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Ken Borland



Chapter & verse from Coetzee, and then what? 0

Posted on December 10, 2017 by Ken

 

In the next week, national coach Allister Coetzee will have to give chapter and verse on what happened to the Springboks this year to the SA Rugby executive council and if he stays true to his public pronouncements after the loss to Wales, then he will describe his charges as “a side that is on the up” and having “a really healthy team environment”.

Which is nothing but a sop for a South African public that rightly expects top-class performances from their national rugby team. Instead, the Springboks have endured a decidedly mediocre year, without a single rousing victory for Coetzee to rave about at his performance review. Victories over France, Argentina and Italy are not results we would expect the Springboks to boast about, and neither were two draws against a very average Australian side.

The results have been disappointing enough but to add insult to injury, the Springboks are playing such uninspired rugby that it feels like we are back to the most conservative days early on in Heyneke Meyer’s tenure as national coach.

Simply put, the Springboks are not making any progress under Coetzee. In fact, we have seen two more unwanted milestones set this year in record defeats to New Zealand and Ireland.

To put an end to this continued slide into mediocrity, SA Rugby simply have to hold Coetzee accountable and relieve him of his duties as Springbok coach. I had sympathy for him this time last year because he was coaching with one hand tied behind his back, perhaps even being set up to fail, but this year he has been given everything he wanted and even said at the start of the campaign that there were no excuses this year.

In the general public, Rassie Erasmus, freshly back in the post of director of rugby, is seen as the obvious candidate to replace Coetzee and try and rescue South Africa’s hopes for the 2019 World Cup.

But Erasmus has shown little desire to emerge from the shadows, from which he has been strategising, and there seems little doubt that the rumours that Deon Davids of the Southern Kings will be the new Springbok coach have emanated from his office via his usual journalistic channels.

Davids has done wonders with the Kings considering the lack of resources, both in terms of players and finance, and time he has had to deal with, and is highly-rated as a coach. But other players and coaches tell me he would be out of his depth at international level.

I do have a fundamental problem, though, if Davids is appointed to merely be the face of the Springboks with Erasmus making all the big decisions.

The Springbok coach needs to be accountable to the fans and he needs to be regularly available to the media to explain his decisions; something Coetzee and those before him have never shirked. Erasmus cannot be allowed to be pulling the strings and not seen to be answerable for the national team’s performance.

As Springbok coach, Coetzee has made some stupid selections (such as neutralising Eben Etzebeth as an enforcer by making him captain) and has rightly been called to task for them; Erasmus cannot be allowed to operate as a dictatorial figure whose instructions are not open to scrutiny.

The time has come for change, but as in Zimbabwean politics, there are concerns that the change won’t necessarily be for the better. The smooth-talking Erasmus has been able to con a lot of people in recent years, but perhaps now is the time for him to display his rugby acumen in the frontline, under the glare of the television cameras and the beady eye of the fourth estate.

 

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.

Lions players with heavy hearts after semi-final loss 0

Posted on July 07, 2017 by Ken

 

There were plenty of Lions players with a heavy weight on their shoulders after Saturday night’s heartbreaking Currie Cup semi-final loss to Western Province.

The Lions, defending the title they had won in fairytale fashion last year, had dominated most of the match and seemed to have finally secured victory – when everything changed.

The Lions’ apparent lead all turned belly-up after flyhalf Elton Jantjies had kicked an angled penalty to switch the score to 16-14 with less than two minutes remaining.

Then the ball was carried back from the kickoff and Jaco Taute put too much on his clearing kick, the ball sailing directly into touch to give Western Province a vital lineout inside the Lions’ 22. The visitors’ rolling maul once again carried too much momentum to be stopped, and the Capetonians had the match-winning try with a dozen seconds left in the game.

While the loss will weigh most heavily on Taute and Jantjies, who missed three first-half kicks that denied the Lions vital reward for their dominance, it was also a sad end to an era. This Lions team that showed the courage to win the Currie Cup last year after they had been humiliated in SuperRugby, who stood up as a unit to get rid of their bullying coach, John Mitchell, and who shrugged off the awful news that they would not be playing in the Sanzar tournament in 2013, will now break up.

Already, Jantjies, Taute, lock Michael Rhodes and prop Pat Cilliers have been confirmed as heading to the Stormers, while two unsung heroes of the tight five, Franco van der Merwe (Sharks) and Jacobie Adriaanse (Scarlets), are also departing.

The loss of these players, and probably more in the near future, means the Lions will have to rebuild yet again.

“We’ve lost guys who we’ve worked on for two or three years to get to this level, and now we’ll have to get new guys to that level as quickly as possible,” coach Johan Ackermann admitted.

“This group has become so close, they really play for each other. For the first time in years, we have a number of players in every position and we would have gone into SuperRugby with some depth and with players going into their second or third year in that competition.

“But now this whole group breaks up and we have to start building up a new team again … I know those are words Lions supporters don’t want to hear, but we have to do it.”

The mere fact that the Lions finished the year as strong Currie Cup contenders, hosting a semi-final, and not as the clowns some haters like to portray them as, is amazing considering all the obstacles they faced.

“We could of fallen apart and finished sixth and gone into a promotion/relegation playoff, but instead our goal was to win the Currie Cup. I’m still very positive, even though we’re just disappointed now because that was a game we should have won. But I’d rather be losing in a semi-final than playing promotion/relegation,” Ackermann said. 

The Sharks, having seen off the Bulls 20-3 in difficult conditions in Durban, will now go into the Currie Cup final as firm favourites.

Thus far in the competition, they have undoubtedly been the most cohesive unit, they have the best all-round players and they will have home ground advantage.

