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Ken Borland



Titans head across the Jukskei to battle Lions 0

Posted on September 03, 2014 by Ken

The Unlimited Titans will travel across the Jukskei River – as well as a few smaller streams – today to do battle with neighbours and arch-rivals the bizhub Highveld Lions in the second edition of the Momentum eKasi Challenge, to be played this year at the Dobsonville Oval in Soweto.

And, in keeping with Cricket South Africa’s new transformation targets, there will be a healthy sprinkling of Black African players to inspire township cricket fans.

Pacemen Junior Dala, who came across from the Lions to the Titans last year, and Ethy Mbhalati, and wicketkeeper/batsman Mangaliso Mosehle will play for the Titans, while in-form SA A batsman Temba Bavuma, seamer Pumelela Matshikwe and wrist-spinner Eddie Leie will be in action for the Lions.

It may just be a pre-season friendly, with all 13 squad members allowed to be used, but Roelof van der Merwe, one of the toughest competitors you will ever come across, believes there is much to be gained for the Titans if they can reverse last season’s result and beat the Lions on their home turf.

“Every game against the Lions, we like to beat them, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. It will be a good measure to see where we are in our preparations, especially for the bowlers because we really want to nail down our skills ahead of the new season,” Van der Merwe told The Pretoria News yesterday.

While much of the Titans squad will be shaking off the winter rust, even though they have been training hard in the nets for a couple of months, Van der Merwe is looking forward to bowling on a Dobsonville Oval pitch that looks similar to the West Indian wickets he has been plying his trade on while playing half-a-dozen games for the St Lucia Zouks in the Caribbean Premier League.

“The pitch looks a bit dry and slow, so I think we’ll play both frontline spinners, myself and Eden Links,” the left-arm orthodox bowler acknowledged.

With the rise of Shaun von Berg, Links did not get much chance for the Titans last season and he will be eager to put himself back at the forefront of coach Rob Walter’s thinking with a strong performance today.

While the likes of Von Berg and Graeme van Buuren, and the injured trio of Henry Davids, Albie Morkel and Rowan Richards, will obviously be back in the frame once the Titans open the Momentum One-Day Cup on October 10, today’s match is an important first step for several players with big seasons ahead of them.

For Dean Elgar, Farhaan Behardien, David Wiese and maybe even Heino Kuhn, there is the lure of the World Cup squad early next year, while Theunis de Bruyn, Vincent Moore and Heinrich Klaasen, all members of the highly-successful Tuks side, will want to show that they should be a part of the Titans’ season ahead.

For the Lions, the importance of starting the season well is even greater as they endured the most miserable of times in 2013/14.

The batting has an inexperienced look to it, with Stephen Cook, Gulam Bodi and Bavuma the only seasoned franchise players, while the pace attack will be led by Hardus Viljoen. Coach Geoff Toyana has chosen two of the talented up-and-coming pacemen in Gauteng to back up him and Matshikwe, in the form of Sean Jamison and Matthew Arnold.

The waiting is finally over for the 26 players involved in the eKasi Challenge and they will be looking to explode into action to provide the best sort of inspiration for the township spectators getting a rare glimpse of franchise cricket.

Squads

Highveld Lions: Stephen Cook, Gulam Bodi, Temba Bavuma, Yaseen Valli, Devon Conway, Nicky van den Bergh, Dwaine Pretorius, Sean Jamison, Hardus Viljoen, Pumelela Matshikwe, Eddie Leie, Rassie van der Dussen, Matthew Arnold.

Titans: Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Heino Kuhn, Farhaan Behardien, Roelof van der Merwe, David Wiese, Mangaliso Mosehle, Eden Links, Vincent Moore, Ethy Mbhalati, Junior Dala, Heinrich Klaasen, Tabraiz Shamsi.

*Play starts at 9.30am & will be broadcast live on SuperSport 2

 

Titans look to continue return to form v Lions 0

Posted on February 20, 2014 by Ken

Titans captain Henry Davids

The Unlimited Titans take on Gauteng neighbours the Highveld Lions in a Sunfoil Series match at the Wanderers from this morning knowing that they are only as good as their previous performance, which fortunately in their case was a highly-encouraging return to four-day form, beating the Knights in Kimberley last weekend.

“We’re not looking too far forward, four-day cricket is our weakest format at the moment and we just want to go out and try to improve on our last showing and play disciplined cricket. But our last outing was a very good team performance, we stuck to our disciplines as a unit,” Titans captain Henry Davids said yesterday.

The Lions have had as tough a second-season fade-out under coach Geoffrey Toyana as could be imagined, but they are actually ahead of the Titans on the Sunfoil Series log, although by a slender three points.

It would be foolish to dismiss them, however, because they have quality players who will be hungry to make an impact and get something out of a thoroughly miserable season.

