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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column: Having seen off the Aussies, time for SA franchises to take on the Kiwis 0

Posted on March 23, 2017 by Ken

 

South African rugby will get a good indication of where we’re at this weekend when the Bulls come up against the Blues in the first overseas game for a local side against New Zealand opposition.

Judging by the pace and intensity of the New Zealand derbies so far, they certainly seem to be out in front by comparison, but it’s been pleasant to see the Lions dominate the two Australian franchises they have played against and the Sharks have also beaten two Australian sides.

We’re definitely way ahead of the Australian teams, that’s as clear as day and has been convincingly shown in the first month of SuperRugby.

The one positive for the Bulls starting their tour against the Blues is that they can be quite careless in possession sometimes, they tend to make mistakes, and the Bulls have enough quality Springboks to take advantage of those.

You could see immediately when Adriaan Strauss came on last weekend against the Sunwolves how he tightened up the set-pieces, and people will realise this year how lucky the Springboks have been over the last 15 years to have John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss as hookers – all dead-eye dick throwing in at the lineouts and really good scrummagers.

The Bulls match against the Sunwolves showed the level of improvement by the Japanese side. Last year in Bloemfontein and Pretoria, the Sunwolves lost by a combined 142-20; this year they only lost 72-52, which shows how far they have come. They definitely deserve to stay in SuperRugby.

The Bulls have still to hit their straps, but guys are coming back from injury. Their first two tries against the Sunwolves were very easy – the first coming from a knock-on five metres from the line and the second from a lineout drive. You can be certain the Bulls will maul whenever they have a lineout in your 22, so why did the Sunwolves compete on that throw?

They certainly pushed the Bulls, but you can see a real emphasis from them on offloading in the tackle. It’s a high risk, high reward approach and in the first half the Bulls threw a few 50/50 passes and they never really got going, there was no flow to their game.

But the Sunwolves scrummed relatively well against them and that gave the tourists energy. The Bulls struggled because of a combination of the scrums, their own mistakes and some cracking counter-attacking tries by the Sunwolves.

It was great to see Jan Serfontein play so well. He’s a former World U21 Player of the Year and also played for the Springboks while he was still U21. It was a special try he scored running that inside line from a lineout and then around the wing. Jan has reached maturity now, having first played for the Springboks in 2013, but he was unlucky with injury last year.

The Bulls have a quality midfield unit and in fact we are really lucky in South Africa with very good, quality centres, especially at number 13 – Jan, Lionel Mapoe, Lukhanyo Am, EW Viljoen and Francois Venter. At inside centre we have Damian de Allende, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Juan de Jongh.

It was only the third week back from long-term injury for Handre Pollard and he still needs to get his kicking rhythm back, but that’s just practice.

The Lions’ performance last weekend was a definite positive, against a Reds team with so many Wallabies, to beat them so convincingly and to play so well. The tightness of their defence, in particular, will give them a lot of satisfaction.

Courtnall Skosan really put his hand up with four tries. He has a very high work-rate off the ball and always backs up his players in the middle of the field, he doesn’t just stay in the tramlines. Courtnall is always supporting with great lines and has always had a great sense of space. When he was at the Bulls, he wasn’t so quick and I know he’s gone to a speed coach and has got an extra yard or two because of that.

Because of a relative lack of wings in recent times and an over-reliance on JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, with Lwazi Mvovo, the fact that Courtnall played so well is encouraging. Centre is looking very strong, but wings need to stand up and Courtnall did just that.

The Lions’ set-piece is also so strong that they rarely need to kick to exit. They know that if they can get a scrum penalty around halfway, then they’ll be five metres from the line with the kick. For all their great attacking play, the Lions still use traditional South African strengths.

Their forwards are not overly big, but they are very sound technically and credit for that must go to Balie Swart and Johan Ackermann for how well-drilled they are.

