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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: No hiding from Boks’ biggest loss ever, but it was a perfect storm 0

Posted on September 21, 2017 by Ken

 

I obviously did not foresee South Africa losing 57-0 in Albany and there’s no hiding from the fact that it was a record for the Springboks’ biggest loss ever.

But I think it’s also fair to say that it was the perfect storm and everything went right for New Zealand and everything went wrong for the Springboks. The All Blacks were obviously very good on the day and executed every small chance they got, they ruthlessly punished little things.

It started when the Springboks were playing well but gave away a penalty, with the fullback in the line because they were in their attacking shape. Aaron Smith put the chip in with his weaker left foot and it bounced perfectly for Rieko Ioane.

That’s just the first example.

Then came the intercept try when there needed to be better decision-making under pressure by Jean-Luc du Preez.

The third try came after a penalty and the All Blacks bashed the ball up before the cross-kick, which I hear Beauden Barrett practises 50 times every Friday at the captain’s run. The Springboks had cover with Francois Hougaard there, but unfortunately the ball bounced out of his hands.

The fourth try came after Elton Jantjies produced a nothing kick, it was neither contestable nor deep enough, allowing the counter-attack, and with the hooker defending in the wide channel, the wing did not know whether to come in or stay out.

So it was 31-0 at halftime and in the second half two more tries were scored from five-metre lineouts. You need a back-row forward to stand at the back of the lineout, but Siya Kolisi was in the middle. The golden rule when defending lineouts close to your line is that you don’t give the opposition ball at the back because it basically takes out seven of your players and once they get over the advantage line it becomes a difficult fight.

On the direct one-on-one try scored through the flyhalf, you want your inside centre a bit closer to help and it should be a double-hit.

Allister Coetzee is now in a difficult position when it comes to who to bring into the team. The players had done relatively well before last weekend, but it’s obvious that he will have to make changes. Test rugby magnifies everything and one weakness will be exposed in glaring fashion.

Under Heyneke Meyer, the scores were always close against the All Blacks – an average of less than seven points per game – and one of the reasons was that we often played two fetchers as well as Duane Vermeulen and Bismarck du Plessis. That meant we had four forwards who were very good over the ball.

This is vital because you need to disrupt New Zealand’s attacking shape, you need to force more of them into the rucks and not just let them play. The Springboks certainly missed Jaco Kriel in this regard, but his pace was also missed in defence. The openside flank is normally pillar number three and he leads the line-speed from just inside the flyhalf. Francois Louw has been recalled and it would be quite good if we could play two flanks that play towards the ball against New Zealand.

The Springboks scrummed well at the start, but like in the World Cup semi-final in 2015, we lost five lineouts. That’s a huge factor and it’s why they could not get any attack going. It’s something they have to sort out otherwise the backs are not able to function. It also leaves you very vulnerable because your backs are in attack formation on your own ball and not in their defensive formation, making it easy for the opposition to get over the advantage line on the turnover ball.

I watched the game with Frans Ludeke and he made a good point when he said it is not a lost cause now in the last two games of the Rugby Championship at home. He pointed out that our SuperRugby teams conceded big scores in New Zealand, but won against the Kiwi sides in South Africa. So we should not write off the Springboks just yet, we can only really judge them at the end of the Rugby Championship, but they are obviously playing for second place now.

It’s very hard playing three matches on the trot away from home, especially with the best side in the world being the last game, which is one of the reasons that in the last six years of the Rugby Championship the title race has been over before the final round.

One encouraging thing is that they did not fall away in the last 15 minutes and the All Blacks really had to work hard for their tries in the final quarter.

Before contemplating changes, we must remember that South Africa were the only unbeaten side in world rugby this year going into the game.

But there may have been a case for someone like Ruan Combrinck to come in. He has operated within the Lions’ exit system, he will be a right-footed option to back up the left feet of Andries Coetzee, who has been solid, kicked well and been good with ball in hand, and Elton Jantjies and he also brings a certain magic. He’s currently playing inside centre in Japan for Kotetsu, but he should obviously have been an option because he played well last year for the Springboks and showed he can make a difference in Tests.

Reasons for optimism for the Springboks for their next game against the All Blacks are that Australia have also managed to play better since they were 40-6 down at halftime against New Zealand and both the Stormers and Lions won against Kiwi teams in South Africa.

The Lions beat the Hurricanes convincingly and pushed the Crusaders all the way, so it is very difficult for the New Zealand players playing in South Africa as well. Plus they will be up against a very passionate crowd at Newlands and a Springbok team that will be on a mission.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The biggest need for the Proteas is stability 0

Posted on August 22, 2017 by Ken

 

Whoever the new coach of the Standard Bank Proteas will be, the team’s biggest need at present is for stability after all the disruptions of the England tour that ended with South Africa being heavily beaten in four days in the fourth and final Test, losing the rubber 3-1, their first series loss in England since 1998 and their heaviest defeat since losing 3-0 to Colin Cowdrey’s team in 1960.