Quinton de Kock heads the list of star players as he goes about trying to prove he can play long-form cricket as spectacularly as he performs in the limited-overs formats. The Young Turk heads a batting line-up that features other future stars in Temba Bavuma and Dominic Hendricks, while Neil McKenzie, Stephen Cook and Thami Tsolekile have scored plenty of runs in four-day cricket down the years.

The Titans can probably kiss their hopes in the competition goodbye if they lose to the Lions as they are already 15 points behind the log-leading Cape Cobras, but in order to triumph their batsmen are going to have to police a probing Lions attack very carefully.

Once Hardus Viljoen and Lonwabo Tsotsobe have been blocked out with the new ball, there is the crafty leg-spin of Imran Tahir, the seam of Pumelela Matshikwe and possibly the swing of Cliffe Deacon to deal with.

In terms of the Titans attack, the bad news for them is that fast bowler Marchant de Lange, having travelled down many roads in trying to recover from a side strain, is still not fit enough for four-day action. He will be playing for Easterns in the three-day amateur competition instead, Davids confirmed.

Ethy Mbhalati and Albie Morkel are also out with niggling injuries and so the pace bowling responsibilities will fall on David Wiese, CJ de Villiers and young Vincent Moore, who shone with both bat and ball on debut last weekend.

Shaun von Berg, fresh off a career-best seven-wicket haul, and 10 in the match, against the Knights, will be a threat if the Wanderers pitch is tailor-made for Tahir, and Roelof van der Merwe will provide support in the spin department.

Hopefully, after going winless for 15 Sunfoil Series matches, the Titans have now turned the corner and they can maintain the momentum from Kimberley against the struggling Lions at the Wanderers.

Squads

Highveld Lions: Stephen Cook, Dominic Hendricks, Temba Bavuma, Neil McKenzie, Devon Conway, Quinton de Kock, Thami Tsolekile, Brett Pelser, Cliffe Deacon, Pumelela Matshikwe, Hardus Viljoen, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Imran Tahir, Rassie van der Dussen.

Titans: Heino Kuhn, Francois le Clus, Henry Davids, Farhaan Behardien, Qaasim Adams, Mangaliso Mosehle, David Wiese, Shaun von Berg, CJ de Villiers, Vincent Moore, Roelof van der Merwe, JP de Villiers, Cobus Pienaar.

 

SuperRugby will be a baptism of fire for Southern Kings 0

Posted on June 10, 2013 by Ken

The SuperRugby season kicks off on Friday with Australian teams getting the competition started. The five South African franchises join the fray next weekend with several burning questions still to be answered. Foremost of these is whether the Southern Kings have procured enough firepower to avoid totally embarrassing themselves and the South African Rugby Union administrators who promoted them with scant regard for on-field performance.

The Southern Kings have brought a dozen new players to Port Elizabeth, but they can best be described as SuperRugby journeymen. Even though hooker Bandise Maku and centres Waylon Murray and Andries Strauss are all Springboks, they are not what one would term star players capable of dominating at SuperRugby level. The Kings have also signed two seasoned Argentinean internationals in scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo and flank Tomas Leonardi, as well as former Toulouse hooker Virgile Lacombe.

The role of captain Luke Watson, of whom opinions vary from sulky trouble-causer to inspiring team-man and leader, is going to be very important in melding such a disparate group of players into a team. Massive expenditure is no guarantee of success in a sport that depends so greatly on team cohesion and attitude.

The Kings have also incurred the wrath of many South African fans who believe their inclusion in the competition is purely on political grounds and the pressure will be on them from the outset.

All eyes will be on their opening game when they host the Western Force, who are also trying to find their feet in SuperRugby. Then, before heading off on their overseas tour, the Kings face daunting meetings with the Sharks and defending champions the Chiefs.

The other game the Kings could possibly target in search of that morale-boosting first victory will be against the Rebels in Melbourne on 13 April, but that will be the last game of their overseas tour and whether they will still be on two feet remains to be seen.

On the positive side, this year provides an ideal opportunity for talented players such as flank Daniel Adongo, flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, centre Ronnie Cooke and lock Steven Sykes to make their mark on this semi-international stage.

The Bulls will be looking to build on their achievement in making last year’s playoffs as they showed there is still life in the union after so many of yesterday’s heroes moved on.

Pierre Spies’s team will include two new faces in utility back Lionel Mapoe and talented young lock Paul Willemse, but the Pretoria faithful will be relying on remaining stalwarts such as Morne Steyn, Spies, Flip van der Merwe, Francois Hougaard, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Wynand Olivier, Akona Ndungane and Zane Kirchner for bigger and better things in 2013.

