a penalty under their poles for Etienne Oosthuizen’s high tackle in the build-up.

It only further opened up the can of worms when an innocuous high tackle was again penalised and Jantjies kicked a penalty to close the gap to 6-13.

Bosch opened up a 10-point lead again with a superb 34th-minute drop goal as the Sharks were making little headway against a Lions team that had stepped up their intensity, and when Oosthuizen was yellow-carded for the same offence just before halftime it was an enormous moment.

The penalty allowed the Lions to set up an attacking position close to the tryline, hooker Malcolm Marx proving an unstoppable force after the lineout drive.

Jantjies converted and the Lions were just 13-16 down after a first half in which they had been bossed for long periods, setting the scene for an epic second half.

And it took the Lions just four minutes after the break to take the lead, an incisive finish by wing Courtnall Skosan completing their second try after scrumhalf Faf de Klerk had broken away on the short side after an impressive scrum.

Jantjies converted (20-16) and then fullback Andries Coetzee emulated Bosch with an excellent long-range drop goal, which came after Skosan, fielding a missed touchfinder from centre Andre Esterhuizen, had run headlong into the huge abs of Coenie Oosthuizen, but managed to survive and recycle the ball.

Bosch had pretty much been a bystander for the previous 20 minutes, but a move to fullback as Innocent Radebe slotted in at flyhalf and Michael Claassens came on at scrumhalf, saw the Sharks regain the initiative.

The top-class distribution skills of Claassens and Radebe certainly seemed to help them, and a long pass out wide to Van Wyk from Radebe, after he had taken the ball to the line, led to a much-needed try for the Sharks in the 55th minute.

Bosch converted to level the scores at 23-23 and then kicked a penalty.

The Lions’ championship credentials were certainly being refined by fire and they managed to draw level again in the 67th minute through a Jantjies penalty after Van Heerden penalised the Sharks at a scrum although they were dominant.

But Bosch replied with his incredible 65m angled penalty after a Lions infringement, but it would only be enough for the silver medal on the day.

Another high tackle call against the Sharks allowed Jantjies to level the scores again and then, with three minutes remaining, the counter-attacking skills of Coetzee and replacement flank Kwagga Smith were like gold for the Lions.

Bosch could not kick directly into touch because the ball had been carried back into the 22 and Coetzee ran the ball back, before a great run by Smith, and then flanker Kriel came roaring through for the matchwinning try.

Jantjies did not convert, but the Sharks were unable to hang on to the ball in the closing stages of the match in Lions territory, and the home side had survived to post an invaluable victory.

Scorers

Lions – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco Kriel. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (4). Drop goal: Andries Coetzee.

Sharks – Tries: Coenie Oosthuizen, Kobus van Wyk. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalties: Bosch (4). Drop goal: Bosch.

 

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.



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