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Ken Borland



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.

 

 

The importance of getting those yorkers in in the death overs 0

Posted on February 28, 2017 by Ken

 

South Africa’s loss in the second ODI in New Zealand this week once again brought home the importance of death bowling in tight finishes. The Black Caps were able to get their yorkers in to great effect in the last few overs and won by six runs, a margin of defeat that flattered the Proteas because they hit the last two balls for fours when they were already out of contention needing 15 off two to win.

For my money, there has been too much emphasis in recent years in South African bowling strategy on bowling the ball into the pitch, varying pace, using the short ball etc. Tim Southee and Trent Boult simply got the ball in the blockhole when it really mattered and the batsmen found it impossible to do anything more than jab the deliveries away.

Sure, if there’s a set batsman in at the time then they can make the margin for error infinitesimally small by moving deeper into their crease or stepping out, but it’s been a long-standing weakness of South African bowlers that they cannot consistently get the yorker in. Perhaps because back at home in domestic cricket on pitches of bounce and seam movement there is less necessity, but in international cricket they get exposed.

This week I sought the wise counsel of Gordon Parsons, the bowling coach of the Highveld Lions team that won the 50-over competition last season, so they must be doing something right.

“The more things change in the game, the more they seem to stay the same. And I’m very much of the belief that nothing’s changed when it comes to a good yorker still being the best ball at the death. If a bowler can master three different variations then he’ll be a quality performer. Trying six, seven, eight different deliveries just complicates the mind and sometimes I feel using variations is an excuse for a lack of execution of the regular skills,” Parsons, the taker of 356 limited-overs wickets at an average of 30.75 and an economy rate of just 4.07, said.

“Sometimes bowlers hide behind the slower ball, but how many deliveries hit the same spot? The best bowlers do the simple things really well – look at Imran Tahir, who is the world’s number one limited-overs bowler and basically bowls wicket-to-wicket. He’s become better the simpler he’s made it. Bowlers have got to keep it simple,” Parsons, who took 809 first-class wickets in a 19-year career for two English counties and three South African teams, said.

The last time the Proteas were in New Zealand was for the 2015 World Cup and for the seventh time they fell short at the ICC’s premier tournament, conceding 9.8 runs per over in the last five overs of their fateful semifinal against the Black Caps.

With Tahir at number one and Kagiso Rabada ranked seventh, South Africa have the makings of a decent attack, but neither of them are known for their death bowling, both instead proving brilliant at breaking partnerships in the middle overs.

Rabada does have a lethal yorker, which I’d like to see him use more, and Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell could both be pretty effective if they can get swing and find the blockhole more consistently. Andile Phehlukwayo has the variations, but the same applies to him.

I saw an interesting statement this week from a radio sports broadcaster that the current attack is South Africa’s best ever in ODI cricket, but for me, the 1996 World Cup line-up of Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Shaun Pollock, Craig Matthews, Pat Symcox and Brian McMillan, with Hansie Cronje and Jacques Kallis as the sixth and seventh bowlers, is hard to beat.

 

 

Bulls scrum faces another crucial examination 0

Posted on August 03, 2016 by Ken

 

The Bulls scrum was toyed with by the Stormers in last weekend’s loss in Cape Town and now they face another crucial examination by the Lions in the SuperRugby Jukskei derby at Loftus Versfeld this evening.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann has recalled powerful scrummagers in Julian Redelinghuys and Robbie Coetzee and his Bulls counterpart Frans Ludeke is under no illusions that the result of the game could lie in how well Springboks Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss and Marcel van der Merwe cope at scrum time.

“The scrum can be the decider, it will have a huge impact like last week, we’re well aware of that. At times we haven’t been accurate enough and if we’re going to be successful on Saturday then the scrum needs to function. In our previous match against the Lions, it was a great contest there,” Ludeke said.

There was only a small iota of difference between the two sides at Ellis Park a month ago with the Lions winning with a last-minute try, but the visitors ought to go into tonight’s game with enormous confidence on the back of five successive wins.

“They’re a great side, they’re playing fantastic rugby and they’ll have a lot of confidence, plus they’re winning the close games. We know it won’t be easy, but we are playing at Loftus and we’re all confident we can beat them here,” captain Victor Matfield said.

The match will have massive repercussions on whoever loses because it could leave them two wins behind the conference-leading Stormers, who should be victorious in Bloemfontein.

Ludeke suggested the Lions like to gamble back on the Highveld and a measured approach from his side could bring home the spoils.

“On tour the Lions played a more tactical game and backed their defence, but in South Africa they play like a New Zealand side, with width and from broken-field. But it’s going to be all about our ability to make good decisions and we are also dangerous with ball-in-hand. Their style means they can also cough up broken-field ball,” Ludeke said.



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