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Ken Borland



The John McFarland Column: Tremendous effort by the Springboks 0

Posted on June 29, 2017 by Ken

 

For Springbok captain Warren Whiteley to be ruled out on the morning of the third Test against France would definitely have been quite upsetting for the guys, because it is difficult to lose your captain and leader when they thought that he would play.

So to score those tries and get the points they did at Ellis Park last weekend was a tremendous effort by the Springboks and Allister Coetzee will be really pleased with the defence and work-rate of his team.

There are many ways to score tries in rugby and it was great to see some inventiveness from the Springboks, for example when Jan Serfontein jumped at the front of the lineout and then sent the ball down to Eben Etzebeth, for them to maul the space defended by the scrumhalf, which is so difficult to defend. So credit to the coaching staff for the ideas they came up with.

The first try, by Jesse Kriel, just shows how hard the Springboks were working off the ball, which was one of the most impressive aspects of their performance, it shows the culture of the team. The kick-chase induced an error from the French back three, there was a wild pass and it was pounced on, giving Kriel an easy run-in for what we call a “culture try”.

You can see that the players are in such a good space and it is evident that they enjoy each other’s company. The players have all been so positive about their experiences with the Springboks this year and you can see their happiness by the way they celebrate their tries, for example the Rudy Paige effort off the back of a well-worked lineout drive.

So you have to credit Allister Coetzee and all the coaching staff for how far they have come and how they have turned things around. Warren and Allister and the assistant coaches deserve credit for the culture they’re building.

The country also got behind them and there was a steady increase in the crowd until there were 55 000 people at Ellis Park, which was great.

The Springboks ticked so many boxes in the series against France and they should be full of confidence now for the Rugby Championship. If one compares them with the way Australia and Argentina have performed, then the Springboks are definitely in with a real shout in the Rugby Championship.

The Springboks will have had even more time together before they play Argentina home and away, and they should enjoy the continuity of two-and-a-half months together in one block, which is a major positive.

The big thing for the Springboks will be the three away games in the middle of the tournament, which are always hard. But if they can get two wins on the road, then they’ll definitely be in with a shout. The Lions won all their games on tour and the Sharks won a match as well, while all our SuperRugby teams have done well in Argentina, so that’s encouraging.

The real ones to win though are the New Zealand Tests and I just hope the tournament is not over by the final game as it normally is because the draw usually really suits New Zealand. Let’s hope it all comes down to the Test in Cape Town between the Springboks and All Blacks on October 7.

Some combinations really put their hands up, such as the two locks, with Franco Mostert really announcing himself as a player at this upper level. The quality of his work-rate, tackling and cleaning out was phenomenal and he would certainly have been one of the contenders for man of the series.

As was Jan Serfontein. We’ve always known his ability but he has had a fair amount of injuries over the last few years. He’s such a quiet, down-to-earth guy, but against a player like Gael Fickou, who is a real big unit, Jan put in some massive tackles.

The balance of the back row was also very good and Siya Kolisi had the best three Tests he has managed to string together in his career. He was world-class and not just at the things we know he can do – he always carries well and we know he can stop momentum, but his work on the floor and his effort and skill to get up for that intercept in Durban were exceptional.

Malcolm Marx also really announced himself, he was outstanding in all three games, a beast with ball in hand and his basics were so good too.

Although it was a real advantage for the Springboks to play at altitude, those were three quality wins. France did not really click in the last Test, they obviously had the mindset to try and out-play the Springboks, but the home side’s defence was really, really good. One can say that the French were at the end of a long season, but they were well-beaten in each Test.

To average more than 36 points per game takes some doing at Test level and they scored tries through their defence, set play and kicking game, which was great to see.

The Springboks will be a little riled, however, that the lineout was not at its best at Ellis Park, but again, the late change due to the withdrawal of Whiteley left them with less jumping options. But the lineout did really well in the first two Tests.

Allister could have picked some of the old guard, but he was very consistent in his selection and backed the guys in South Africa, the players who had been at the camp in Plettenberg Bay, and his systems. He also backed key members of his team. For instance, Lionel Mapoe was very good in Durban, but he then rewarded Jesse Kriel for his very good display in the first Test.

Continuity and consistency in selection builds confidence amongst the players.

It was good that he was able to give Ruan Dreyer a start and some experience at international level, and what a reward he got at his first scrum! Those are the little battles that are great for a pack of forwards, like being able to control the ball at the back of a scrum and then scoring.

I still have not heard anyone from SA Rugby congratulate the players or coaching staff on a job well done, which amazes me! Why has nobody publicly congratulated them on the way they played and the manner in which they brought the public back and reinstored belief in the Springbok brand?

