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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – All Blacks win not a foregone conclusion 0

Posted on October 05, 2016 by Ken

 

It’s not a foregone conclusion that the All Blacks will beat the Springboks this weekend in Durban, with the win over Australia last weekend showing that there are strengths the home side can use against New Zealand.

If you look at the team Allister Coetzee selected, it was specifically chosen to stop the opposition on the gain-line and kick their goals, and they did that. They gathered points through their set-piece and winning breakdowns at crucial times. They were far more aggressive at the breakdown and they were rewarded for it.

So the Springboks have their pride back going into the game against the All Blacks and I’m certain that they will have the mindset that they can beat the world champions. If they make a good start, if they play territory, use their set-pieces and defend well, then they have a chance.

They need to kick behind the New Zealand wings like Argentina did in the second half of their match last weekend. The Pumas managed to put them under pressure, they made them look average and won the second half.

But the All Blacks were pretty special for 20 minutes before halftime, when they turned up the pace and took their opportunities, which is always the danger with them.

It was a concern how easily Australia were able to get into South Africa’s 22, but from then on you’re up against a full line of defence, all 15 players, and it comes down to playing off nine and collision rugby. But the Springboks really defended well, they scrambled well, it’s not ideal but they still only conceded one try.

They ended up with Jaco Kriel on the wing, but they gutsed it out and got the win. When you’re playing people out of position and really scrambling, you could be in trouble, but the Springboks won some crucial turnovers.

There were many try-saving tackles and some very important steals, notably two by Adriaan Strauss. You can’t really compete at the breakdown if the other team has momentum because it’s hard then to get over the ball, but I thought Francois Louw and Strauss were immense at the breakdown against the Wallabies, and when Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel came on, they used choke-tackles to turn over possession as well.

One also has to credit the Springbok scrummage for winning crucial penalties. They applied pressure at the set-piece and scored points through that.

They will not score a lot of tries as the backline is set up to chase kicks and long kicks at that.

The first thing I noticed when I came back from SuperRugby into international rugby in 2012, having worked with the Springboks back in 1999 and 2002, was that all the players are so much quicker and more powerful at that level, it really is a different game.

But the Springboks now have a backline that has been chosen to defend well, chase kicks and obviously it’s evasive having Hougaard and De Jongh, and the only real speedsters are Jesse Kriel and Habana. But Allister’s plan is obviously to have the best defenders in place and to play for territory and field position with Morne Steyn, Pat Lambie and whoever plays at nine.

Territory was still a problem though, but that’s because Australia keep the ball so well. They would attack from anywhere, even at the end when a kick downtown behind Jaco Kriel would probably have been better, they were still running from deep. They were trying to tire out the Springbok forwards, but it’s a credit to the home side that they didn’t ever slacken off.

But you don’t look back at the style or manner in which a team won, the record books will just show that it was a win.

There’s obviously a great amount of difference between playing at altitude on the Highveld and playing down on the coast in Durban. The last time the Springboks played the All Blacks at sea level at home was in 2011 when we won 18-5 in Port Elizabeth. New Zealand made many line-breaks that day but just didn’t finish, the Springboks just scrambled and kept them out, and then Morne Steyn kicked very well.

They need to do the same this weekend – kick well, use their scrum to put the All Blacks under pressure, and it’s really key that the second half and the lineouts still function well. The Springboks can’t go into the game with a defensive mindset, and in the last 20 minutes they need the bench to come on and make a difference. If it’s wet this weekend, that will also be a great leveller.

In all three of our recent close games on the Highveld the Springboks have led going into the second half.

In 2013 the Boks needed a bonus point to win the Rugby Championship, so we had to play. From a turnover, New Zealand scored just before halftime and then we had key injuries at forward. In 2014 the Springboks beat them 27-25 at Ellis Park and last year it took a moment of Dane Coles magic for the All Blacks to win, again there was a crucial turnover just before halftime. So the margins are small and the gulf is not as big as many believe.

The All Blacks are beatable at sea level and both the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Crusaders, the top three New Zealand sides, were well-beaten by South African teams in SuperRugby. So the Springboks need to go into the match with a positive mindset and play the game they want to play.

But the Springboks have scored very few tries in the Rugby Championship and had few line-breaks. They’ve constructed just one try in their last three games, the others have come from turnovers and interceptions, but it’s obviously how Allister has decided they can win games.