The frontrunner to replace Russell Domingo, judging by media reports, is Ottis Gibson, the current England bowling coach and the former West Indies head coach who won the World T20 in 2012. The 48-year-old Barbadian has both the international experience – having been involved at that level for 11 years – and the local knowledge, having played in South Africa for the better part of the 1990s for Border, Griqualand West and Gauteng.

The list of disruptions the Proteas suffered on their tour of England, with the Tests following their defeats in both limited-overs series and the disappointment of an early exit in the Champions Trophy, starts with Domingo. The coach was not only in the awkward position of not knowing whether the tour would be his last in charge, but then had the awful heartbreak of his mother being involved in a car accident and eventually tragically passing away, forcing Domingo to leave the squad on two occasions and fly back home.

The Proteas were not only without their coach but they also went into the series without their galvanising skipper Faf du Plessis, who missed the first Test at Lord’s having stayed in South Africa for the difficult birth of his first child; a hard call but a totally understandable one.

Du Plessis returned for the second Test at Trent Bridge, with the Proteas winning by a whopping 340 runs. But they were brought back down to earth, hitting the ground hard, in the last two Tests, losing by 239 and 177 runs respectively.

The combination of Vernon Philander and Chris Morris as bowling all-rounders worked a treat in the second Test, but not in the third as Philander suffered an untimely, debilitating illness having made the ball talk in spectacular fashion as he did great work on the first day at the Oval.

The stalwart of the attack then pulled out of the fourth Test with a sore back, prompting Du Plessis to snipe that Philander needed to work harder on his fitness.

The captain shows refreshing candour in press conferences and he basically also confirmed that AB de Villiers’ Test career is dead and the team need to move on as quickly as possible.

At the moment it seems as though they have been left hanging by De Villiers, with three different batsmen being used in the crucial number four spot against England.

For me, Du Plessis should step up, take responsibility and bat in the number four position. He can bat both time and aggressively, and as captain he also needs to set the tone.

Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock, as good as they are, are better suited to coming in lower down the order.

Bavuma has the technique and tenacity to be a middle-order fighter much like Jonty Rhodes was, and his value is often worth more than simply the sum of his runs; he should be batting five or six and can also handle the second new ball and marshal the tail.

De Kock has been touted as the new Adam Gilchrist and needs to be used in the same role as the great Australian wicketkeeper/batsman. De Kock has all the shots and likes to use them, and needs to come in at six or seven where he can play his own, counter-attacking game. Having to rebuild at 40 for two does not suit him and he is the sort of batsman who can shift momentum batting lower down or really take the game away from tired bowlers.

Everything depends on a solid start, however, and South Africa had an average opening stand of just 13.62 against England and nothing higher than 21 between Dean Elgar and Heino Kuhn.

Elgar had a good series in tough conditions, scoring a century and two half-centuries as he made the second most runs (291) for the Proteas, behind Hashim Amla (329), but Kuhn’s place must be under serious threat after he made just 113 runs in eight innings.

Stephen Cook, the man Kuhn replaced, must still be in the mix judging by his century last weekend for the SA A side, while those who believe players of the future must be given as much opportunity as possible will be clamouring for Aiden Markram to make his Test debut against Bangladesh at the end of next month.

But whatever the final selection, there must be far more stability over the coaching situation – who Gibson’s assistants will be is shaping as an interesting discussion – and the captaincy. Surely everyone would feel a lot more settled if Du Plessis was just given the captaincy for all three formats?

The selectors and management also need to make up their minds about batting positions and stick to them, players floating up and down the order is doing nobody any good.

A couple of Tests against Bangladesh should be a good opportunity for the Proteas to regather their balance and get back on the winning trail.

There will be the distraction of the Global T20 League after that, but the South Africans need to get quickly back up to speed because world number one India and Australia, itching for revenge, will be considerable opposition when they arrive on these shores later in the summer.

John McFarland Column: Attitude makes all the difference for B&I Lions 0

Posted on July 06, 2017 by Ken

 

One has to credit the British and Irish Lions for their win over the All Blacks in the second Test, especially after losing the first Test the way they did.

They just brought a harder attitude in Wellington, a desperation to get the win. To keep the All Blacks tryless, even though they only had 14 men for most of the game, takes some doing, and the attitude they showed on the day was top-class.

It was definitely a red card for Sonny Bill Williams, he made no effort to raise his hand or grip Anthony Watson in the tackle, and his shoulder made contact with the head.

The last penalty – for the Charlie Faumuina tackle on Kyle Sinckler while he was airborne – was a little bit harsh though. When a player jumps to catch a pass above his head and it’s a gain-line tackle, the tackler is already committed and in motion, so it is very difficult for there to be any other outcome.

Jumping into a tackle is also a penalisable offence, but sometimes when the pass goes upwards, the player has to take it airborne. So it’s an anomaly that the lawmakers have to look at going forward.

The All Blacks had to play with 14 men for so long, that it was quite heroic of them to stay in the game; they did not manage to score a try, but they kept the scoreboard ticking over with penalties.

If a team fields two openside flanks like the Lions did with Sean O’Brien and Sam Warburton, then the penalty count will be high because they go hard on the ball on the floor and to make tackle attempts to get the All Blacks to bring more players to the ruck. It brings a different philosophy at ruck time, they were trying to disrupt the All Blacks’ attacking pattern by bringing more players to the ruck and then the attacking shape won’t be what it should be.