France have a lot of work to do, they definitely have talented players, but they need to look at their game plan and conditioning, which was not up to the level required at Test level. But it’s a very long season in France, they basically play from August to June, so they need to look at their structure and contracting of players.

The British and Irish Lions game against the All Blacks was quite a Test and at one stage the Lions had made it quite a tight battle. They had their chances, but against New Zealand you must finish, especially in Auckland.

The Lions’ try from a counter-attack was absolutely brilliant – the run from the back by Liam Williams and the way it was finished, it was one of the great British Lions tries.

But they will be seething that they conceded a very soft try from a quick tap, to allow such a compressed defensive line meant they did not have time to get any width and it was very dozy. In the biggest Test of their careers, there’s no way they can blame fatigue.

The All Blacks were deadly again off turnover and open-field ball and Rieko Ioane produced two special finishes, showing sheer speed.

The Lions also need a bit more to their play than Conor Murray box-kicking, even though that’s probably their advantage over the All Blacks. They got quite good returns from the tactic at the start, with Ben Smith dropping a few, but they did not take all their chances. New Zealand will score an average of three or four tries per game, so you must score tries to beat them.

The highlight of the first Test was the way the All Blacks played against the Lions’ rush-defence: they used the blind side a lot and played close to the ruck off Aaron Smith. They still scored four tries despite all the disruptions to their backline.

Smith also never telegraphed which side he was going to pass to, which most scrumhalves indicate by their body language or the way they stand, and he was constantly testing pillars one to three around the ruck. Because it was never clear which side he was going to play, it was very difficult for the defence to get set. So the All Blacks were constantly getting momentum and tiring out the Lions forwards, which is why they were so passive in the set-pieces.

There has been a lot of talk about Jerome Kaino preying on Murray’s non-kicking foot and it was a tactic that originated with Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12 League. Teams generally put up a wall on the right side of the maul or ruck in order to protect the kick, but the blindside was not guarded and that would also have been Murray’s blind spot.

Steve Hansen and the New Zealand media have vociferously condemned Warren Gatland’s claims of deliberate dangerous play, but there’s no doubt they wanted to make sure Conor Murray always felt the heat. If they touch him after he has kicked then it’s unfair, you are not allowed to play the kicker after the ball has gone. The All Blacks are not always whiter than white!

I hope the second Test is as good though. The Lions need a more athletic pack, with Maro Itoje at lock, and they should stick with Ben Te’o for longer in midfield, he played well. It will be exciting if the Lions can get the win and set up a series finale back in Auckland, but unfortunately I don’t really see it happening.

For South African rugby, it’s back to SuperRugby now and I hope the country will get behind our most realistic winners – the Lions. After the Test series, they are all full of confidence and they have a wonderful run-in to the final games.

I managed to bump into Rudolf Straeuli while I was in South Africa and he confirmed that he is very much looking forward to hosting the New Zealand teams at 3pm in the afternoon!

 

 


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.

 

Former Springboks defence coach John McFarland looks at this weekend’s SuperRugby quarterfinals 0

Posted on July 19, 2016 by Ken

I know Johan Ackermann is now coming in for criticism for resting his first-choice players for the game against the Jaguares in Argentina, which saw the Lions lose first place on the log, but I actually think he’s been quite clever and it’s not a bad thing that they finished second.

I know people talk about momentum being crucial going into the knockouts, but sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. In 2007 the Bulls had to win by a huge margin in the last league game and we did it [beating the Reds 92-3] against an Eddie Jones coached team because we wanted to stay in South Africa, we really didn’t want to travel. But in 2010 we played a weaker team against the Stormers in Cape Town and lost, but the next week at Orlando Stadium we beat the Crusaders in the semi-finals and then beat the Stormers again in the final.

The big thing is Ackers has been able to rest his top guys, they’ll be able to have a full week’s training, without any niggles and physically or mentally there won’t be any fatigue. They’ll have a great mindset going into the playoffs.

If they had all gone to Argentina then they would have been back at the hotel after playing around midnight and then woken up at 4.30am for a four-hour flight to Sao Paulo, where you have to wait to fly out again. So they’d only be back in South Africa on Monday morning and they wouldn’t have been able to train or start their preparation until Tuesday.

Instead Ackers has a fresh team, which is a real positive, and there are no injuries.

Looking at the SuperRugby games last weekend in New Zealand, they were like the South African derbies of old in terms of their intensity and collisions.

I say of old because the Lions have been so dominant in the last 18 months, they’ve been winning derbies well by 50 points. Everyone – including here in Japan – has been watching the New Zealand teams with envy because of the intensity and pace with which they’re playing, the skill set is just so high.

But why are the Lions so good?

Because they play with a lot of width, they have game-breaking centres and wings, they really challenge the defensive line – 71 tries is quite a record, they never give up, they have a strong set-piece and an exceptional scrum.