In the Test in 2014 against the All Blacks, which the Springboks won, Handre Pollard scored two tries by playing very flat. You really need the flyhalf to challenge the gain-line more if you’re going to score tries, but Allister has decided he wants the comfort of Morne Steyn’s excellent goalkicking and drop goals and a strong set-piece to win this game. We would all love to celebrate a Springbok victory on Saturday.

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

 

Former defence coach John McFarland’s six solutions for the Springboks 0

Posted on September 22, 2016 by Ken

 

It was very hard to watch the Springboks v All Blacks game last weekend because there were a mountain of mistakes. You could see the players were really trying, but very often that’s not good enough against a quality side like New Zealand.

There were many system and individual errors within the Springbok defence, but the good news is that they can all be fixed, they can be corrected through good coaching. So I would prefer to talk about solutions rather than showing what went wrong.

Because I was in charge of the Springboks’ defence and kicking game for four years, I obviously know the pressure the coaching staff feel and have experienced this many times myself in my coaching career. You don’t coach for 21 years at a professional level without experiencing setbacks, so you must know how to fix them, plus the players pick up on your body language, passion and intensity.

Since I left the Springboks, I’ve been lucky enough to be working in Japan at the Kubota Spears. The Springboks defence was taken over by Jacques Nienaber, who was obviously being lined up for the full-time job.

He coached the defence in the Ireland Tests as a consultant for five weeks. Chean Roux worked hand-in-hand with him at the MobiUnit and was then earmarked to carry on his structures and principles as seamlessly as possible.

As a coach in this situation, you can’t just point the finger at the players. It’s important to have solutions and you need to look at yourself as well, take responsibility for the performance and fix it. Heyneke Meyer and Frans Ludeke always knew that I would take responsibility for the defensive performance, win or lose.

It’s very easy to point out what went wrong against the All Blacks, but it’s far more important to identify solutions. So here are six simple things that the Springboks can fix.

 

  • The passive defence system. Over a period of time it has come through that line integrity is the key. But at the moment the Springboks are not coming off the line and pressurising the attacking team, or if they are, it’s in single fashion, for example Juan de Jongh trying to cut off the outside options.
    Experience has shown that all this does against the All Blacks is pressure our own inside defence. They are very good at running reverse-lines at the shooting defender.
    A 75% tackle success rate at Test level shows that this system is not working. Too many good defenders are making errors and missing tackles because we are allowing the attack to dictate to the defence.
    On the Sam Whitelock try, it came from width and the spacing of the defensive line was really poor – there were only three defenders covering 30 metres of space, they were far too tight to the ruck, which pulled the wings in.
    If you have a passive defence, like the Springboks had, then it highlights if anyone breaks the system. With a passive defence, the whole object is to push the attackers towards the touchline, so it’s never a good idea if everyone is drifting and one player comes in on a read.

 

  • Winning the gain-line. I don’t think the Springbok backline once won the gain-line off first-phase ball, especially off the lineout. We call it ‘winning the race’ – if the defender can hit the ball-carrier behind the gain-line, it’s so much easier to set your defensive pillars in place. But if you allow the opposition to get easy yards over the gain-line as we did at the weekend, then it’s very difficult to get your pillars in place. The attack just rolls forward, gaining momentum … and confidence and belief.
    It’s quite simple: You have to close the space from the set-piece a lot quicker. You have to close the space (press) on the first receiver when he has the ball.

 

  • Blindside defence. As alluded to in earlier columns, this was the same part of our defence that was exploited by Australia from the lineout and from a scrum, and was mercilessly exploited by New Zealand on Saturday. The key is that the hooker and blindside wing have to communicate the reversing of play and the players have to look up before folding to the openside. The Springboks’ blindside defence has to be much, much better than it was against the All Blacks.

 

  • Scrumhalf channel off scrum. New Zealand also ran at this channel and since 2014 they’ve been doing the same thing against us. So as a defence coach that would have been my first port of call – making sure that the defence of the scrumhalf channel was really strong in Christchurch.
    But Aaron Smith punched through that channel so the scrumhalf and the flank have to work together. The first defender has to adjust and basically they have to play flat after that.
    The scrumhalf must defend the ball – after all nobody has ever scored a try without the ball!

 

  • High balls. Every All Blacks high ball went on Francois Hougaard, so that was obviously seen as a mismatch for Israel Dagg to exploit. To be fair, Francois dealt with it well, but the Springboks need to be able to play from the retreating ruck post-kick.