The British Lions’ set-piece was of a high standard and their forward effort was built on the success at Saracens, the pack had a very high work-rate.

But whether the Lions can back up that performance with another one at Eden Park in Auckland this weekend will be a hard task. They will need the same desperation and, at the end of a long season, will they be able to produce that again? They will need extra effort on the gain-line once again.

In SuperRugby, the Gauteng Lions basically had a game of touch rugby, but I thought the Bulls played well against the Sharks.

I’m a little worried by the inconsistency of the Sharks, they have been poor at home in too many games and I can’t see them winning on the road in New Zealand, so it’s definitely a problem. For Robert du Preez to so publicly take on his players shows that something is not right.

But the Bulls have clearly gained confidence in the break, they won the Mauritius 10s with their SuperRugby team and played some good rugby.

I’ve been quite impressed with how they have blooded youngsters and someone like Duncan Matthews has really come through.

It’s also very encouraging to see Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel play so well, and they have obviously gained confidence through their time together with the Springboks for the June Tests and they are both starting to show leadership.

Jesse is such a strong character and his enthusiasm rubs off on the players around him, and he is a big part of the new era at the Bulls.

When Jan decided to leave the Bulls, he was recovering from a long-term injury. But he’s been on the Springboks’ radar since 2012 and has never let them down. He has gained experience since being named World Junior Player of the Year in 2012 and the Test series against France saw him fulfil his potential.

One needs to look at Brendan Venter’s influence on him and you can just see the confidence and belief is there right now. Jan was backed at the start of the series and knew he would play all three Tests.

It always takes five or six weeks after long-term injury for a player to rediscover their form and then they really hit their straps in weeks eight to 10. It’s unfortunate that Jan is leaving, but I really hope he stays fit and can get to the 30-Test cut-off mark in the Rugby Championship.

It begs the question whether SA Rugby have made the right decision when it comes to the 30-Test cut-off for overseas eligibility, especially if a player gets injured (e.g. Marcell Coetzee, who is short of 30 caps because of injury), and how will it work going forward with Jan, who has signed to play in France but currently only has 29 caps?

The Springboks cannot ignore Jan’s form nor talent, or the impact he had on the series against France.

That being said, the success of the series was Allister Coetzee’s decision to pick mostly home-based players, which led to a great series win.

 

 

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.

Win or lose, some coaches just can’t win 0

Posted on February 06, 2017 by Ken

 

There is an unfortunate tendency in South African sport that a coach sometimes cannot win whether his team are losing or winning. We’ve seen it before with former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and now with current Proteas coach Russell Domingo.

It’s the unfortunate attitude that if a team is losing – as the Proteas were for 2015 and the first half of 2016 – then it must be the coach’s fault, but if they are winning, as Domingo’s charges are currently and the Springboks did under De Villiers in 2009, then it must have nothing to do with the coach and be all the players’ doing!

If people are going to blame and criticise the coach during the lean times then they have to credit and praise the coach when things are going well. His influence cannot just extend in the one direction.

Domingo gets to be seen way less on television than the Springbok rugby coach, so perhaps he has less opportunity to convey his knowledge of the game, but it was disturbing last weekend when Cricket South Africa dropped what can only be termed a bombshell. They were going to be taking applications for his position and he would need to reapply himself. It’s like being in a relationship and being told “it’s time we see other people”.

I have been a critic of Domingo in the past, believing he was no longer able to get the best out of the Proteas, but their form in the last six months has been superb and clearly the coach has them all pulling in the same direction.

A 5-0 limited-overs whitewash of Australia and a Test series win Down Under, without AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, rank amongst some of the finest achievements in South African cricket history, and so far Sri Lanka have been dealt with ruthlessly, save for the T20s when some experimentation took place.

But CSA believe now is the time to say we need to start looking for another coach!

I agree, depending on how results go in the Champions Trophy and the Tests in England, that August may be time for a change given that Domingo will have been in the job for four years, but what if he wins the ICC event and then beats the Poms on their home turf? If he wants to continue, surely he would be the obvious choice?

Sure, you have to plan ahead and put out some feelers to see who Domingo’s successor will be, particularly if things go badly in England. But you don’t have to announce to the whole world that you are no longer sure about the guy who is currently doing a great job with the team.

Having been told quite clearly that uncertainty about the future was a major reason for players and coaches leaving South Africa, you would have thought CSA would be doing everything in their power to reassure a Proteas team and management that they have security, given how well they have been doing.

The talk from official sources has been that CSA don’t want to create the impression that Domingo will automatically just keep getting contract extensions – it’s all to do with the fine print of the labour regulations apparently – but the gap between the end of the trip to England (the last Test ends on August 8) and the start of the new summer with the first Test against Bangladesh starting on September 28 is surely long enough to sort out whatever the decision is.

Of course the list of possible replacements needs to be sussed out, but why does the post of Proteas head coach need to be advertised? Surely the successor to Domingo should be headhunted?

Particularly since the obvious next coach is working just across the road from the CSA offices at the Wanderers.

 

 

 



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