Speaking about Ackers, he would not be talking about his Gloucester offer unless he was looking for a counter-offer from the Lions or SA rugby, or was seriously considering taking it. But perhaps he wants to go somewhere outside his comfort zone, where he can work with different players from all over the world. They are players he has not signed, so he would have to impress them and create unity in that new team.

Michael Cheika has coached in a couple of places overseas, Eddie Jones has been all over, Steve Hansen coached for a bit in Wales and Wayne Smith had some time with Northampton, and if you have aspirations to be an international coach then you have to broaden your horizons.

It’s a difficult decision for Johan, but going to Gloucester would certainly improve his coaching set and those sort of offers don’t come around often. But there will be a whole host of factors for him to consider, most importantly his family.

There’s been no word on whether Swys de Bruin would go with him, but as a head coach you need people around you with the same philosophy and drive, who you trust implicitly, and normally the English clubs allow you to bring one assistant with you. You need people who will back you when things are not going so good.

The Cheetahs host the Sharks this weekend having struggled in Buenos Aires. To be fair, the Jaguares played very well and got points on the board early on. So the Cheetahs were compelled to play catch-up rugby and they will be a bit upset with the tries they conceded. You don’t want to be chasing the game away from home, especially not in SuperRugby, and the Cheetahs made a lot of errors which put them under pressure, they basically leaked tries.

For one-off trips like to Argentina, the teams are tending to rest guys to freshen them up because it is a long trip. After all, it still comes down to beating the South African sides and then you have a great chance of going far in the competition, particularly since we are guaranteed two quarterfinals.

The Six Nations has come to an end and England’s record of 18 wins in a row was a terrific achievement. That included four wins over Australia, with three in a row Down Under, and a win over the Springboks, so there were top-quality sides beaten in that run.

The Six Nations is such a tribal tournament that all the games are hotly contested and nobody gave England an easy ride. Ireland probably feel the same way about the English as the Springboks do and they showed tremendous passion and fully deserved their win last weekend.

But England have now won two Six Nations titles on the trot, they’ve got the monkey off their back about the successive wins, and now they can get on with their World Cup preparation. The pool draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup takes place in Kyoto, Japan, on 10 May, and with Argentina ranked ninth, there will be a pool of death with them in it. That pool will have three quality teams in it – Argentina, one of New Zealand, England, Australia or Ireland, and one of Scotland, France, Ireland or Wales, so everyone will want to avoid that pool.

There’s a pool of death in every World Cup, with hosts England losing out to Australia and Wales in 2015, Scotland failing to advance ahead of England and Argentina in 2011, and Ireland finishing below Argentina and France in 2007.

PS: Here’s another request to SuperSport to please schedule Friday night SuperRugby games – we’re again left with all the South African games crammed into Saturday!

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.

 

 

 

 

Positive Klaasen makes a move into Test squad 0

Posted on March 04, 2017 by Ken

 

Titans wicketkeeper/batsman Heinrich Klaasen was celebrating a first call-up to the South Africa squad for their Test series against New Zealand on Friday, convenor of selectors Linda Zondi saying a “positive presence at the crease” had played a large part in his selection.

Klaasen has looked a top-class talent since his days with the dominant Tuks Varsity team and he now follows his skipper from his student days, Theunis de Bruyn, into the Test squad as one of the back-up players, having scored 635 runs in four-day cricket this season, at an average of 48.84.

Zondi confirmed that it was a close-run thing between Klaasen and Rudi Second of the Knights, who scored 684 runs at 52.61, with the 25-year-old Klaasen being considered a closer match in terms of approach to Quinton de Kock, the player he is understudying.

“It was a very close call and it could have gone either way. Rudi is a very experienced player and is definitely not out of our plans, but we just felt that Heinrich has a positive presence at the crease, he’s tidy behind the stumps and there’s something about him.

“He’s a good striker of the ball, a fearless cricketer. We’ve watched him a lot and we feel he can play the same role as Quinton de Kock,” Zondi told Saturday Citizen on Friday.

While the presence of players such as De Kock, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, De Bruyn and Klaasen makes it a young squad, the selectors have also recalled veteran Morne Morkel, the 32-year-old who has not played a Test in more than a year.

