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Ken Borland



Saru have enough money to throw at the Springbok problem 0

Posted on December 08, 2016 by Ken

 

That the South African Rugby Union have a major problem with their flagship product – the Springboks – is undeniable, and it’s going to take all their wisdom and sound judgement to make the right decisions to fix the mess. One thing in their favour though is that they have enough money to throw at the problem.

Their latest financial statements, for the year ending 2015, show that Saru had revenue of close to a billion rand, with R249 million spent on the rugby department, under which all the national teams and their management fall.

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has made his fair share of blunders and his ability to inspire his current group of players is debatable, but there is no doubt that he was given the job with one hand tied behind his back by not being able to choose his coaching staff.

Forwards coach Matt Proudfoot was the one exception, while he inherited Johann van Graan from the previous era of Heyneke Meyer, so at least he had experience of working at international level. But for all their promise, the likes of Mzwandile Stick, Chean Roux and Louis Koen have only coached at much lower levels. Apart from Proudfoot, and Franco Smith, a belated addition to the squad after just one season of Super Rugby, who amongst his assistants has experience of running a top franchise?

Compare that to the All Blacks’ situation, where assistant coaches Ian Foster, who spent eight years in charge of the Chiefs and three with the New Zealand juniors, and Wayne Smith, who guided the Crusaders to two Super 12 titles and is a former All Blacks head coach, are vastly experienced.

Perhaps the primary problem affecting the Springboks is the lack of attention Saru have given them; can they truly say the wellbeing of their national team has been their priority?

So many incidents suggest not: from Meyer having to go begging to Gavin Varejes to pay the salary of breakdown specialist Richie Gray up until the parlous decision to appoint, on the cheap, the majority of Coetzee’s backroom staff, Saru are not backing the Springboks as they should.

Are the Springboks not CEO Jurie Roux’s new sweetheart? Before he joined Saru, Roux was able to source R35 million to beef up the Stellenbosch University rugby team. Why is he not willing to put big money towards finding the best assistant coaches possible or keeping more players on these shores?

I also wonder what Rassie Erasmus, still the flavour of the month in many quarters, actually achieved in terms of boosting the Springboks during his four-year tenure as Saru’s high performance general manager before ducking to Munster?

While mapping out new structures for SA rugby and running the Mobi-Unit of specialist coaches, Erasmus’s detractors, some of whom were and are intimately involved with the Springboks, say everything he did was geared towards making himself the next national coach.

But when it became clear that Saru would have to speed up transformation within the Springboks in order to get the government out of their hair, Erasmus suddenly turned his attention overseas. His about-turn led directly to Coetzee’s appointment being made very late, just a couple of months before the first Test.

Just to be clear, I don’t believe transformation is the foe of Springbok rugby, in fact it’s the game’s best long-term survival plan.

According to reports this week, Coetzee will remain as national coach next year, but will now be able to choose his own support staff as Saru have belatedly realised the error of their ways.

Well duh.

It reminds me of Kim Kardashian suddenly deciding she wants to withdraw herself and her children from the spotlight after they were robbed in Paris in early October; she decided to flaunt her lifestyle, bling and children on reality TV, why is she surprised it attracted nefarious attention?

The hapless Springboks are the way they are at the moment for many reasons, but it all comes down to haphazard decision-making by Saru.

Lions have earned universal respect despite failing to make playoffs 0

Posted on November 24, 2016 by Ken

 

The Lions may have failed to make the SuperRugby playoffs after their dramatic weekend draw against the Stormers, but the Johannesburg-based franchise has certainly earned the respect of all their opponents this season.

Just two years after they were controversially relegated from SuperRugby, the Lions have clinched second place in the South African Conference and boast an almost identical record to the Brumbies, who have snuck into the playoffs ahead of them because of bonus points.

They have maintained their positive style of play with ball in hand, but where they have improved most is defensively, boasting the best tackling success rate in the competition. The Lions play at the highest tempo of all the South African sides as they swarm around in defence and always have great intensity on the ball. Their powerful scrum has provided a solid platform and their lineout has also been efficient.

“It’s all about playing with intensity and hunger, and we have to up our performance every week. There are plans in place, but I also allow the guys to be free spirits and you have to live with the small mistakes that come from that,” coach Johan Ackermann says. “Obviously I’m very proud of the team, it must be one of our best years and it shows that hard work is worth it.”

The Lions have certainly deserved all the praise that has come their way, beating the qualified Waratahs and Highlanders in the last five weeks and showing all season that they are never out of the contest with some superb second-half comebacks.

“There’s great belief within this side, a real hunger. We want to close down the opposition’s space and put them under pressure. We’ve built our physicality in defence, we want to be in their faces and not stand back,” captain Warren Whiteley says.

Their impressive performances have seen several of their players grow into Springbok contenders. The most likely Lions player to feature in Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok World Cup squad is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who dares to take the ball flat and attack the opposition line, has superb hands and is a strong defender, as well as kicking well this season.

Eighthman Whiteley is competing with Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger for a place at the World Cup, but he gets through a mound of work and is the only player in SuperRugby this year to have made more than 200 tackles, while also being highly effective in a linking role, possessing great skill and vision as befits a Springbok Sevens player who helped win the Commonwealth Games gold medal last year.

He is also adept at interfering with the opposition lineout, where Franco Mostert has also been a key performer for the Lions, as well as in the loose.

Warwick Tecklenburg has been outstanding in doing all the Lions’ dirty work, being second only to Whiteley in terms of tackles made, but fellow flank Jaco Kriel has been the most impressive forward.

A constant nuisance at the breakdown, he oozes raw talent in offence, having phenomenal pace, strength and hands, and has more often than not been able to spark the most sensational counter-attacks by the Lions.

Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe have proved to be two powerful centres, while scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and wing Ruan Combrinck are two other backs who have announced themselves as future Springboks this year.

Despite their success over the last two years, Ackermann says at the moment they are just playing pretty rugby and haven’t won anything yet, there is more growing to do.

“We can look back on a good season regardless of missing the playoffs. The players know where they stand with me and they know my expectation on deserving the jersey. As long as they do that, I can’t ask for more. The growth from last year is definitely there, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“Nobody has achieved anything yet. We are not in the playoffs, we haven’t won the Currie Cup yet, we haven’t won any trophies yet. But if you ask me if there is a lot of growth, both for me as coach and for the team, then definitely if you look where we started in January 2014 until where we are now,” Ackermann says.

 

CSA slammed out the park too often 0

Posted on November 22, 2016 by Ken

 

If Cricket South Africa were a bowler, they would be the type that gives you an over comprising three great deliveries, beating the bat a couple of times and maybe bowling the batsman, and three rank full tosses that are hammered out of the park, and are no-balls just to make matters worse!

There are so many good things going on in CSA, so many people within that organisation who have a deep love for the game and are faithful servants of it, often at considerable cost to themselves. While those good balls are being bowled, it is easy to believe that everything in South African cricket is hunky dory and the future is bright.

Like when you go to the Centre of Excellence and National Academy in Pretoria. This is a superb facility where national teams can prepare with the latest technology at their fingertips.

The gadgets have recently been improved with the world’s most advanced batting simulator – the PitchVision Batting Studio – now installed. The high-tech bowling machine and smart lane equipped with sensors takes net batting to the next level. The simulator features a moveable bowling machine that can bowl over or around the wicket, videos of bowlers, shot-tracking, field setting and tracking of runs scored. The system also records technique for video analysis.

The batsman can set up any match scenario and bat with the realistic pressures of finding the gaps and trying to chase down a score at the death.

The technology even showed that I was planting my front leg when batting, but then a good coach could probably have pointed that out anyway. And, as I told coaches Shukri Conrad and Vincent Barnes, nobody has trapped me lbw for a long time! (Now I’m just tempting fate!)

There are lots of other good news stories around CSA at the moment, such as the thawing of relations with India. According to Haroon Lorgat, the CSA chief executive, the BCCI are keen on the idea of South Africa and India developing an icon series like the Ashes. The Proteas will be playing four Tests in India this year and the next tour to South Africa is not going to be the thoroughly inadequate shortened series which was foisted upon CSA in December 2013.

Sadly, however, there are still people in CSA who seem more intent on furthering their own agendas than the good of the game.

Despite CSA continuing to swear blind that there was nothing untoward in the selection of the team for the World Cup semi-final, that merit is the only criterion for the Proteas (except when the call is 50/50), the gathering of the cricket family this week for the CSA Awards (another example of how well they can do things) meant I was given yet more snippets of information that would seem to confirm that the side that took the field at Eden Park was not the one Russell Domingo, AB de Villiers or the selectors initially wanted.

And now, an event as happy and well-organised as the awards banquet has also been marred by the same faceless, cowardly interferers as allegations of the judges’ decisions being changed rear their ugly heads.

Two members of the judging panel confirmed to me that one of the franchise award-winners had been changed – that when they left their selection meeting, they were under the impression that a different player had won.

The last thing I want to do is cast aspersions on the ability and class of Robin Peterson (poor Vernon Philander was shamefully treated by the World Cup fiasco), whom I rate highly and believe should be in the Test squad ahead of Aaron Phangiso, but apparently he was the third-choice for the Momentum One-Day Cup Player of the Season, behind Dean Elgar and Andrew Puttick.

So the last week has pretty much summed up CSA’s performance in general: leading the field in many ways, like the centre of excellence in Pretoria, enjoying the support of an ever-growing list of sponsors and putting on superb events, but then also shooting themselves in the foot through dishonesty and backroom dealings. It felt like a family gathering this week, even if the family is dysfunctional at times, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some members who really would be better suited to Fifa than cricket administration.

Sharks need new captain and hooker after Bismarck ban 0

Posted on May 04, 2016 by Ken

 

The Sharks will have to make a change at hooker and appoint a new captain for the next month after Bismarck du Plessis was suspended for four weeks by Sanzar on Sunday for petulantly kicking out at the head of an opponent during the match against the Chiefs at Kings Park.

Du Plessis’ act of gross unsportsmanship came just three minutes after the Chiefs had had their hooker, Hika Elliott, red-carded, and subsequently suspended for one week, for charging into the back of Tendai Mtawarira’s head with his shoulder at a ruck, almost immediately transferring all the pressure back on to the home side.

Matters became even worse for the Sharks when Frans Steyn was red-carded for a dangerous tip-tackle before the half-hour mark and his hearing is set for Monday.

While those two senior players let the side down so badly, the other 13 players on the field rallied magnificently to sneak a 12-11 victory over the Chiefs.

Kyle Cooper and Monde Hadebe are able replacements for Du Plessis in the front row, but the issue of who takes over the captaincy is less clearcut.

Flyhalf Pat Lambie or eighthman Ryan Kankowski would appear to be the frontrunners.

Director of rugby Gary Gold also faces a tough decision once Du Plessis returns to action on April 19 as this is the Springbok’s second incident of foul play at a crucial time this season, following his assault on Victor Matfield in the Sharks’ loss to the Bulls in Pretoria three weeks ago. Does Gold trust that the fiery hooker can mend his ways and remain disciplined under pressure for the sake of his team or does he take firm action against a repeat offender?

The matches that Du Plessis will miss are at home to the Western Force and Crusaders, the visit to Ellis Park to play the Lions and the return fixture against the Bulls in Durban.

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  • Thought of the Day

    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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