Ackermann predictably backed his former Sharks side to beat the Streeptruie next weekend, saying “they can’t get that lucky twice, Christmas only comes once a year”, but even Western Province coach Allister Coetzee was saying the Natalians would be favourites.

“We’ll be up against the best side in South Africa; the Sharks are unbelievably strong, to hold the Bulls to just three points is very telling. They are a real quality side, they are good on attack and defence and they have good kickers. Maybe we’ll need all 22 players on the field to beat them … ” Coetzee said.

If you believe their detractors, Western Province tend to “choke” in the big games, but their victory over the Lions showed there is immense character and patience in their side. Nothing seemed to be going for them for three-quarters of the match, but then, as the game entered the crucial final stages, they were able to up the tempo and be clinical on attack.

“It’s one of the best wins I’ve experienced with Western Province, the character of the team really stood out and they never gave up. In the latter stages of the second half, we found space and width and the bench gave us great impetus on attack.

“The team showed a great will to win and the side that capitalises on their opportunities normally wins playoffs. People like to throw out that ‘chokers’ term at us, but the connection in this team is incredible, both to each other and to the game plan,” Coetzee said.

To upstage the Sharks, however, Western Province are going to have to improve markedly up front. The Lions bossed them at scrum time and the Sharks front row, spearheaded by Springboks Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira, will be looking to do the same.

The Sharks forwards were magnificent in stopping the big Bulls’ ball-carriers’ efforts to get over the gain line and they certainly have the backline to make better use of possession than the Lions did.

A sopping wet day in Durban was an equaliser, helping the Bulls’ strengths, but to win so convincingly just shows that the Sharks have the quality to rise to any occasion or conditions.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-10-21-currie-cup-lions-fans-welcome-to-heartbreak-hotel/#.WV99GISGPIU

That’s awful, Bulls! 0

Posted on March 27, 2017 by Ken

 

The Bulls started their overseas tour with a parlous 38-14 defeat at the hands of the Blues in Albany on Saturday, a loss and awful performance that’s going to cause questions to be asked about the team’s coaching and management.

The Bulls were level 7-7 at halftime, having already conceded seven penalties, made numerous handling errors and looked out-of-sync on attack, but that’s as good as it got for the tourists as the second half saw them totally disintegrate as the Blues added five more tries to earn a bonus point.

Replacement scrumhalf Rudy Paige was given a consolation try after the final hooter, having not grounded the ball but probably deserving a penalty try anyway, but the Bulls had been goners long before that.

The Bulls started brightly enough with a promising attack in the Blues’ 22, but referee Nic Berry ended it with a harsh obstruction call. The home side’s backline was gone in a flash, roaring up the left side of the field and some superb handling and offloads by fullback Michael Collins and wing Melani Nanai saw scrumhalf Augustine Pulu scooting over the line for the opening try, in the third minute.

The Bulls would be back on level terms after 17 minutes as they earned a ruck penalty, flyhalf Handre Pollard’s super kick set up a lineout in the corner and prop Lizo Gqoboka burrowed over for a try after the driving maul.

There would be further opportunities for the Bulls in the first half, but they were ponderous with turnover ball and their dire handling meant errors interrupted just about every attack after a few phases.

The second half would be the same story, only worse, as the Blues quickly seized control of the game.

An early attack by the Bulls came to nothing as nobody seemed to know who was meant to clean, be a pillar or play halfback at a ruck, and Pollard then missed a tackle on Collins, allowing a lovely offload to wing Matt Duffie, who went through a poor tackle by opposite number Jamba Ulengo to score the second try, also converted by flyhalf Piers Francis.

The most astonishing example of clueless play by the Bulls came in the 56th minute. Lock Lood de Jager did well to steal the ball at a five-metre lineout, but at the resulting ruck, scrumhalf Piet van Zyl went to play pillar and replacement flank Jannes Kirsten cleared the ball, making the awful decision to feed a pod inside his own in-goal area. That conceded a five-metre scrum, from which Francis’s pinpoint kick-pass across the field was claimed by Duffie for his second try.

It didn’t even help the Bulls when Blues flank Jimmy Tupou was temporarily sent from the field for a neck roll. Pollard was replaced on the hour mark in what was apparently a scheduled change, but new flyhalf Tian Schoeman was unable to find touch from a scrum penalty the Bulls earned.

Soon thereafter, Ulengo burst out of defensive alignment like a crazed shopper going after Black Friday sales, and the Blues’ replacement flyhalf, Ihaia West, knifed through to score.

The Blues were 24-7 up and continued to boss the game as one was left with the nagging impression that the Bulls ran out of legs.

The home side were able to hang on to the ball through numerous phases because of their impressive handling skills, with outside centre Rieko Ioane making his presence felt with a couple of great runs, going from one side of the field to the other before replacement hooker Matt Moulds ended the attack by going over in the corner.

West had barely kicked the conversion for a 31-7 lead when he was bursting through the line again, with the Bulls defence far too narrow, creating acres of space out wide for Nanai to go roaring through for a dazzling try.

The Bulls did get the final points as they earned a free kick at a scrum under the poles and Paige, who should have come on earlier for a hesitant Van Zyl, went on his own to score their second try.

While most pundits expected the Bulls to lose, nobody expected such a dismal display from them and they have a lot of introspection ahead of them this week before facing the mighty Chiefs.

Scorers

BluesTries: Augustine Pulu, Matt Duffie (2), Ihaia West, Matt Moulds, Melani Nanai. Conversions: Piers Francis (2), West (2).

BullsTries: Lizo Gqoboka, Rudy Paige. Conversions: Handre Pollard, Tian Schoeman.

 

 

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