 

  • Kicking game. The kicking game is really quite simple and I believe we over-complicate it to a large degree. The key is that a kick is only as good as its chase, so the work-rate has to be much higher. If the kick is long, then the harder the chase, the easier it is to catch the opposition further back, to separate the counter-attacking wing and fullback from their cleaners/forwards. So the chase has to be a heck of a lot better and more aggressive from the Springboks.
    Tactically, the Springboks should be in a strong position because they have right-footed and left-footed options at flyhalf and fullback, because all they have to do then is get into the middle of the field and the right-footer [Johan Goosen] can go on the right side of the ruck and the left-footer [Elton Jantjies] takes the left. That will create indecision in the opposition back three as to who will exit. It will also affect the All Blacks’ pressure plan because the key guys trying to charge down the kick are always Aaron Smith or TJ Perenara and Brodie Retallick – it will be more difficult for them to pick up who is going to kick.
    Because the Boks have such a good mauling game, the box-kick from 9 is vitally important and needs to have an organised chase and contest, so they need to select wings that go up in the air.

 

These are the solutions to the defensive problems which I know I would be asking questions about if I were in the same situation as Chean Roux.

Just on Malcolm Marx and his alleged throwing woes, I think the criticism is incredibly unfair. People just look at the stats and not at what actually went on. It’s easy to say we lost four lineouts and blame the hooker, but if you look through all our games against New Zealand over the last four years, we’ve always lost four or five lineouts against them in the second half, because at halftime, whatever they talk about, they come out differently in the second half.

The World Cup semifinal last year against the All Blacks was decided because we lost five set-pieces around the halfway line. So to come out firing against a young hooker in his first Test is really not fair.

And I’ve looked at his throws – the first one was not straight, that was obvious and an error on his part because his alignment and set-up were wrong. But the two other lost throws were directly because of poor lifts by the back supporter, he was late.

And then at the lineout on the line, the triggers were not right as to when the hooker should throw in. At the top level, the hooker always has a trigger telling him when to throw, it tells him when to begin the throw. It comes from the jumper and it’s important to get it right.

The positive is that in rugby you always get another chance and I really think the Springboks will be so much better at home, they always do play better back here.

I really hope the Springboks and their coaching staff will bounce back well against Australia. I’m sure they will because there is too much hurt and as a group they know their responsibility is to give the country hope. I believe they will do that in these two home Tests.

Allister Coetzee is also a highly-experienced coach who everyone seems to forget won the World Cup in 2007. He’s been in these situations many times and he will know how to get out of it. We just need to give him and the Springboks our backing and support.

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having 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.

Century-maker Faf equips himself with patience 0

Posted on September 05, 2016 by Ken

 

South Africa captain Faf du Plessis has shown in limited-overs cricket that he has all the strokes, but he said after his determined unbeaten century against New Zealand on Sunday that he has decided that the most important tool to equip himself with in Test cricket is patience.

Du Plessis batted for 377 minutes and faced 234 balls as he finished with 112 not out on the second day of the second Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Sunday and, while some may have considered it slow and heavy going at times, he was pleased with the pacing of his innings.

“I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball quite nicely, so I just wanted to make sure I knuckled down and made it count. My game plan now is to be very patient and wait for the bowlers to come into the right areas. When I’m at my best in Test cricket is when I mentally tire out the opposition and then, when the opportunity to score quick runs comes, I take it. I believe in what I do and my game plan,” Du Plessis said after the close of play which came with South Africa in firm control, New Zealand teetering on 38 for three in reply to their 481 for eight declared.

Although South Africa’s top five batsmen all passed 50 for just the second time in their Test history – the previous occasion being the 2010 Test against India at the same venue – Du Plessis said conditions had not been easy for batting.

“Since Day One it’s been a pitch where a lot happens and we needed one guy to anchor the innings and keep them out for as long as possible. We thought that 400 would be a really good score on that pitch, which still has a lot going for it. The batsmen up front did very well to be so patient and 481 was a very good result for us.

“The grass stands up a bit more in the morning and late afternoon and in the last hour you can see the indentations in the pitch because of the light, but when the sun is shining brightly the pitch looks fine. That sort of thing plays on your mind and the ball also grips more when there is more moisture in the air,” Du Plessis said.

The skipper added, however, that it is not going to be easy to run through the New Zealand batting line-up on Monday.

“The pitch has speeded up a bit from the first day and we anticipate that it will be up-and-down on day five, but days two and three are the best days for batting. So we expect to work hard, we’ll have to be really patient. It’s going to be a grafting day with the ball to set up the game, we need to be relentless on that off stump, back-of-a-length, and then it will be a challenge for the New Zealand batsmen,” Du Plessis said.

