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Ken Borland



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.

 

SuperRugby ended negatively so Blue Bulls look to set early marker in Currie Cup 0

Posted on August 03, 2016 by Ken

 

SuperRugby may have ended negatively for the team from Loftus Versfeld, but much the same group of players will be eager to lay down an early marker for the Currie Cup trophy when the Blue Bulls open that campaign against Western Province at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.

Coach Nollis Marais named a team on Tuesday that features just two debutants and only three players on the bench (lock Eli Snyman, scrumhalf Andre Warner and flyhalf Tony Jantjies) who did not feature in the SuperRugby campaign which ended with the Bulls just two points off the playoffs.

With Travis Ismaiel still recovering from a niggling injury, 23-year-old Jade Stighling comes in on the wing, while former Western Province prop Entienne Swanepoel will make his senior debut as the starting tighthead.

Springbok Bjorn Basson starting at fullback is the only other change to the regular backline that played in Super Rugby, the move forced due to the absence of Jesse Kriel on national duty and SP Marais coming to the end of his short-term contract.

“There are only two changes to the Super Rugby backline and just two debutants in the team overall. Bjorn was always an option at fullback, where we also have Manie Libbok. But Bjorn is a bit more experienced and is good in the air, and it’s just about getting the best players on the field. He was good for his Japanese team [Honda Heat] at fullback.

“Jade was very good in the Currie Cup qualifiers and has been waiting for a chance. Travis is not quite ready yet, but I’m happy that we will still have a good attacking back three. It’s a young team overall, but they have more Super Rugby experience, guys like Jason Jenkins, Jannes Kirsten and Pierre Schoeman up front are all a lot better players now,” Marais said on Tuesday at Loftus Versfeld.

Eighthman Arno Botha has been named as the new Currie Cup captain and the Springbok loose forward said he would be impacting more through actions than by words.

“The coach kept the announcement till the end, which is good because it keeps us on our toes. But it’s not a competition to be captain, it’s not about me as an individual, it’s about the team and I want to get the guys together and playing for each other. I won’t speak too much, most of the time I will let my actions do the work. Most of leadership is in what you do,” Botha said.

Team: Bjorn Basson, Jade Stighling, Dries Swanepoel, Burger Odendaal, Jamba Ulengo, Tian Schoeman, Piet van Zyl, Arno Botha (c), Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp, Marvin Orie, Jason Jenkins, Entienne Swanepoel, Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman. Bench – Bandise Maku, Nqoba Mxoli, Eli Snyman, Hanro Liebenberg, Andre Warner, Tony Jantjies, Dan Kriel.

Southern Kings not to be underestimated after Rassie consulting – Gold 0

Posted on February 25, 2016 by Ken

 

The Sharks may have enjoyed an impressive pre-season tour to France while the Southern Kings, their opening opponents in SuperRugby this weekend, endured shambolic preparation, but the KwaZulu-Natal side’s director of rugby, Gary Gold, has warned that the Eastern Cape team should not be taken for granted, especially with Rassie Erasmus consulting for them.

Erasmus and his mobi-unit of top specialists were in Port Elizabeth in January to help Kings coach Deon Davids fast-track their preparations and the word from their camp is that they feel ready to compete. The Sharks will be the first team to test that readiness and Gold said they would be cautious.

“It’s exactly the same situation we had with the Cheetahs last year in our first game, so we do not take the Southern Kings lightly as a team. Deon Davids is a good coach and he would have got great help from Rassie and the mobi-unit. And they’ll be desperate to prove their detractors wrong.

“We have to make sure we don’t slip up like we did against the Cheetahs last year. We’re just trying to stay away from expectations and focus on what we do well. The two games in France have shown us how far we’ve come in certain areas. We had a very clear strategy in our pre-season in terms of how we prepared: We really put time and energy into four or five areas which we hope will have the most effect on the game,” Gold told The Citizen.

The Sharks beat Toulon 29-21 and Toulouse 31-17, but Gold said the results were only of secondary importance to how they played and he was very satisfied with their performance. With the time now available before their first SuperRugby game on Saturday, they will brush up on the areas that have not received as much attention.

“It’s not about the results but the performance and I was very satisfied with the things we worked on, we got reward for those, we’ll bank those, but now it’s time to sharpen the pencil. It’s now time to focus on other areas and we know that if we don’t put time and energy into those then we’ll come a cropper, so those areas will develop.

“We scored five tries and three tries in the two games, so I’m happy with that. Toulon could only score through driving mauls against us, three times, but we hadn’t worked on that yet.

“People ask how we want to play, well, first and foremost we want to win and the foundation for winning is a solid defence. That’s one of the areas where I feel we’ve made good progress, it was a helluva lot more consistent. Defence is where a team shows its camaraderie, whether they’re willing to fight for each other. As a coaching staff, we’re very excited because we’ve put our faith in this young group and they’ve repaid us,” Gold said.

 

 



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