You have to give credit to Ackers for bringing through guys like Malcolm Marx and Rohan Janse van Rensburg this year. It may have been a bit early for the Lions players last year, their roll of dominance in South Africa really started at the end of SuperRugby,  players like Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel now have experience and belief to win playoff games, which began with the unbeaten run in the Currie Cup.

There’s such a belief in the side, they have a tremendous record against South African sides over the last 18 months.

They also have a fantastic back row, Jaco Kriel is a real warrior and leader, and he makes sure the standards are kept, Tecklenburg works all day long and Whiteley, if fit, always puts in an honest shift and sets a real example for his team.

But in knockout games it’s the halfbacks that make the real difference.

Everyone is starting from zero and you have to control the game a bit more tactically. All the great SuperRugby teams had exceptional halfbacks – the Crusaders had Andy Ellis and Dan Carter, at the Bulls we had Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn or Derick Hougaard. You’re not going to win playoff games without great halfbacks, the Highlanders have got Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith and the Hurricanes have TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett. You have to dictate the pace of the game and territory, and those guys can all do that.

So that’s going to be the challenge for Elton and Faf, they’ll have to step up tactically especially in the kicking game, which they didn’t really do in the June internationals. There wasn’t enough distance to their kicks against Ireland, so the Springboks were always under pressure. It’s how you relieve pressure that is so important in the SuperRugby playoffs or in Test rugby.

But I think the Lions will beat the Crusaders, who won’t have Nemani Nadolo or Andy Ellis. Their flyhalf, Richie Mo’unga, is in his first season of SuperRugby and they’ll be playing their second-choice scrumhalf. They lost the territory battle against the Hurricanes, they couldn’t exit and the Hurricanes just put penalties to touch and kept them in their own half defending. The Crusaders had no field position and could not dictate territory.

The Sharks though are facing an altogether different battle against the Hurricanes in Wellington, with no Pat Lambie. Stefan Ungerer and Garth April will find it really hard to relieve the pressure and dictate the territory game, and the Sharks were very unconvincing against the Sunwolves.

The one positive though for the Sharks is that they beat the Hurricanes earlier in the season, they were able to outmuscle them, pile on the pressure, use their maul, win turnovers and scored a great intercept try and they took their points. It was a really good defensive effort, but the Sharks haven’t been that convincing since the break and they were monstered in the scrum in the Lions game.

It’s a hard ask for them, but travelling on Tuesday won’t be so bad, at the Bulls we used to do it and at the Boks last year we arrived in Argentina on a Wednesday. The players just sleep on the flight over and stay on their normal body clocks and it means they can get a lot more quality training at home.

I think the Brumbies v Highlanders quarterfinal will be much closer than people think, but I think the Highlanders will scrape through. The wings will make the difference because there’s no Henry Speight nor Joe Tomane for the Brumbies, their forwards just haven’t been firing recently – especially the lineout maul without Pocock – and the Highlanders’ kicking game is very good. Ben Smith is in the form of his life and the Highlanders forwards always give a great platform and work behind this kicking game.

As far as the Stormers go, I think it will be harder for the Chiefs in Cape Town than a lot of people think. They won’t have Liam Messam and the Stormers’ set-piece is always strong, plus they’ll have a fresh Frans Malherbe and Vincent Koch available. The Stormers also have the best defence in the competition.

The Stormers are in a good space, they’ve been putting sides away and there’s been a definite pick-up in intensity with Schalk Burger as captain. The players respond to him, he’s so calm but he always gives 100%, there’s just an aura about him that says “follow me”.

The Stormers have been in better form since he took over the captaincy, they had really good wins over the Rebels and Force. I think with their set-piece and the passionate Cape Town crowd, the Stormers should be too much for the Chiefs, who have too many injuries especially in the backs.

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

 

 

How do Saru best use Rassie Erasmus? 0

Posted on February 24, 2016 by Ken

 

An interesting new dynamic has emerged in the hunt for the new Springbok coach with Rassie Erasmus’s chances apparently now being hurt for the ironic reason that he could be too valuable for the South African Rugby Union (Saru) to lose in his current position of general manager of the rugby department.

Saru use Erasmus and his brilliant rugby brain to devise just about everything surrounding the professional game in South Africa, be it systems to successfully identify, develop and monitor players and coaches, the off-field logistics and planning required for high-performance teams, technical analysis, medical care and safety and even the referees.

There are some in Saru who are apparently acutely aware that the position of Springbok coach has been one in which talented men are used and abused and then discarded. To paraphrase The Doors: “Nobody gets outta here alive!”

It normally takes a few years of recovery (maybe it should be therapy!) before a former Springbok coach is rehabilitated enough to return to the frontlines of the game; Ian McIntosh has served as a national selector for several years, Nick Mallett is now a popular television pundit and Rudolf Straeuli is the CEO of the Golden Lions, but where are the seven other living coaches?