Du Plessis’ century could not have come at a better time, ending a run of 11 Tests without a hundred, while it was also heartening to see JP Duminy get some runs, the left-hander stroking 88 as he and the captain took their overnight fourth-wicket partnership to 71 on Sunday morning.

“JP is hugely talented and we just wanted to give him confidence and back him by batting him at four and it came off very well. You can see he’s in good touch and he’s being more positive, that’s what he’s changed, which has led to a better mindset. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a new era for him.

“For myself, I’m just happy to prove to my critics that I still belong. Whether I’m captain or not, I need to score runs,” Du Plessis said.

While Du Plessis was enjoying his century and a thoroughly successful day for the Proteas, his old backyard opponent and childhood friend Neil Wagner took the plaudits for New Zealand, taking five for 86 in 39 overs of impressive toil.

“Neil bowled very well, he’s aggressive, he likes to bowl short and attack the batsman. He’s a grafter, he runs in most of the day and tries his best,” Du Plessis acknowledged.

Tim Southee, the leader of the Black Caps attack, also praised the Pretoria-born and educated left-arm seamer.

“Neil has been outstanding for a long period of time and he reaped the rewards for his efforts. He generally bowls the tough overs, nine out of ten times he’s on when the pitch has flattened out and the ball is older, but he finds a way. He never gives up and keeps running in,” Southee said.

http://www.citizen.co.za/1267500/century-maker-faf-equips-himself-with-patience/

Cricket is a strange game but Kingsmead was just stupid 0

Posted on August 29, 2016 by Ken

 

Cricket is, in many ways, a strange game but there is nothing as infuriating than play not taking place when blue skies and bright sunshine are overhead. That was the case in Durban last weekend as the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand was allowed to just die with only 99.4 overs being bowled in the match.

As an endangered species, Test cricket needs to be given utmost support and attention and I firmly believe that where there is a will, there is a way.

Notwithstanding the foolishness of Cricket South Africa digging up the Kingsmead outfield in order to soften it two weeks later than they should have, meaning it struggled to cope with unseasonal heavy rain in Durban, the villains of the peace for me were English umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth, who showed little interest in actually getting play underway, so fixated were they on a few damp patches on the outfield.

The umpires are the final arbiters of what is fair and safe in terms of conditions, but lines have to be drawn somewhere. Both teams were eager to play – in fact the Proteas were gathered on the side of the field shortly after play was finally abandoned on the fifth day eager to have a run-around and get some fitness in, but they were prevented from going on to the field because that would have made the umpires look bad.

I am certain that if it had been an ODI or a T20 match with similar soft areas of outfield, a plan would have been made and the umpires would have done everything in their power to get a game underway.

As usual, the accountability has been shifted to Kingsmead, who never wanted the outfield to be dug up in the first place. The International Cricket Council, as usual, passed the buck. There was absolutely no communication from the match referee, Andy Pycroft, to explain why play was not possible, and he declined to speak to the media. What’s the point of having a match referee if that is their attitude?

To make matter worse, the umpires were so apathetic when it came to making an effort that they actually banned the groundstaff from the field when groundsman Wilson Ngobese and his staff wanted to proceed with mopping up operations, saying they preferred to allow natural processes like sun and wind to run their course.

Week in and week out rugby players are busy making crunching tackles and sidestepping such collisions in often wet conditions, but how often do one of them turn an ankle? With both teams happy to play, the only conclusion is that Gould and Illingworth were being overly precious.

The future of Test cricket may not bother them or Pycroft, but what happened at Kingsmead under their watch was a fiasco and just another small nail in the coffin of the original format of the game.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis spoke earnestly on Friday about how, for them, Test cricket was still the ultimate and it needed better treatment from the ICC.

“Test cricket is still number one for the players and a Test Championship is a step in the right direction. You ask any of the international players and they will tell you that Test cricket is still the best thing to play and we need to play as many Tests as possible.

“You want to be able to say you’ve given everything on the field and that feeling of winning a Test can’t be copied, especially not by T20. I hope the ICC is looking at that,” Du Plessis said.

Sadly, the ICC are more interested in red tape and bureaucracy, and are way more likely to jump up and down about over-rates, sponsors’ logos being too big or a player saying something even mildly controversial in a press conference.

As usual, the administrators seem to think cricket fans are more interested in what they are up to than in the actual game they are meant to be serving.

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    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.
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