None more so than Steyn whose eye will still be on the Springbok number 10 jersey. He can count on Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer still valuing his experience and goal-kicking ability, but he needs to play more like the dashing flyhalf of 2008/9 than a gout-ridden has-been turning out for the Blikkiesdorp over-35s.

Loose forward CJ Stander has moved on to new pastures, which counts as a big loss for the Bulls, but the likes of lock Juandre Kruger and backs JJ Engelbrecht, Francois Venter and Bjorn Basson are ready to take the next step and dominate at SuperRugby level.

The Cheetahs will be well aware that their neighbours in Gauteng are smarting over their exclusion from SuperRugby and the way their former allies in Bloemfontein helped betray them. So they will be nervous going into the SuperRugby season, desperate to avoid finishing last in the South African conference and having to face the Lions in a promotion/relegation series.

Their build-up to the campaign has not been good, with the final bell having rung on Juan Smith’s superb career and another favourite, prop Coenie Oosthuizen, still taking the first steps on his way back to recovery. The front row has been one of the Cheetahs’ premier areas of strength in recent years, but with WP Nel and Marcel van der Merwe both having left, coach Naka Drotske is a worried man, with his job under some pressure as well.

Twenty-year-old Johan Goosen is a potential match-winner for the Cheetahs and a popular choice for the Springbok number 10 jersey – he will be a key man for Drotske.

Captain Adriaan Strauss is a respected leader and brilliant hooker, but the state of the rest of the tight five will be the key factor in determining whether Goosen and other exciting backs like Sarel Pretorius, Robert Ebersohn, Johann Sadie, Raymond Rhule and Willie le Roux are able to play with the flair they are famous for.

The Cheetahs also have a bad draw: they have just a solitary home game against the Sharks before they head off overseas, their opening tour matches being against the defending champions, the Chiefs, and then the Highlanders at the House of Pain in Dunedin.

The Stormers topped the log in 2012 and are the Currie Cup champions, and there is plenty of optimism in Cape Town that they are heading into another golden age of Western Province rugby to rival that of the late 1990s/early 2000s. The SuperRugby title is the one they really want and they certainly have the players to become the second South African franchise to claim the trophy. Though their defence was famously committed and superbly organised last year, they will need to sharpen up on their attacking skills.

Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Schalk Burger are household names, but they have also added some potential superstars in fullback Jaco Taute and flyhalf Elton Jantjies.

Their pack also boasts Springboks in Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Andries Bekker and new signing Pat Cilliers, while much is expected of loose forwards Siya Kolisi and Rynhardt Elstadt.

But items up for debate are whether they have enough depth in the tight five should injuries strike, whether scrumhalves Dewaldt Duvenhage, Nic Groom and Louis Schreuder have the star quality to get the best out of a phenomenal backline also featuring Juan de Jongh, Gio Aplon and Joe Pietersen, and when Burger will actually return to action after a succession of leg injuries.

It will be necessary for the Stormers to hit the competition running as their first three games are key away trips to conference contenders the Bulls and Sharks, followed by a meeting with the Chiefs at Newlands.

 

The Sharks have such a wealth of talent at their disposal across almost all positions that it is becoming inexplicable that they still haven’t managed to win a SuperRugby crown.

The only items causing some concern down Durban way will be the second row, where Franco van der Merwe is the experienced import among the greenhorns, who is going to start at hooker while Bismarck du Plessis continues his rehab from knee ligament surgery, and will Frans Steyn continue to captain while Keegan Daniel recovers from a knee injury?

A dreadfully slow start to the 2012 campaign was to blame for the Sharks only finishing sixth on the log and scraping into the playoffs. Travelling to Australia, Cape Town and then to New Zealand was a bridge too far for them and they will be mindful of the need to earn home playoffs this time round.

Although the Currie Cup ultimately ended in a shock defeat to Western Province in the final, the potential was plain to see in the likes of lock Anton Bresler, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, centres Paul Jordaan and Tim Whitehead, wing Sibusiso Sithole and fullback Louis Ludik.

The Sharks loose trio was arguably the best in the competition last year and Ryan Kankowski is back from Japan to join Marcell Coetzee, Daniel, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Jacques Botes.

In Butch James, the Sharks have experienced cover for Pat Lambie in the flyhalf position, while Steyn provides muscle in midfield and JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo were inspirational on the wing last year.

The Sharks will also be spending the first eight weeks of the competition in South Africa, playing teams like the Stormers, Brumbies and Crusaders in Durban, so they should be in good spirits by the time they head overseas in the last week of April.

The Sharks will surely be in contention and, provided they don’t get in their own way, 2013 could be the year they finally get their hands on the SuperRugby trophy.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-02-15-superrugby-preview-brief-lull-before-the-storm-for-sa-franchises/#.UbXJOec3A6w

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