Morkel is only two 50-over games into his comeback from serious back issues, but Zondi said they wanted some experience around to guide a young attack. Vernon Philander has played 40 Tests, but Keshav Maharaj (4), Wayne Parnell (5), Rabada (14), Olivier (1) and Chris Morris (2) have played just 26 Tests between them.

“We’ve been guided by our medical team with Morne and he’s 100% fit. We want him to play more games, but his extra experience is required, because we don’t want to be caught out if anything happens. We’re quite comfortable in terms of all-rounders, so Morne must just go there and compete, providing us with extra variety,” Zondi said.

Squad: Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis (Capt), JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Wayne Parnell, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Theunis de Bruyn, Heinrich Klaasen.

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.

 

 

Springboks suffering due to lack of solid structure below them 5

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Ken

 

The Springboks’ humiliating defeat in Durban last weekend was a painful reminder of the gulf in quality that exists between the administration and structure of the game in New Zealand and back here in South Africa, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen making sure to mention the decision-makers in their rugby when he was asked for the reasons behind their world record equalling run of 17 successive wins.

A solid structure from schoolboys to the Springboks is what is needed for our rugby to remain amongst the best in the world, not yet another overhaul of the national team and their coaches; that’s just treating the symptom, shuffling people around, and does not address the root cause of our problems.

And, as great as next week’s Rugby Indaba sounds – except for the unfortunate two coaches who have their preparations for the Currie Cup final disrupted (another example of Saru’s awful treatment of their flagship competition) – it’s not going to address our real problems either. There might be some good ideas about game plans and what-not, but the coaches and the franchise CEOs do not have the power to change the structural failings in rugby, that lies with the South African Rugby Union and their turkeys who will steadfastly not vote for Christmas.

Below the national sides, there should just be six teams playing fully professional rugby based in the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. And those six unions should have the power in South African rugby, not the eight lesser unions, largely amateurish and as relevant as dinosaurs, which are currently the tail that wags the dog.

Below that, all 14 unions can have semi-professional teams, but the amount of money that can be saved by only having six fully professional teams and by eight economically unviable organisations no longer drawing over R20 million a year in Saru grants could go a long way towards keeping our players in the country.

Just like in New Zealand, talented rugby players must fight for a limited number of professional contracts through their performances at club level, that lead to them playing for their provinces and then being chosen for a Super Rugby deal.

The vast majority of schoolboy players in New Zealand don’t become professional rugby players when they finish their education. They go to university and play rugby there, or play for their local club side while working, which is why so many All Blacks have had interesting occupations like lumberjack, piano mover or, as in the case of Aaron Smith, apprentice hairdresser.

It’s a system that builds character and ensures only the fittest and hungriest players survive to reach the top.

Good schoolboy players in South Africa should be lauded in their school hall and with selection for provincial and national schoolboy teams; not with professional contracts and way too much exposure on television.

There is far too great an emphasis on schoolboy rugby in South Africa and that just creates entitled, spoilt players, wastes a lot of late-developing talent, kills our clubs and also gets in the way of transformation in many cases.

This is not to say that our current Springboks and their management are beyond blame. The All Blacks have a relentless drive to improve on and off the field every day, they see every challenge as a means of getting better.

Do our Springboks and their coaching staff have that same hunger? The same desire to do whatever it takes? Because it will also come down to that if they are going to close the gap with the All Blacks.

Any top professional sportsman worth his salt would turn a record 57-15 hammering at home into motivation to lift their conditioning and skills to new levels.

The South African cricket team has just completed an historic 5-0 series whitewash of world champions Australia, with captain Faf du Plessis saying a culture camp they held before the start of the summer has ensured that they are now playing as a team again and, most importantly, are really challenging each other to be better.

Now that’s the sort of indaba that could be useful for our rugby players and coaches, but the administrators still need to make the major, unselfish changes that will really benefit the game in this country.

 

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    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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