And so Saru are faced with something of a dilemma … are the skills of Erasmus more valuable and likely to be in service for longer if he stays behind the scenes in an “office job”? Obviously the former Springbok captain has the technical and tactical know-how to succeed as the national coach in what must be an interesting time of rebuilding and renewal.

But does he have the desire to handle the off-field pressures and demands of the job? The abuse of his family when things don’t go well, all the fronting up on television and to the media he will be expected to do, the long weeks away from home …

For a foreigner to take on the “poisoned chalice”, one would need to add to the above list of drawbacks being able to handle the internal politics of Saru, which are busy eating their CEO, Jurie Roux, alive, and the external politics of transformation demands. There is apparently also a recognition now within Saru that a foreigner would not be a wise choice for head coach given the peculiarities of the job in a South African context. A top-class overseas figure may yet get a call-up as a consultant or as a member of the back-up coaching staff.

A final decision on who the new Springbok coach is can only be made by a meeting of the General Council and their next scheduled gathering is for the AGM on April 1. Let’s hope a fool is not appointed.

Speaking of fools, there have been some misguided reports doing the rounds suggesting that Roux (not a fool) has somehow been “punished” by no longer being the man in charge of headhunting the new Springbok coach.

The fact of the matter is that the Elite Player Development Committee is, and has always been, in charge of the search for Heyneke Meyer’s successor, and this has been confirmed to me personally by Lions president Kevin de Klerk, who sits on that committee.

Once they come up with a potential candidate, then Roux will get involved in terms of negotiating the contract.

But the false reports stem from the same sources that clearly have an agenda to drive against the CEO, judging by the thoroughly unprofessional tweets they sent out during the SuperRugby launch on Thursday.

Objective journalism, now there’s a concept.

 

 

The matchfixing spotlight falls on disgruntled Bodi 0

Posted on January 17, 2016 by Ken

 

 

Amidst all the anger and despondency at the news that Gulam Bodi has been charged with contriving to corrupt domestic T20 matches, we should not lose sight of the fact that Cricket South Africa and their anti-corruption officials have pounced on the former international so decisively.

In the wake of former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns’ astonishing acquittal, cricket administrators have realised that they have to tread methodically and precisely because the standards of evidence required to secure a criminal conviction are higher than they imagined.

CSA announced on November 6, just five days into the RamSlam T20 Challenge, that they had started an investigation into an international syndicate seeking to corrupt domestic games and then, on December 15, they revealed an “intermediary” had been charged.

That was after the conclusion of the T20 competition and much attention has fallen on the Cape Cobras’ bizarre loss to the Dolphins in the semi-final playoff in Durban. The visitors were on 154 for three in the 16th over, chasing 179, and somehow managed to lose by five runs.

It is known that there was considerable concern amongst the Cobras management in the wake of the defeat, but given the fact that all domestic players were by then aware that CSA was on to something, the finger of suspicion maybe should not rest on a team that perhaps merely suffered one of those inexplicable implosions that make cricket such a fascinating game.

The RamSlam T20 Challenge was apparently not the only competition to have been improperly interfered with: The season-opening Africa T20 Cup was allegedly where the nonsense started. It was a televised event, without much at stake, featuring some of the younger, and therefore more naïve, players on the domestic circuit – the perfect breeding ground for matchfixers.

And now Bodi has been named as the South African at the centre of it all.

The former KwaZulu-Natal, Titans, Highveld Lions and Delhi Daredevils cricketer, whose international appearances were restricted to three limited-overs games in 2007, was the type of player that calamity just seemed to follow around – his career was dotted with comical run outs, extraordinary ways of getting out and even off the field he would do things like rolling his cart on team golf days.

Now one wonders whether the bizarre luck was just that or something else, something more deliberate?

And that is the biggest damage done by the disease of matchfixing – the doubts over whether all the weird and wonderful things you have seen on the cricket field are real or contrived?

A batsman who swings so freely from the crease like Bodi did is likely to get out in “soft” fashion from time to time, but the player born in Hathuran, India, always struck me as being a little disgruntled.

He was forever talking up his own performances and complaining about not getting fair opportunities. This from one of the players who was chosen ahead of Kevin Pietersen in KZN – in the days when they were both considered spin-bowling prospects – thanks to efforts to give players of colour more opportunity.

But the three international caps were well-deserved because Bodi was once one of the most free-scoring, dangerous top-order batsmen in domestic cricket.

However, the danger will always exist that players who feel hard done by, who believe they are not getting their due, could turn to the “dark side”. Judging by the rumours of white players going on strike, there is currently a large group of dissatisfied franchise cricketers and that should be a grave concern for CSA.

 



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